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Posted: Sunday February 8, 2009 12:17PM; Updated: Monday February 9, 2009 10:38PM
Jon Heyman Jon Heyman >
VIEWPOINT

A-Rod tainted by players union's mistake; how will he respond?

Story Highlights

A-Rod failed a drug test, but the union's mistake has made it a scandal

It has cast a pall not only over A-Rod's legacy but also the Yanks' future

The question now is how the slugger -- and also the union -- will respond

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alex-rodriguez-si1.jpg
Alex Rodriguez was one of 104 players who tested positive for steroids in 2003.
V.J. Lovero/SI

When Alex Rodriguez was approached by Sports Illustrated writer Selena Roberts in the University of Miami gym on Thursday and presented with the bombshell that he failed baseball's 2003 steroid survey test, Rodriguez's immediate reaction was to tell her, "You'll have to talk to the union.''

That's all these players know. The union will protect them. The union will save them. It always does, and it always will.

That's what Rodriguez thought, anyway.

But here, in the most important issue to face the players union, the union has instead sunk him. The union has absolutely killed him.

Sure, Rodriguez brought this controversy on himself with that failed drug test, as SI reported exclusively on Saturday. But this was one taint that A-Rod didn't have to endure, and shouldn't have had to endure.

Those test results were supposed to have been destroyed, expunged, wiped away. And they would have been obliterated, had the union not kept them around for no good reason.

"The Players Association screwed up royally,'' one player agent said on Saturday after hearing the revelation that the first and biggest name on the infamous 2003 steroid list had leaked out. "They fought for something that didn't mean a thing. Well, now they got [Barry] Bonds. And they got A-Rod. Now we have to wonder: Who else is going to fall?''

That steroid survey list from 2003 was supposed to be anonymous, nameless and faceless. And the list of 104 player failures was supposed to be destroyed immediately after it was tallied up. That was the plan. The only need for the litany of names was to determine whether enough failures would mean that testing would begin in earnest, with penalties, in 2004.

The list wasn't supposed to last.

But here it is, six years later, and the list still exists. It exists on paper. And it exists in the minds of the tens of baseball people, and lawyers and lab people who have seen it.

That list would have been long gone if not for the union; according to three baseball sources familiar with the testing process, players union COO Gene Orza worked long and hard to try to pare down the list. Orza's mission, SI's sources say, was to find enough false positives on the list to drive the number of failures so far down that real testing wouldn't be needed in 2004 or ever.

Orza wanted to get the list down below the five percent threshold for testing to go away entirely. But after months of trying, Orza couldn't do it, and baseball announced that a curiously imprecise 5-7 percent of players failed the 2003 survey test, enough to ramp up the testing in 2004, much to the union's dismay.

And when BALCO investigators asked for the results of the players linked to that scandal, Orza did what came naturally to him, which was to fight. He had a history of winning his fights, so that gave him confidence that he could win this fight.

But this time he didn't win. The feds subpoenaed all the records instead of just the BALCO boys.

All 104 players who tested positive were now at risk.

"He wouldn't give up the BALCO names,'' one source said of Orza, "so instead, [the federal government] got every name.''

All 104 names were now in the hands of the feds, a time bomb that's been ticking for six years and finally went off on Saturday with the report of Roberts and David Epstein of SI that Rodriguez, baseball's best player and heir apparent to the all-time home-run record, tested positive for testosterone and the steroid Primobolan.

Really, with the list of positive tests out there, it was bound to happen sooner or later. The mere existence of the list severely inhibits the option of plausible deniability for A-Rod. Since the list still exists, it's possible it can still be made public. Plus, it's been seen by too many folks by now.

Truly, it's a wonder that it's taken this long for even one name to come out.

The biggest name is out, and that's just A-Rod's luck. The 1-in-a-104 shot came in for him.

