It's understandable for a Red Sox fan to revel in watching Alex Rodriguez, that pathological narcissist, suffer yet another self-inflicted puncture wound to his image. Hell, it's practically our duty to savor the schadenfreude as another layer of the Yankees superstar's phoniness is peeled back and exposed. And yet again we find ourselves thanking the baseball gods — or Gene Orza — that the players union aborted the 2003 trade to the Red Sox. A-Rod, with his cheatin’ heart, is a true Yankee. He’s where he belongs.
But a word of warning: Don’t gloat too much about A-Rod’s circumstances, because all logic suggests one of the cherished Red Sox heroes in your little boy’s baseball card collection could be next. Or two. Or a half-dozen. One hundred three unrevealed names remain on the list of players who flunked that now-infamous ’03 test. There are 30 major league teams. My rudimentary math skills tell me that’s roughly 3.433 busted players per team. If the list eventually goes public, there is no doubt that perceptions and reputations of players we’ve cheered easily will be damaged beyond repair.
If you doubt that a McNamee or a Radomski lurked in the shadows of every last major league ballpark — including the one on Yawkey Way — well, keep clinging to your naïveté. A cynic, how ever, might see it this way: If the 2003 Red Sox scored 961 runs and slugged .491 as a team with an entirely clean lineup, then mark it down as one of the greatest feats in modern sports history.
Our willingness to turn a collective blind eye is the reason the sport is in this mess in the first place, and the more information that spills about the circumstances and culture of baseball in the mid-’90s and beyond, the more convinced I become that clean players were in the vast, vast minority. It wouldn’t stun me if steroid idiot savant Jose Canseco’s guesstimate that 70 percent of players were juicing ends up being on the conservative side. It’s enough to dull us to the devastating implications of it all. Nothing comes as a shock anymore.
There is, however, one name that might make me reevaluate my lifelong and unfailing passion for baseball:
Pedro Jaime Martinez.
I admit, part of it is about the misty watercolor memories of an unabashed Pedro admirer, one who still longs for the heady buzz that accompanied his starts during his heyday. We will never forget watching him pitch with remarkable guts and guile in the 1999 American League Division Series, taking the mound in relief with an aching oblique muscle and no fastball to speak of and no-hitting those menacing Cleveland Indians over the final six innings. We will never forget watching him deliver one of the most dominating performances we’ve been fortunate to witness, the 17-strikeout one-hitter at Yankee Stadium that same season, the lone hit coming when Chili Davis — his eyes actually closed — somehow connected for a solo home run. Blind luck, indeed.
But it’s about more than the good times. It’s about Pedro’s place in history, which would be amplified even more if somehow it were provable that his transcendent seasons were accomplished cleanly while so many of the batters he was embarrassing were fueled by the best performance enhancers money could buy.
As it is, Pedro’s 1999 and 2000 seasons rank as the best back-to-back seasons in terms of adjusted ERA in baseball history — and his ’99 season ranks second all-time in ERA+, trailing only the 1880 campaign of someone named Tim Keefe, who pitched in a time when every player had a handlebar mustache, home runs were just a rumor, and the gloves were tinier than a toddler’s mittens. The case is very easily made that Pedro Martinez in his prime was the best pitcher the game has ever known.
And every time another swollen slugger’s name is sullied, Pedro’s legacy grows. His performance in the ’99 All-Star Game at Fenway, when he struck out five of the first six hitters — including certain oversized fellas named Sosa and McGwire — might stand as his moment of all moments, the little man, all 5 feet 11 inches and 170 pounds of him, stealing the thunder of what we now suspect was Steroid Row.
That is, if he’s not one of the mysterious 103.
Now, please, please, please do not take this to mean I am suggesting there is any reason whatsoever for suspicion about Pedro. That is neither the belief nor the intent. It’s just that you never know about anyone now. Ken Griffey Jr.? I don’t for a second believe he used performance-enhancing drugs . . . but I don’t know that he didn’t. Derek Jeter? Ditto. Until Selena Roberts’ bombshell last Saturday, many of us saw A-Rod as the poster boy for clean living, the all-natural slugger who was going to reclaim the home run record from that dastardly and bloated Barry Bonds. Yeah, so much for that.
I almost — almost — understand why so many turned to the needle, including A-Rod, who unwittingly walked into a full-service pharmacy when he first entered the Texas Rangers’ clubhouse in 2001. Players who wanted to stay clean found themselves at a distinct competitive disadvantage. And some of it was fueled by jealousy, particularly among elite players who saw their statistics and bank accounts being equaled and surpassed by jacked-up lesser talents.
Yes, I almost understand it. But that does not excuse it, and the cold reality is this: We will not be able to put the entire sinister era in perspective and move on until the whole truth — every name, every last positive urine test, every last juicer, ’roider, and cheater — is revealed. I just don’t know how you sort it out with any clarity or fairness before then. And that’s assuming the day ever comes, which almost certainly will be over Orza’s dead body.
So we keep our wishes and satisfactions simple. Right now, I’m just glad to have some of my favorite baseball memories left untainted.
OT columnist Chad Finn is a sports reporter for Boston.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org