A-Rod’s confession is good for baseball

Published 6:49 pm Monday, February 9, 2009

It helps — a little.

Alex Rodriguez admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs over a three-year period while playing for the Texas Rangers, which he did in an interview with ESPN’s Peter Gammons on Monday, helps clear up some of the cloud of mistrust that had been lingering over baseball for the past several years.

He didn’t hide behind some injury the way a handful of other admitted PED users have. He didn’t offer some extremely vague apology the way his former teammate Jason Giambi did.

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Rodriguez gave everyone more of what they were looking for. Some honesty. Some specifics. Some reason. Some context of what the game had turned into before rules were actually in place (from someone other than Jose Canseco, that is).

But how much does it really help settle the uneasiness that has been crawling around in our stomachs since some of the sport’s biggest names have been tagged as cheaters?

Not entirely, that’s for certain.

What Rodriguez has done is a classic shrewd public relations move. It’s damage control at its very best.

Because no other player of his caliber has admitted specifically to wrongdoing, and because the ones who have denied it are suffering the most humiliating of consequences, Rodriguez admitting to something, anything, makes him look remorseful. It makes him look like he has cleaned his conscious and can move on. It makes him look like a leader of the movement to dissolve baseball of steroids once and for all, and in the long run perhaps that becomes just as much of his legacy than his actual admitted cheating.

But by being the first to react this way, Rodriguez also had the ability to shape the admission however he wanted.

He admitted to using steroids during a three-year period while with the Texas Rangers because he was under tremendous pressure to perform after signing the largest contract in sports history.

While it may be true_it’s understandable that such a contract can create an immeasurable sense of accountability_it could also be true that this is the only period he was required to admit steroid use because of the timing of the leaked positive test.

If he could contain the damage to the Texas years_a brief period with an insignificant franchise at the time that was sandwiched in between his formative Mariner years and his time with the preeminent Yankees franchise_it could soften the blow he takes in the long run.

If Rodriguez were known to have taken steroids as a Mariner, his entire career would be considered fraudulent because his greatness was built on false pretenses. If it were known he used PEDs as a Yankee in the unforgiving New York media market, there’s no telling how destructive that would be.

It’s certainly not beyond the realm of possibility, based on A-Rod’s own reasoning, that he used steroids with either of the other two franchises.

Was he not also under extreme pressure to perform as a Mariner after being drafted first overall in 1993? Was he not in the ultimate of pressure situations after being traded to the Yankees, taking his enormous contract with him, and being asked to perform in the brightest of spotlights for a team desperate to reach the pinnacle of the sport again?

If playing for Texas drove him to cheating, either of those situations could easily have as well.

He doesn’t have to admit to any more than he did on Monday, and an admission of any sort does soften the resentment we hold toward the players who have forever tainted baseball. But it’s the cynicism those same players have created that doesn’t allow for Rodriguez’s statements Monday to be taken as a full admission of guilt.

If there’s a chance he’s holding back some truth, we’ll suggest and believe he’s holding back some truth.

It’s just the climate that has been created when liars like Marion Jones get busted and legends like Barry Bonds attempt to use legal loopholes to clear their names in the highest of courts.

There are really no athletes left that are above suspicion. Would it absolutely stun you if it were revealed that LeBron James used performance enhancers? Michael Phelps? Adrian Peterson? Derek Jeter?

There would be an initial sense of shock, but it would be dulled and short lived because of what has been revealed over the past several years, and certainly the past several days.

That’s why Rodriguez’s admission helps a bit. Maybe some others will follow in his path and we can begin to distinguish once again what athletes we believe in and which ones we still doubt. Because right now they all, most by no fault of their own, fall in that latter category.

A-Rod has perhaps created a new category: Those who have been partially forgiven.