Here are the facts: A media outlet called the Miami New Times published an article Tuesday on the results of its lengthy investigation into a Miami anti-aging clinic called Biogenesis — which the article calls “the East Coast BALCO” — in which it released documents that it alleges to be from a former Biogenesis employee. The documents, allegedly carbon copies of ones written up by Biogenesis owner Tony Bosch, suggest that Alex Rodriguez was using illegal performance-enhancing drugs from 2009 to 2012. The drugs include steroids, human growth hormone, testosterone boosters — basically a laundry list of every substance that’s been banned by the MLB.
A-Rod admitted before the 2009 season that he used PEDs from 2001-2003, while he was at Texas, but claimed he stopped before he joined the Yankees in 2004. We’ll assume for the purposes of this post that the allegations in the New Times’ article are true, so that means A-Rod used PEDs throughout the 2009 postseason, when he carried the Yankees to their only World Series title since 2000. The logical outgrowth of that fact is this damning thought: A-Rod has been juicing all along, or at least from 2001 on.
Like the Manti Te’o story last week, it’s far too early to accept the Biogenesis story as gospel and sentence A-Rod to the Sports Hall of Shame with Lance Armstrong, Pete Rose and the other famous-athletes-turned-serial-liars-turned-disgraced-pariahs. Nor will I entertain any discussion that the Yanks’ 2009 title is somehow tainted**. The important baseball issue here is that if the MLB suspends or otherwise disciplines A-Rod for this latest scandal, the Yankees front office will try to void the remaining five years of A-Rod’s contract.
**If you want to call the Yanks’ title tainted, that’s fine. Just so long as you say the same about the Red Sox’s titles in 2004 and 2007 (Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez have all been linked to steroid use with evidence at least as strong as the allegations against A-Rod). For that matter, let’s call the Giants’ 2002 NL pennant tainted (Barry Bonds). And the Orioles’ 1997 AL East title (Rafael Palmeiro). And the Oakland Athletics’ 1989 World Series (Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco). Hell, let’s just call every World Series champion for the past 25 years tainted and move on. Or we can avoid such an asinine discussion entirely.
Media reports from Tuesday evening already have “sources” saying that Yankee ownership will try to void the contract. In fact, it’s possible that the Yankees were somehow involved in making sure this story found its way to the media. Either way, A-Rod has been lying to the team for the last four years — at least — and collecting $28 million a year for his trouble. You can be damn sure that Hal Steinbrenner is ready to burn A-Rod’s pinstriped #13 jersey and send him on his way.
But should the Yankees part ways with A-Rod? Can they? And should we as fans be outraged? Let’s take those one at a time…
PRACTICALLY, any GM with half a brain would void A-Rod’s contract if they could. The third baseman is owed $114 million over the next five seasons. That breaks down to about $23 million a year. The Yankees, meanwhile, are pushing hard to get their payroll under $189 million by 2014, when a draconian new luxury tax kicks in. That’s why their biggest free agent signing of the offseason was a one-year deal for Kevin Youkilis, and why most experts predict the Yanks won’t re-sign both Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson when their contracts expire at the end of the season (bye bye, Curtis).
With $23 million extra in their pockets per year, the Bombers could likely re-sign Cano and Granderson should the latter have a bounce-back year in 2013. They could use this season to ease Eduardo Nunez into a possible third base role and double down on improving his fielding, with Kevin Youkilis as a comfortable security blanket in the short term. Or they could test the market in the offseason, when Martin Prado and Michael Young will likely be available.
And what are the Yankees losing, really? Is there a cost-benefit equation in the world that says the Yankees are better off with A-Rod than without him? With him, you get at best a slightly-above-average hitter and top 10 fielder coming off his second major hip surgery in four years. More to the point, what would a PED-less A-Rod look like? Julio Franco when he was 40? Kevin Youkilis right now? But WITHOUT him, you lose the biggest clubhouse distraction since Billy Martin and free up $114 million over the next half-decade. Enough said.
LEGALLY, it remains to be seen if the Yankees could succeed in voiding A-Rod’s contract. I hope to have much more on this tomorrow, but I will say that no MLB team has ever been able to void a personal services contract with a player because of steroid use. It’s also impossible to say how easily the Yankees could void A-Rod’s without actually seeing the particulars of A-Rod’s contract, and that is not a public document. More to come on this tomorrow.
ETHICALLY AND MORALLY, should we as fans be outraged?
No. Honestly, no. The fan who is outraged by this is hardly different from this guy:
We Yankee fans may have hated cheering for A-Rod, but we cheered for him anyway. Watch the video from his 600th home run on Aug. 4, 2010 (post-initial steroid admission), when the Stadium crowd gave him a 90-second standing ovation. Or read any of the newspaper articles from October 2009. The New York Times’ Tyler Kepner, perhaps the best baseball writer in the city, penned the following in the wake of the Yankees World Series-clinching win over the Phillies:
At the center of it all was Alex Rodriguez, who had the sense to change his self-absorbed approach by using his February steroids admission as an opportunity for growth.
“I think, over all, I took myself too seriously,” Rodriguez said. “Over all, I think the best thing that happened to me was the embarrassment of all the spring training stuff. I did answer the music and I’m glad to be standing here today.”
Today, after the Miami New Times story broke, Kepner wrote this:
When Sports Illustrated finally exposed Rodriguez as a steroid user [in 2009], part of his response was to smear the reporter, Selena Roberts, by falsely claiming that she tried to break into his home while his children were sleeping. He sounded vaguely like Michael Corleone with that line, except Rodriguez has always been the Fredo of the Yankee family, awkward and envious and insecure.
Such insecurity has surely fueled Rodriguez’s drive to achieve, while also influencing his many bizarre decisions. He has denied many of them, like sending a baseball to some women in the stands during a playoff game last fall, but with his history of lying, who knows what to believe?
Rodriguez will always have his apologists, mostly people who have never had to deal with him and have never been part of his web of deceit. To some who know him well, including the Yankees and Major League Baseball, he is a source of irritation at best, slippery and duplicitous at worst.
Incidentally, the post Kepner wrote after the ’09 title was titled “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” after the great driving song by The Eagles. I guess that “feeling” was naïveté.
We’re all complicit, everyone, at least all of us who swung from powerful emotion to powerful emotion like a pendulum, just like everyone seems to do about everything in this age of extremes. A-Rod was a pariah when he admitted to the earlier PED use in 2009; then he was a reformed hero when he, and the Yankees, won everything later that year. Now he’s a double pariah, having apparently committed the one unforgivable sin for celebrities these days: lying to cover up a lie. Come clean quickly like Eliott Spitzer, Bill Clinton or Andy Pettitte? Your fans will be pissed, and you’ll lose some of them forever, but most will return eventually, and some will even respect you for “having the courage to come clean” or some similar drivel. But lying through your teeth while saying you’re coming clean, like John Edwards, or Rose, or Armstrong, or A-Rod? There’s no hell hot enough for you.
Yes, A-Rod was wrong. Yes, he’s a profound narcissist, a pathological liar, a terrible teammate and a Hall of Fame asshole. But we’ve wasted too much time feeling intense emotions about this dude one way or the other. Let’s take a deep breath, wait for the facts to come out, and pragmatically explore ways to rid ourselves of Alex Rodriguez. You wouldn’t get outraged at a malignant tumor either — you would clinically and rationally determine how to cut it out, and then you would do it. Here’s hoping the Yankees do just that.
More to come tomorrow.