A-Rod's "medicine"

Alex Rodriguez doesn't seem to come fully clean, but without fear of baseball's draconian punishments, he offers something in short supply in the war on drugs: Information.

By King Kaufman

Published February 18, 2009 12:00PM (EST)

We're never going to get a truth commission and general amnesty on steroids, but Alex Rodriguez gave us a little peek at what such a thing might have looked like Tuesday at his nationally televised press conference.

The New York Yankees slugger apologized for his drug use, which he said was limited to the 2001-03 seasons, when he played for the Texas Rangers. News that he tested positive on what was supposed to be an anonymous drug test in 2004 was reported by Selena Roberts of Sports Illustrated last week.

A-Rod kept using the unfortunate phrase "I'm here to take my medicine" as he apologized for his steroid use, blaming it on his being "young and stupid," another oft-repeated line.

Putting aside commissioner Bud Selig's idiotic posturing the other day that he'd consider sanctioning Rodriguez for the positive test, A-Rod doesn't appear to be in any great danger of being punished. It's no coincidence that his press conference was the most illuminating steroids confessional to date.

Oh, the next few days will be a festival of word-parsing as people strain to point out every inconsistency and implausibility in what Rodriguez said, some of which was inconsistent and implausible. Asked if he'd have come forward about his steroid use if he hadn't been outed, Rodriguez said, "I haven't thought about that much."

Actually he'd thought about it for five years and, every single day, he'd decided against coming forward.

When A-Rod was asked why he'd been so secretive about what he was doing in 2001-03, when he was young and stupid, why he didn't ask anyone for advice if he hadn't thought what he was doing was wrong, he paused for a long time, then said, "That's a good question."

Yeah, it was, and Rodriguez didn't have a good answer for it. But put that aside for a second. Just accept that Rodriguez did a bad thing, got caught for it and is now spinning, only copping to the minimum that he or his advisors have calculated is necessary for him to cop to in order to limit the damage. And listen to what he said next:

"I knew we weren't taking Tic-Tacs. I knew that it potentially could be something that perhaps was wrong. But I really didn't get into the investigation perhaps like I would have -- I mean I wouldn't imagine thinking of doing something like that today. It's a different world, it's a different culture."

And later, this: "Overall it was a different culture" in 2001-03. "There weren't as many questions asked. Any product today that is presented to you, the first thing you do is you send it to your team trainer, and he'll fax it back. Or the union. Those type of procedures are not what I think occurred back then. Certainly I didn't practice that, obviously."

That's the bottom line in this whole steroid business. It was the culture. That shouldn't absolve anybody of blame or deprive you of the right to get on your high horse if you want to -- nothing should deprive you of that --- but if you're looking to honestly figure out what happened in baseball in the late 1900s and early 2000s, you can't ignore the context. There weren't as many question asked. Not by players, not by management, fans, the union, reporters or anybody else.

It's easy to click and cluck about moral relativism, but if a few years from now our culture decides that jaywalking -- which is against the law now -- is a heinous crime, we're all going to have to look contrite at our own press conferences.

Here are a few other quotes from Rodriguez Tuesday:

"My cousin and I, one more ignorant than the other, decided it was a good idea to start taking [an over-the-counter drug known in the Dominican Republic as 'bole']. My cousin would administer it to me, but neither of us knew how to use it properly, [proving] just how ignorant we both were."

"It was at this point, we decided to take it twice a month for about six months during the 2001, 2002 and 2003 season. We consulted no one and had no good reason to base that decision. It was pretty evident that we didn't know what we were doing."

"I didn't think they were steroids. Again that's part of being young and stupid. It was over the counter, it was pretty basic. It was really amateur hour."

"What I used to take a lot, especially in the Seattle days [when Rodriguez played for the Mariners, his first team], was something called Ripped Fuel. It since has been banned by Major League Baseball, I believe, and also has been removed from the shelves at GNC. I used to dabble with that some."

Now compare that to the money quote from a similar press conference at the start of Yankees spring training four years ago, by Jason Giambi: "I know the fans might want more, but at this present time because of all the legal matters, I can't get into specifics. Someday, hopefully, I will be able to."

Giambi was in the midst of apologizing extravagantly for something, but not saying what it was he was apologizing for. It was one of the all-time surreal moments in baseball history.

So which press conference was more useful? Steroid abuse is a serious problem that baseball and other sports would like to solve. You can't solve a problem if you don't understand it. Not a whole lot of understanding came out of Giambi's session as he tried to avoid punishment from Selig and the voiding of his contract on a morals clause by the Yankees. For all of A-Rod's equivocating, he filled in a small corner of our picture of the steroid culture.

More guys telling more truth. It ought to be a no-brainer that that's the best road to an understanding of the issue, which is the best road to a solution to the problem.

Alex Rodriguez has an uncanny ability to come across as a disingenuous phony who desperately wants you to believe things about him that aren't true. He could say, "The sky is blue and my name is Alex" and it would sound like a couple of whoppers.

It's easy and fun to pile on the guy and that's what a lot of people are going to spend the next few days doing, calling him a liar, pointing out that he was 25, not 24, in 2001, saying that he threw his cousin under the bus, questioning the idea that an elite professional athlete who'd just signed a $252 million contract could put something into his body without knowing what it was.

And all that's going to make the next guy who has a truth to tell a little more reluctant to tell it. And then we'll all pile on that guy for not coming clean.

We should appreciate what Alex Rodriguez did Tuesday. Even if he didn't do it voluntarily. Even if he didn't tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. He told more truth than any other active player's ever told, and more than any other superstar's come close to saying. We need more of that. And we're almost certainly not going to get it.

King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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Baseball Drugs