Alex Rodriguez did more than take the blame Monday.
For a generation of steroid abusers, he tried his best to shift it.
Rodriguez, the star third baseman of the New York Yankees, admitted to ESPN that he had used steroids for three seasons earlier in his career. He was stupid, he said. He was naive. He was "playing in a loose era."
The more he talked, the more obvious it was that Rodriguez was speaking for the other drug abusers of Major League Baseball.
Those guys, too, played in "a loose era."
For A-Rod, Monday's trip to the ESPN confessional might have been difficult, but for Barry Bonds, it was a terrific day. Aside from the possible suppression of even more key pieces of evidence in Bonds' upcoming perjury trial, it was the best news imaginable.
Thanks to Rodriguez, Bonds is a step closer to the Hall of Fame.
For that matter, so is Roger Clemens. And Mark McGwire. You could even argue Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa are a step closer, too, although both of those guys still need enough steps to walk to the moon and back.
It was all up to A-Rod. As he tried to explain himself, he might as well have been explaining everyone else. As he talked about the lax atmosphere of the time when it came to baseball and performance-enhancing drugs, it was as if he were arguing for everyone. It was as if A-Rod were at the plate, and the bases were filled with cheaters.
Give credit to Rodriguez for the way he handled Monday (not so much last week, when he hid behind the players' union when Sports Illustrated was asking the questions). He did not use the old dodge that it was an accidental positive from a prescribed medicine. He did not suggest that he had been caught in his one-and-only experiment with steroids. In fact, he admitted more wrong-doing (three years' worth) than the positive test had indicated.
In so doing, perhaps Rodriguez kept the door to the Hall of Fame cracked open. Not just for him, but for Bonds and Clemens and the rest, too.
On the surface, of course, it seems silly that a cheater would prosper simply because another one enters the room. That's the way misdirection often works, however.
For the 'Roid Rangers, it is grand news whenever another big name is found out. At this point, the only defense they have left is to suggest baseball itself created an atmosphere where steroid use was tolerated, even encouraged. After all, isn't it easier to blame an entire sport than the guy on your trading card?
Think of it like this: What was your reaction over the weekend when you heard Sports Illustrated had reported that Rodriguez had tested positive? Shock? Outrage? Did you slam your fist onto the table?
Odds are, you did not. Odds are, you rolled your eyes, sighed heavily and said, "Another player tested positive?"
By and large, fans are weary of steroid talk, and they are worn out from keeping score. To those fans, A-Rod is merely one more name in a list that is far too long. He's just one more headline about one more athlete looking for one more shortcut. He's one more example of how completely drugs can numb the soul of everyone involved.
The great hope of those with dirty tests is that eventually, all of the outrage is gone. That way, perhaps everyone can write off the steroid years as just another bad era, like disco, to be forgiven and forgotten as soon as possible.
What is the alternative? Are we eventually to have a watered-down Hall of Fame that excludes Bonds and Clemens and Rodriguez and Pete Rose? Or do you, too, suspect the years will soften the voters?
Much of that also might be in A-Rod's hands. After all, he is still shaping his resume.
That's why Monday was such a crucial day for Rodriguez. It was response day. It was time to see if Rodriguez was going to inflict as much self-damage in his defense as McGwire, Clemens and Bonds did in the past.
Given the positive test, A-Rod had about as good a day as could be expected. It didn't undo the charges, but he at least came across as repentant. Hey, it's a start.
Yes, you can still be skeptical if you wish. It isn't hard to doubt A-Rod's sincerity; teammates have been doing it for years. For example: If it was pressure that drove Rodriguez to start using steroids in 2001 when he was playing in Texas, how was he able to resist the additional pressures that came from New York? And what does "pretty accurate" mean? And if he wasn't certain he had ever tested positive until a reporter told him over the weekend, why did he have "a gorilla on his back" all these years? There was something a tad rehearsed about Rodriguez in the latter parts of the interview.
I know this: When it comes to steroids, America is ready for a victim. We saw some of that when Andy Pettitte let a tear roll down his cheek, but Pettitte, like Jason Giambi, was never big enough to threaten the record books. We are, after all, a nation that likes to forgive.
Yes, it would be advisable for Rodriguez to continue to open up. He should keep talking about the temptation of performance enhancers, especially at a time when it seemed so many were using them. Like the swimmer Dara Torres, he should offer to be tested any time, anywhere.
His legacy, and a lot of others, depends on it.
Also, it wouldn't hurt his reputation if he made a little noise in the playoffs.