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Posted: Tuesday February 10, 2009 1:16PM; Updated: Tuesday February 10, 2009 8:00PM
Tom Verducci Tom Verducci >
INSIDE BASEBALL

A-Rod interview raised more questions than answers

Story Highlights

The mirror Alex Rodriguez looked into was a fun-house mirror

Gammons stuck to the script throughout the interview, never asking follow-ups

It's wishful thinking for A-Rod to believe the questions should stop

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Alex Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez sat down with ESPN's Peter Gammons on Monday for an interview that lasted just over a half hour.
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Unreal.

So lies the career, however neatly parsed for us, and the image of Alex Rodriguez. Even when he took a proper step forward, admitting on Monday that he was a drug cheat, the mirror he looked into was a fun-house mirror. Believe me now, he told us, while making belief difficult for people such as Tom Hicks.

Hicks, the owner of the Texas Rangers, paid Rodriguez $150 million to play just three seasons in Texas and then go away. The Rangers finished in last place every year and Rodriguez admitted on Monday that he was dirty every year, pretty much assuring that this was the worst investment in sports history.

Hicks made a similarly oversized personal investment in Rodriguez, befriending him and ceding to him strong influence on personnel matters. Of course, those times being what they were in baseball, those two discussed steroids, Hicks says, and Rodriguez didn't just slough off the subject. According to Hicks, Rodriguez personally assured his good friend that he would never get involved in anything like that. It was, of course, not just a lie but a dramatic lie.

"I feel personally betrayed," Hicks said on a conference call Tuesday. "I feel deceived by Alex. He assured me that he had far too much respect for his own body to ever do that to himself ... I certainly don't believe that, if he's now admitting that he started using when he came to the Texas Rangers, why should I believe that it didn't start before he came to the Texas Rangers?"

Hicks asks a very good question about Rodriguez's drug use, the kind of question about credibility that remains with Rodriguez even after his admission. The admission was wise, especially given a) he was caught cold by an impeccable story by SI's Selena Roberts and David Epstein and b) the road map for if and how to come clean has been clearly drawn by the lessons of other performance-enhancing drug users. We've reached a point where actually admitting three years of PED use, no matter what the qualifications, gets you bouquets. So, good for Rodriguez. He displayed some honor among scoundrels. If he continues to speak out against drug use and not run from the subject and his past, he will elevate himself further.

Like all things Rodriguez, though, it is never so simple. The calculation to his story was both clever and clumsy, and sloppy questioning left much to be desired. For instance, ESPN's Peter Gammons handed Rodriguez his own timeline by asking, "You're saying that time period was 2001, 2002 and 2003?" And when Rodriguez responded, "That's pretty accurate, yes" (emphasis mine), Gammons, as he did throughout the interview, stuck to the script and did not follow up.

What Gammons missed (and most of the news media that reported on it, for that matter) is that Rodriguez clearly never admitted to using steroids. His choice of words was Clinton-esque. He never wanted that sound bite in which he spoke the word "steroids" to put in the time capsule -- a manufacturing of the truth that created the clumsiness.

So we got Rodriguez first telling us he used "a banned substance," then saying "I don't know exactly what, um, substance I was guilty of using," and then going to the plural and saying, "I started experimenting with things that today are not legal." So what he is saying is that this fitness freak took something or some things for three years and didn't know what they were, but even though he didn't know what they were, he somehow knows that they were banned.

(SI and, in an independent follow-up story, The New York Times, reported that Rodriguez tested positive for Primobolan, one of the most expensive steroids available, and testosterone. Gammons never asked Rodriguez whether his "banned substance" was taken in tablet or injectable form.)

As contradictions go, Rodriguez also said he had some epiphany in spring training of 2003 to stop using PEDs, but acknowledged he played all his years in Texas, including 2003, under PEDs. He said he never knew he tested positive in 2003 until Roberts informed him last week, but the Mitchell Report stated that "all of the players [who tested positive] were notified by early September 2004" by the union. Even when Gammons asked him about being called "A-Fraud," a reference to a comment by teammates in 2004 in The Yankee Years, written by Joe Torre and myself, Rodriguez contradicted himself within a single answer. His immediate response was to blurt back "Never." But before he finished answering the question, he admitted, "So did I hear 'A-Fraud?' Yeah." Huh?

The worst performance, by both Rodriguez and Gammons, was in the treatment of Roberts. Rodriguez went out of his way to try to impugn Roberts -- mostly with what Roberts has called "fabrications" -- in response to questions that had absolutely nothing to do with her reporting. (Questions about World Baseball Classic testing, the union, the Hall of Fame and his daughters somehow sent Rodriguez off on Roberts.) Not once did Gammons follow up, letting attacks on a fellow journalist with a sterling reputation go unquestioned. Rodriguez was well advised to take the high road in making an admission, but he undermined that standing with a personal viciousness that took him off point.

Rodriguez's hope is that this managed interview will put his drug use in "a vault," he said, so he can move forward. It's a nice sentiment, not just as it applies to him but also for the entire Steroid Era. We should hope it is true. It's just not realistic, not when too many questions remain and the truth, like water from an aquifer, is relentless.

Rodriguez admits to using steroids
SI's Roberts responds to A-Rod's claims
SI:
A-Rod tested positive for steroids in 2003
Jenkins: Rodriguez proves he's smarter than Bonds
Heyman:
A-Rod takes positive first step in long road to recovery
Taylor: History may be kinder to A-Rod than you think

 
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