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Eternal A-Rod

Ten years ago, Alex Rodriguez’s career might have been ended by a steroid suspension. Today, fans are just hoping Bud Selig can get over his PED crusade.

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Illustration by Andy Friedman   

At the current rate of technological change, it is nearly impossible to imagine what life is going to be like in the year 2017. But there are a few certainties: We will have a new president, Vin Diesel and Pamela Anderson will turn 50, and Alex Rodriguez will still be a member of the New York Yankees.

This fact is important to remember, considering that last month, Rodriguez was hit with the (rough estimate) 47,392nd performance-enhancement-drug scandal of his career, when MLB strategically leaked plans to suspend him—along with Ryan Braun and eighteen others—for up to 100 games based on their connection to a Miami “wellness clinic” and supposed PED ped­dler called Bio­genesis. (Or, more correctly, the appearance of their names, or what might be their names, in some very sketchy documents provided by Biogenesis’s very sketchy ringleader, Anthony Bosch.) Rodriguez may be the most unpopular player in baseball—he might be the most unpopular Yankee of all time—but he is not going anywhere, whatever the commissioner’s office does with that supposed evidence (and it’s not entirely clear it’ll be able to pull off suspensions). He is signed by the Yankees for another four years plus this season, at a heady price of roughly $105 ­million, and this is where he’s going to stay.

Of course, the Yankees are going to do everything in their power to get rid of him, as any prudent team would. They’ll use the Biogenesis scandal as an excuse, try to pull out some “conduct unbecoming” clause, try to convince A-Rod that his injuries are just so overwhelming that he’d be doing himself a favor by retiring and, oh, by the way, allowing the ­Yankees to collect insurance money on the rest of his deal. But none of that is going to happen—the notion of a “guaranteed contract” is the central tenet of the whole players-union plank, and the Yankees won’t be able to trade Rodriguez either. His was the worst contract in baseball even before the hip injury and Biogenesis. Prudent? Any team that was being all that prudent wouldn’t have given him the contract in the first place.

Which means Alex Rodriguez—A-Rod the ­mirror kisser, A-Rod the juicer, A-Rod the ­centaur—is going to outlast Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, and all the rest of them. Come 2017, he will have been a member of the Yankees for fourteen seasons—one of the truest True Yankees of all time and an integral aspect of the franchise’s personality for one of its most representative stretches, no matter how much fans and management would love to wish him away. And I can’t help but wonder how much differently we’ll all feel about him then—about him and his PED use.

When Mark McGwire was serving as the hitting coach for the St. Louis ­Cardinals the past three seasons, there was a running joke that at some point, manager Tony LaRussa was going to sneak him in to pinch-hit.

The purpose of this would not have been to win the game; McGwire has been retired for twelve years and is considerably less … oh, let’s say husky than he was in his playing days. No, the idea was to restart ­McGwire’s Hall of Fame clock. The way the rules currently work, you enter the ballot five years after you retire, and remain on it for fifteen years, so if Mc­Gwire were to show up one more time in a game, he would essentially lengthen the number of years he could be on the ballot by fifteen. Which would probably double, at least, his chances of making it into the Hall.

That’s because, when it comes to steroids, we’re not living in the late nineties anymore. For the last fifteen years, baseball has been gripped by a kind of steroid fever, in which the league has led a moralistic but self-destructive crusade against those damned dirty drugs and those damned dirty users. No other sport has this sort of PED ­hysteria—particularly the NFL, which is widely assumed to be rife with abuse no one cares about. And the commissioner’s crusade is anomalous in baseball history, too—ballplayers gobbled up PEDs called ­amphetamines since the days of Ty Cobb and are still routinely helped through injuries with ­regular injections of cortisone, which is an actual steroid. It’s not clear what harmful effect the drugs have had on the health of players who’ve used them, and it’s even less clear what effect they’ve had on baseball ­players under their influence: Despite the conventional wisdom that steroids gave rise to the power-hitting nineties, more pitchers than hitters seem to have taken them, and there are plausible theories that the home-run boom of those years was the result of juiced baseballs, not players.


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