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Chasing A-Rod

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In Detroit, Rodriguez took a urine test—and passed. In fact, he didn’t fail a drug test during the three years he’s accused of using banned substances. In the view of Rodriguez’s legal team, it’s evidence that he was clean. For Bosch, it simply was proof of how good he was.

Everyone knew that Alex Rodriguez had been a steroid user.

We were seated at a conference table in the sweeping, marble-floored offices of Reed, Smith, one of his law firms. Rodriguez was in a midnight-blue suit, with a white shirt and a narrow tie. He looked immaculate, as usual. He was lively and engaged, ever youthful, though there was stubble on his face and it was gray. We talked baseball, the mental game. “The more you play baseball, the less depends on your athletic ability,” Rodriguez explained. “It’s a mental war more than anything.” For all athletes, confidence is an issue, but more so for Rodriguez. “Alex is the most insecure,” Bosch said.

Rodriguez has spent a career worried about losing his edge and done everything possible to prevent that. He walked around the locker room with a mini-fridge slugging down green-colored shakes. He hired a performance coach, who worked on his focus. He traveled to Germany to have his blood enriched, which might help him rehab a bad knee and perhaps also to counter fatigue from 162 games. He reached out to Victor Conte, founder of the infamous Balco, the company at the center of the previous steroid scandal. Conte was back in the supplement business, this time on the right side of the law.

And, at least in one era, he did steroids.

At first, he’d denied it. On 60 Minutes in 2007, he looked Katie Couric in the eye and said, “I’ve never felt overmatched on the baseball field … so no.” Two years later, in 2009, following a press report that he’d failed a drug test in 2003, while on the Texas Rangers, he told a different story. He admitted that he and his cousin had bought over-the-counter drugs in the Dominican Republic. It was a different era; physicians recommended by the Players Association coached ballplayers on how to avoid detection. Rodriguez, who usually boasted of mastering details, said he didn’t know exactly what he was injecting. But Rodriguez knew he was crossing the line. “I knew we weren’t taking Tic Tacs,” he famously admitted. And his stats between 2001 and 2003 show a marked increase in power—he hit 57 home runs in 2002, a career high. But most important, he said he hadn’t used them since 2003. It was a difficult passage for A-Rod—but in 2009, his transgressions were mostly forgiven, if not forgotten. “I was hitting everything in sight,” he recalled. Led by Rodriguez, the Yankees won the World Series. “Thank God, otherwise I’d be under a bridge somewhere,” he told me.

It was past 7 p.m.—we’d been talking for an hour or more.

Why should anyone believe your denials this time? I asked him.

There were five seconds before he responded. “I’m not sure,” he said.

The secret arbitration hearing at which Rodriguez appealed his 211-game suspension took place at MLB headquarters on Park Avenue. Bosch had three security guards and three lawyers and a PR person; MLB had as many as nine lawyers; Rodriguez five. The hearing ended last week. By then, after two weeks of testimony, his legal team had given up hope of winning, despite vehemently denying that in the press. Their strategy by the end was to lay the groundwork for an appeal in federal court. They had been frustrated by the rules of evidence—or lack of rules. Hearsay, for instance, is permitted. And then hanging over the proceedings was a peculiarity of baseball’s arbitration system. If arbitrator Fredric Horowitz rules against MLB, it has the right to fire him; it fired an arbitrator in a similar situation last year. (The Players Association has the same right.)

Rodriguez was given ten days to present a defense, but cut it short after Horowitz ruled that Commissioner Selig didn’t have to testify. On hearing that, Rodriguez slammed his fist to the table and stormed out. “I thought I should get a chance to confront my accuser,” he told me. He had promised to testify the day after Selig. Instead, he took to the airwaves and denounced the hearing as a “farce,” then returned to South Florida to await the results. A ruling is expected later this month or early next year.

A week before his hearing, I’d met Rodriguez in the parking lot before a University of Miami football game—Rodriguez is on the UM board of trustees, and he plans to be a business student there. It was the tailgate party, and acres of cars had backed up to green-and-orange tents. Rodriguez showed up in his UM shirt and took a spot under the tent of his PR guy, a University of Miami alumnus. Word traveled quickly to the other tents, and fans, most of them excited young women, materialized, snapping photos with their smartphones and posting on Twitter or Instagram.

The new A-Rod is partly a media ­strategy. Good Morning America was there to record the good feeling. But Rodriguez was insistent that the changes are real.

“You think about 18, 28, 38,” he said. “Those are decades apart, and so much has changed. I’ve gotten so much more comfortable in our own clubhouse with my teammates.” He finally felt connected to other players—he’d recently vacationed with a few, including Robinson Cano and CC Sabathia.

The improved relationships are the result of an internal change. “I’m comfortable in my skin now,” he told me.

Horrible as it’s been, the scandal, and MLB’s hyperaggressive pursuit, have made him something he’s never been: an underdog. “Today, I was walking down the streets, and, I mean, literally, people were jumping out of their cabs, out of their Town Cars, out of their buses. Beeping, stopping. I shook a hundred hands. People were saying, ‘We’re behind you.’ Every guy was flying out of a window, ‘Go get ’em!!’ It was so emotional.”

He’s been a New York Yankee for ten years and hadn’t ever felt that kind of love. “No matter what I’ve done in baseball, including ’09 [and winning the World Series], it’s never felt like this. Never. Never.”


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