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Why single out A-Rod?

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  February 8, 2009 09:13 AM

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So now we have it, the Great American Scandal. Alex Rodriguez meets Steroids. Finally, we have an intersection of our soap operatic A-Rod obsession and the plague that infected our national pastime.

Here’s how we should know that we’ve had enough:

Some of us are starting to feel compassion for him.

Don’t know about the rest of you folks, but some of us out here have long since run out of outrage. It was long taken by everyone from Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens to Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. Now into the mix comes Rodriguez, a prototype for the psychologically and emotionally damaged megastar whose existence has played out before the American public like the life of Jim Carrey in "The Truman Show."

A-Rod took off his shirt in Central Park. A-Rod traipsed around Toronto with an exotic dancer. A-Rod is nesting with Madonna. A-Rod saw a shrink. A-Rod choked under pressure and was mocked by his teammates. (Just ask Joe Torre.)

And now, A-Rod reportedly used steroids.

Say hello to A-Roid.

For the moment, here’s the biggest problem: There reportedly were 103 other names on that list. Who are the others? Why don’t we know? Is it even remotely possible that Rodriguez’s name appears on a list with 103 utility men and bit players, that he is the only notable presence among a cast of extras and stand-ins?

Or has it reached the point now that we get to pick and choose whom we decide to smear, deconstruct and castigate?

But then, we probably reached that point long ago.

Before anyone jumps to conclusions, nobody is suggesting that Rodriguez is innocent here. That’s not the point. But he’s not even close to being alone. Had the Boston Globe or New York Times or ESPN received the same information that Sports Illustrated received about Rodriguez failing a drug test during the 2003 season, we all would have printed it out of professional obligation. At the same time, we cannot help but wonder why certain sources selected Rodriguez’s name from a list of 104 and streamlined it to the nation when 103 others effectively were ignored.

Why, because Rodriguez is generally better than everyone else? Because he has the most to lose? Because he is an easy target? Because neither he nor anyone else has proven capable of defending him?

With regard to the steroid users in baseball during those carefree years of the late 1990s and early 2000s, let’s not delude ourselves. The game was so severely tainted that everyone is guilty now. Any by everyone, we mean everyone. If anyone out there is still has an image of what the typical steroid user looks like, here’s a tip: destroy it. It means nothing. Former Red Sox infielder Manny Alexander had a syringe in the glove compartment of his car, for goodness sake, and Alexander was a 5-foot-10, 165-pound stick figure who couldn’t hit the ground if he jumped out a window.

So really, who else was on that list? Derek Jeter? Greg Maddux? Randy Johnson or David Eckstein? None of those players has the body of a suspected steroids user (whatever that is), but it makes the entire issue much easier to comprehend and rationalize if we can at least identify some of the good guys.

Here in Boston, save for the affair involving Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, we have been surprisingly immune from performance-enhancing crimes in the world of professional sports. (Harrison served a four-game suspension in 2007 after admitting that he used human growth hormone.) Even then, more than a few Englanders defended Harrison’s actions by suggesting he was merely trying to recover from an injury so that he return to the field more quickly, apologists turning a blind eye to the sins of their own.

As for any transgressions that have taken place at Fenway Park, let’s not fool ourselves. There must have been at least some deceit. When Major League Baseball released the Mitchell Report late in 2007, details included an e-mail from Theo Epstein concerning the possible steroid use of reliever Eric Gagne -- the Sox made a trade for Gagne anyway -- and a photocopy of a personal check written in 2001 by former Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn to known steroids dealer and former New York Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski. Vaughn declined to speak to Mitchell, and so we can only wonder if Vaughn was using performance enhancers during the 1995 and 1996 seasons, his peak years in Boston, which included one Most Valuable Player Award (1995).

In 2003, the year of Rodriguez’s alleged steroid use, Rodriguez won the MVP. It was after that season that the Red Sox tried to trade for him. The results of testing conducted that season were intended to remain anonymous and were for the singular purpose of implementing a new testing policy. According to the SI report, a total of 1,198 players were tested, meaning that 8.8 percent were caught using some form of illegal substance.

Know what 8.8 percent translates into? About two players per 25-man roster, about 3.5 players per 40-man. Keep that in mind before arguing that the Red Sox took the field with a cast of altar boys.

All of that brings us back to Rodriguez, who became public enemy No. 1 in Boston the moment he ended up in New York on Feb. 16, 2004, almost five years ago to the day. Locally, there is now more reason to jeer him than ever before. For Rodriguez, the good news is that unlike Clemens, Bonds, Miguel Tejada or, effectively, McGwire, he is not alleged to have lied under oath. He is just the most talented and/or accomplished player to have allegedly succumbed to his insecurities during an era that was badly out of control.

So it appears Alex Rodriguez used steroids, too.

But he had lots of company.

Think we’ll ever get the entire guest list?

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About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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