Alex Rodriguez had what was essentially an impossible assignment during his long-awaited pile-on press conference in Tampa this afternoon. The media, frustrated by what has been perceived as a soft, hand-holding interview with ESPN’s Peter Gammons, had a full week to parse all of A-Rod’s statements, looking for inconsistencies and weak spots. They were ready to attack. It would have been treacherous for the smoothest, most media-friendly personality — and Alex Rodriguez is not that personality. It’s no wonder he was late showing up. His first remarks were, “Bear with me. I’m a little nervous.” It was hard not to be nervous for him, even if you hate the guy.
But A-Rod could have done much, much worse. His — or, more accurately, his handlers’ — smartest move was basically starting out with, “Alex Rodriguez was a moron for a very, very long time.” Why did Alex Rodriguez take a substance twice a month that he didn’t know anything about? He’s a moron! Why did he fail a test he’d been warned about beforehand? He’s a moron! Why did he not tell Peter Gammons about this mysterious cousin (a cousin, amusingly, he refused to name, as if the blogs aren’t going to ferret that guy out in the next 24 hours) who supposedly is the only person on earth who knew A-Rod was taking steroids? He’s a moron!
He used the term “young and stupid” (repeatedly) rather than “moron,” and even seemed to attach it to the “mistake” of heading straight into baseball out of high school rather than going to college. (Because no one does drugs in college.) But, ultimately, that was A-Rod’s defense: He was once a moron, and now he is no longer a moron. It’s no wonder he was (sporadically) so convincing.
He had some rough moments, particularly when he was pushed about why, if he really didn’t think what he was taking from 2001 to 2003 was “wrong,” he was so secretive about it for years afterwards. He muttered, “I knew we weren’t taking Tic Tacs,” which would seem to gut his whole line of “defense.” He also meekly backed off his claims about Sports Illustrated’s Selena Roberts, saying he apologizes, and that “we both decided to put it behind us.” (Considering that she has a book coming out about A-Rod in April, it seems unlikely Roberts is putting anything behind her — nor should she.)
As much futzing and fidgeting as A-Rod did — including (kind of) breaking down in tears while reading from his prepared statement — there were two moments of unvarnished truth. First was his admission that part of the motivation for taking steroids is mental — the idea that if you feel they will make you better, they will make you better.
The second admission was the saddest, and emptiest, one. A-Rod seems to really believe that he can move on with his life. “The last fifteen months have been very, very tough,” he said. “I miss simply being a baseball player.” Alex Rodriguez, it’s important to remember, has never had a life outside of baseball and appears to have little understanding of the world. (It’s commonly noted that his best friend is probably his agent, Scott Boras, who has known him since he was 15.) He has always only looked comfortable on the diamond, where he has some semblance of control over his life. (Other than in the playoffs, anyway.) To look at him today was to see a man desperate to get out on the field, where everything falls away.
But he’ll never be just a ballplayer again, and no matter how much he tries to pretend otherwise, he has to know that. If he thinks that “taking my medicine” today, answering questions for half an hour and heading back out to the field, will really make everything go away … well, then he’s still “young and stupid.”