Sunday, February 08, 2009

History Never Absolves Anybody

If Alex Rodriguez is really smart and really tough, and the evidence suggests he is neither, he will go muter than a Trappist and go to work. There's nothing like a five-homer week to drive a scandal from the public consciousness.

The anonymous sources who stated that Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003 will remain just that. There will be no official confirmation unless A-Rod is dumb enough to provide it. There can't be. The leakers of this story violated either the terms of the billion-dollar Basic Agreement, their contract as employees of a drug testing lab (the most likely scenario), or their oaths as lawyers and officers of the court. They will go to desperate lengths to remain nameless. I suspect Barry Bonds' legal team will go to equal lengths to unmask them, but that's another story.

At least A-Rod can abandon his quest to become universally beloved. All it ever brought him was misery, anyway. Perhaps, as a "scandal-dogged" figure, Rodriguez will rediscover his own personality by picking and choosing his human interactions. Perhaps.

I interviewed Rodriguez his first week in the big leagues, as a certified teenage phenom with the Seattle Mariners shortly before the strike of 1994. Even then, it was apparent Rodriguez had created a false front for public consumption. No teenager who ever lived was as bland as A-Rod wanted outsiders to believe he was. It was sad.

A-Rod has always been a sad figure. Poor little rich kid. Whatever he tries to find happiness, it's always blown up in his face, leaving him more unhappy and unloved than ever. You've got to be a seriously bereft human being to seek friendship, sexual or otherwise, with Madonna.

Now that he will self-righteously hated by the glorious guardians of baseball good, Rodriguez is free to forget love and concentrate on, well, self-knowledge might be a place to start as far as spiritual discovery goes. But I recommend time in the batting cage. A big year, a big, big year, and this revelation will fade. Lying to Katie Couric is not a federal crime. Jason Giambi is a member in good standing of the baseball community. Fans don't even boo him too much anymore.

As for the rest of us, it's time to make a decision about the Steroid Era. The evidence mounts that everybody, or most everybody, did it. Their heroes, our heroes, you name 'em. We can accept this unhappy fact, meld it in to our understanding of the game, and move on. Or we can reject baseball altogether. Any choice besides those two is intellectually and morally dishonest.

Baseball, in its historical problem solving pattern of lengthy denial followed by VERY slow and haphazard efforts to cope, has created a testing program with sanctions, just like the other sports. The NFL's drug testing policy, let alone that of track and field, has not ended performance-enhancing drug use. But it has normalized it. It's against the rules, and if you're caught, it's your ass. It is not a moral dilemma that calls for endless editorializing. It's a rule, like all the other rules.

Drug testing doesn't catch all drug users. In point of cold fact, sports science is moving into areas that make steroids look like medieval blood-letting. There will be, if there aren't already, genetically engineered jocks. You tell me how Bud Selig is supposed to catch them.

But drug testing works to the extent it says, "we're trying." We don't want our athletes to be scientifically enhanced. It is a good faith effort. Fans can accept it in that spirit, or they can reject it.

The case of Alex Rodriguez shows it is time for limited amnesty for the Steroid Era. The users of those times should be evaluated on the following terms. "You fucked up, and did something of which we disapprove. But it's over. Sin no more. We REALLY mean that last sentence." The accomplishments of said athletes will be prorated downwards in our minds according to that formula yet to be created I mentioned in my last post. A home run or strikeout in 2009 will be considered to be legit until proven otherwise.

This would require maturity and compassion that American society doesn't possess. Hypocritical self-righteous moralizing and freaking out over any topic are what we do best, and the word "drugs" brings out those unlovely traits like no other.

Baseball fans and commentators, and there will be plenty of them, who will use this story as a platform to suspect every 6-3 grounder as the product of a corrupt system, and to suspect every player of drug use without a hint of proof, are as dishonest as A-Rod was. If that's how they really feel about the game, they should have the guts to stop watching.

They won't. Pontificating and booing are more fun than honesty ever is.


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