Saturday, January 18, 2014

‘Bad Business’: A-Rod, Stranger to Truth

“As you can imagine, I’m feeling left out, I can’t be with the team at spring training and this leaves an empty hole in my life. And on top of that I’m dealing with the backlash of all these ugly rumors and false stories. […] Of course I am very concerned about these rumors and about what the team is doing and saying about me. … People have been telling me that you have an 8% bounty on my contract.[…] Maybe all of this is coming from my cousin […], who knows. He claims he met with the Yankees and that you are after me and it has me concerned. I hope this [e-mail] is the start of us clearing the air between us. I don’t want us to be enemies. I am loyal to the team. I only want the best for the Yankees organization. But I do need reassurance from you and I need to know what is going on. It is bad business for everyone.”—New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, e-mail message of February 28, 2013 to team president Randy Levine, quoted in Steve Fishman, “The A-Rod E-Mails—The Slugger and the Suit: A Baseball BromanticTragedy,” New York Magazine, January 6-13, 2014

Ten years ago this winter, the New York Yankees, faced with a major decision about one of their heroes, reacted the way they usually do: unsentimentally, some would say even heartlessly. Aaron Boone—already known to hundreds of thousands of bitterly disappointed Red Sox fans as “F-----g  Boone” for his walkoff homer beating their team in the American league championship series—had phoned the Bronx Bomber brass with the news that he had wrecked his knee in a pickup basketball game.

Boone could have done what hundreds of pro athletes would have done in the age of the lucrative contract and lie. Instead, he admitted to doing something forbidden by his contract.

For their part, the Bronx Bombers could have waited a year for their recent hero to rehab the knee while they filled his hole in the lineup with temporary and/or low-priced talent. Nothing doing. The team reacted to the disclosure by their third baseman—already, in less than half a season, hugely liked by teammates—by voiding his contract, releasing him, and trading for the man many regarded as the best player in the game: Alex Rodriguez.

After all this time, can we really be sure that the Yankees aren’t sorry that they pulled the trigger on one of the true blockbuster trades in their history?  True, Boone was never again the player he was before his injury, and he was forced to retire five years ago following open heart surgery. But nobody could deny his heart on the diamond, nor his clubhouse chemistry.

The latter was precisely what was missing once A-Rod came aboard. For all his gaudy stats, he lifted the Bombers to only two pennants and one World Series win during his 10 years with the team. It hardly justifies his mammoth contracts. Worse, he became a flashpoint and symbol of futility in the Yankees' pennant races with the Boston Red Sox--contests that the Bombers increasingly came to lose (three World Series championships for the Bosox during that time, one for the Yankees).

Seattle Times columnist Les Carpenter displayed more foresight than he ever could have realized 10 years ago when, summing up Boone's departure and A-Rod's arrival at the Yankees, he wrote: "In this spring of Yankees chaos, Alex Rodriguez and steroid suspicion, the best story has been lost. Aaron Boone told the truth when it really would have paid to lie."

As it did for A-Rod--till now, when only his legal team is profiting.

As we witness the start of A-Rod’s season-long suspension from baseball—and, very likely, the end of his career—the e-mails between him and Randy Levine take on particular interest as points in the road in the estrangement between player and team. To be sure, Levine hardly comes off as a saint with his odd attempts at what he must have conceived as jock humor (e.g., wondering when Robinson Cano’s “steroids” would kick in), stroking the ego of his insecure slugger, and final descent into PR lingo, as relations between player and team grew tense. But he certainly appears in a better light than the Yankees’ decade-long albatross.

The above quote from A-Rod continues the same tone of wounded disbelief as his most recent statements to the press involving Bud Selig, the Yankees, arbitrator Fredric Horowitz, the players’ union—everyone but Barack Obama. He remains supremely oblivious to the thin legal ledge on which he finds himself—and, more important, to the realization that his own choices in life placed him there.

“Steinbrenner would roll in his grave if he knew what was happening!” A-Rod was complaining to Levine by last summer. Not so. If history is any guide, the late principal Yankee owner would have been at least engaging in a public spitting match with his cleanup hitter, and very likely doing everything up to (and, likely, beyond) the legal limit to abrogate their contract. (After all, The Boss paid lowlife Howie Spira $40,000 for any dirt he could dig up on Dave Winfield—whose only offense was not helping the Yanks win the World Series.)

About that “bad business” A-Rod bemoaned:  He is solely responsible for his troubles stemming from Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch. If Rodriguez felt an “empty hole” in his life over not being able to attend spring training a year ago, imagine how he must feel now. A team trying to turn over a new leaf from a disastrous season would make him feel about as welcome as a skunk in a perfume factory.

