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Baseball's steroid scandal goes far beyond the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez, middle, surrounded by Yankees teammates at Steinbrenner Field, gets ready for his live news conference.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Alex Rodriguez, middle, surrounded by Yankees teammates at Steinbrenner Field, gets ready for his live news conference.

TAMPA — I suppose it is part of his legacy that Alex Rodriguez has always wanted more.

More numbers. More money. More attention. It wasn't enough that he was great, he had to be better. It wasn't enough that he had the biggest contract in sports, he needed another raise.

And so, in a way, his mea culpa on Tuesday was exactly what you would have expected. Simply saying sorry was not going to be enough for A-Rod. As usual, he wanted more.

So he admitted he made a mistake, but didn't want you to think he did it intentionally. So he acknowledged he cheated, but didn't want you to think it helped him perform. So he wanted to apologize, but wanted you to feel sorry for him.

It was as if he wanted to bleed, but couldn't bring himself to open a vein.

Someone asked how a player so conscious of his health could inject drugs that he claimed to know nothing about that were imported from the Dominican Republic by a cousin.

"I wish I knew," he said.

Someone else asked why he was so secretive about these injections if, as he claimed, he didn't think they were illegal steroids.

"That's a good question," he said after a long pause.

Maybe, for some, the news conference looked like contrition. The first time an athlete of Rodriguez's stature, who is still in the prime of his career, owned up to the sin of using performance enhancing drugs.

Maybe, for others, it looked like spin control. Less about remorse than a calculated attempt to protect the statistics he has accumulated, and those still to come.

For me, it just looked sad and overdue. Not so much for Rodriguez, but for baseball.

Rodriguez's reputation is being picked apart daily, and I guess that is the punishment he must pay. But I can't help but think he is carrying an unfair share of the blame for the sins of an entire sport.

What A-Rod did was wrong, but it was not unique. Far from it. The problem is no one else in the sport is willing to accept responsibility for a dark chapter in the game's history, and so one man is left to take a public flogging.

It doesn't seem to matter that steroids have been a part of the game since the 1980s. It doesn't seem to matter that a leadoff hitter could go from 16 homers one season to 50 the next, and no one raised an eyebrow. It doesn't seem to matter that the guilty are hiding in the corners of every clubhouse in the majors.

I'm not trying to excuse Rodriguez — just to put this in context.

At least A-Rod bought some credibility by fielding 30 minutes worth of questions from reporters on live television. That is more than Bud Selig has done, and it is far more than union bosses Don Fehr and Gene Orza have done.

The commissioner likes to take credit for all that has gone right in baseball since 1995, but wants to absolve himself of this scandal. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. You don't get to pick which subjects you get graded on. Either you are in charge and accept responsibility, or you are a puppet and deserve no recognition.

As for the leaders of the players association, they have been the worst kind of enablers. For years, they have questioned whether steroids are performance-enhancers or have the potential to be health hazards. They essentially perpetrated an atmosphere that penalized players who did not want to use drugs to keep up.

According to the new book The Yankee Years, Rangers pitcher Rick Helling complained to the players association every spring that steroids were rampant, and were changing the dynamics of the game. New Rays outfielder Gabe Kapler essentially said the same thing in 2000, and submitted to a steroids test for HBO's Real Sports to prove his innocence.

Around that same time, Gary Sheffield estimated 6-7 players per team were on steroids, and the New York Times reported that 20 percent of the players in San Diego's minor-league system had tested positive for steroids. A few years later, Ken Caminiti said as many as 50 percent of the players in the majors were taking performance enhancing drugs.

These weren't just signs of abuse, they were neon billboards. And yet baseball's leaders pretend they knew very little and could do even less. Which makes the hysteria over Rodriguez seem a little extreme.

Again, none of this means A-Rod was an innocent bystander stabbed by a renegade syringe. He was old enough to know what he was doing. He was savvy enough to know it was taboo. Even Yankees general manager Brian Cashman acknowledged some of Rodriguez's answers sounded like less than full disclosure.

So, yes, I think A-Rod could have handled his public apology with a little more sincerity. On the other hand, at least he had the gumption to do it. That's more than you can say for a lot of baseball people.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Baseball's steroid scandal goes far beyond the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez 02/17/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 7:41am]
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