Being a superstar has its burdens -- and A-Rod has certainly had his share -- but this time he will really be tested. While Rodriguez wasn't to be found on Saturday (he is said to be vacationing out of the country), people who know him well wonder how he'll handle this. This is much tougher than a Josh Beckett fastball in October.

That other stuff about his marriage and love life, about Madonna and the others, about whether he hits in the clutch or not, is a true Yankee or not, was liked or disliked by Derek Jeter, was an A-Fraud or the real deal, all that stuff put together, all that might have annoyed him.

This might torment him. With or without outside help, Rodriguez is the most talented player in baseball. He has all the skills. But he also has an insatiable need for approval, and that's going to be harder to come by now.

"He is very sensitive,'' a former close friend said. "I'd be worried about him.''

This will also weigh on the $200 million Yankees that were all set to greet new superstars CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira in spring training in a couple weeks. Now they have The Yankee Years, former manager Joe Torre's tell-a-lot book that throws criticism at Rodriguez, general manager Brian Cashman and several prominent former Yankees. And that's not even one percent of the story now.

The other 99.9 percent is Sports Illustrated's report, which casts a pall over what could have been a championship team and all-time great player entering their new luxury palace in the Bronx. The great story of 2009 has been altered for the worse now.

The next decade's story has been changed, too. The Yankees have A-Rod for nine more years (and if anyone thinks they're getting out of it, just recall that the Yankees only weeks ago brought back Andy Pettitte, who admitted to HGH use, without a hint of reservation.). They have $250 million left to pay A-Rod, plus another $30 million in incentives for passing various all-time home run milestones, a march that will now likely bring no more cheers than Barry Bonds' pursuit of Hank Aaron.

Rodriguez has said nothing yet beyond his original comment to SI, which was in full, "You'll have to talk to the union ... I'm not saying anything.''

There could be claims that the natural or prescribed response in such a situation is to talk to the union. But it sure doesn't look great to say nothing else when confronted with such damaging news.

This is Rodriguez's problem now, and he's going to have to step to the plate pretty soon. This is the biggest at-bat of his career. Whatever the answer is, it has to be better than what Mark McGwire tried, or certainly what former teammate Roger Clemens threw out there.

And, if someone else needs to step forward, it's Orza.

Besides his foolish delay in destroying the list, according to the SI bombshell story three major league players said Orza tipped off Rodriguez that he was about to be tested in September 2004. A similar accusation was made about Orza and one unnamed player by admitted steroid dealer and star witness Kirk Radomski in the Mitchell Report. Orza skated on that one, possibly since the mention was lost in that 311-page page report, and perhaps because it was just one unnamed player.

This is much more memorable. This involves the greatest player in the game.

So far Orza isn't talking, telling SI when confronted on Friday, "I'm not interested in discussing that information with you." (The union issued a statement saying that "there was no improper tipping of players in 2004 about the timing of drug tests.")

Orza, who didn't return a call to his home on Saturday, is also known as a hardliner, a stonewaller and a zealot. And when it came to player salaries it always worked. Major league players are rich beyond anyone's dreams. Fehr and Orza did great by the players when it came to the bottom line.

But when it came time to confront the burgeoning issue of steroids, Orza's overzealousness blinded him to the reality that this was a serious issue. Orza's overzealousness has cost A-Rod a lot here. And 103 more players have to be worrying today that they may be next.

Jenkins: A-Rod's admission shows he's smarter than Bonds
SI Exclusive:
A-Rod tested positive for steroids in 2003
Keith: A-Rod controversy spoils entire 2009 campaign
Verducci: How SI's report affects A-Rod, Yanks and MLB
Roberts: Q&A on breaking A-Rod story
Jenkins: A-Rod goes from backing Bonds to joining him in misery
Ballard: A-Rod becomes latest superhero unmasked
McCann: Rodriguez unlikely to face criminal charges
React: How does this news impact your opinion of A-Rod?
Gallery: A-Rod through the years
60 Minutes: A-Rod denies ever using PED's

 
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