The Yankees want the story of their spring training to be Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann joining the team, and Derek Jeter coming back from his injury. They do not want it to be about the man who, according to Anti-Doping commission Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart, had taken “the most potent and sophisticated drug program developed for an athlete that we've ever seen”—even exceeding that of Lance Armstrong.

A-Rod’s legal team is correct: ‘Roid-runner Bosch is hardly a model citizen. All the more reason, then, to wonder why Rodriguez, already outed as a juicer in 2009, would pursue a business relationship with a man who could only remind people of A-Rod’s greatest disgrace.

In addition to Bosch, there was A-Rod’s “cousin” Yuri Sucart, who, he admitted upon being exposed as a juicer five years ago, had procured PEDs for him; Canadian HGH advocate Anthony Galea, about whom A-Rod testified to a grand jury a year or two ago; Angel Presinal, a banned baseball trainer; and, perhaps most sinister, Jorge “Oggi” Velazquez, a former liquor store owner and  proprietor of a now-defunct anti-aging clinic, a guy with a 20-year rap sheet for grand theft, drug offenses,  burglary, and, most recently, domestic violence. “Oggi” is the kind of character that major-league baseball has feared since the “Black Sox” scandal of 1919, a criminal with the potential to affect the outcome of games—and, investigators believe in this instance, the transmitter of threats to Bosch if he didn’t help cover up A-Rod’s use of PEDs.

Say goodbye, then, to “A-fraud”—the teammate the Yankees strongly (and probably correctly) suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs as far back as 2005…the teammate they still turned out to support at a 2009 press conference where he owned up to steroid use with the Texas Rangers...a teammate who spoke so often of his "band of brothers" in the locker room, yet so anxious to avoid detection again last year that he threw fellow Yankee Francisco Cervelli under the bus to investigators, in a desperate attempt to deflect attention from himself.

Say goodbye to pointless friction with the clubhouse and front office—with managers Joe Torre and Joe Girardi walking on eggshells about dropping him in the batting order in the playoffs, despite unbelievable futility at the plate; with Levine telling him he needed to “put up or shut up”; with general manager Brian Cashman, in the only instance of this that I can recall in his years with the team, calling a player (A-Rod) a liar.

Say goodbye to a man addicted to the spotlight and its perks (enumerated by then-agent Scott Boras in A-Rod's first go at free agency, in 2000)-- a private office at Shea Stadium, his own marketing staff, his own merchandise tent at spring training, a luxury box, the use of a private jet, and billboards galore—amenities that former Mets GM Steve Phillips rightly said would lead to a roster of “24-plus-1.”

Say goodbye to a world-class narcissist: a guy stupid enough to have a list made about his “13 Most Hilariously Embarrassing Moments” on the blog Total Pro Sports that many will find woefully incomplete; a guy photographed kissing himself in the mirror for a Details Magazine photoshoot, having agent Scott Boras announce that he was opting out of his first Yankee contract in the middle of the Red Sox' clinching game in the 2007 World Series, and flirting with swimsuit models during a Yankee playoff loss.

Say goodbye to someone who, by all accounts, was hopelessly messed up by his father’s abandonment of his family, yet managed to do the same thing when his wife divorced him because of one extramarital affair after another (including with that long-in-the-tooth cougar, Madonna).

Say goodbye to an entire lingo associated with A-Rod and PEDs: testosterone creams and lozenges, pregnenolone, clomiphene, “gummies,” "boli," “cohete” (Spanish for “rocket”), HGH, IGF DHEA, and GHRP 2/6.

Say goodbye to pitiful postseason performances (really, only two series over 10 years when he made a difference—both against the Minnesota Twins), despite the sophisticated PED regimen discussed above.

Say goodbye to warnings and sitdowns in Bud Selig’s office with the slugger—about his penchant for high-stakes gambling, about trips to Canada to visit Galea, about his involvement with Bosch.

Say goodbye to a player who, after admitting to using PEDs while with the Texas Rangers and banned because of overwhelming evidence of having done so from 2010 through 2012, can no longer credibly argue against the rumor reported by Selena Roberts that he has been using PEDs since high school.

Say goodbye, then, to the man who succeeded the honorable Aaron Boone at third base for the Yankees: someone who’ll never fulfill his ambition to hit 800 career home runs, but who runs a fair chance of being baseball’s all-time liar and cheat.

(The photo shows Alex Rodriguez on at Ameriquest Field on May 22, 2004, toward the start of his usually tortured tenure with the Yankees.)

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