But if, as MLB sources and recent reports suggest, investigators have gathered a thick paper trail that can prove his Biogenesis link, a subsequent effort to impede the investigation by attempting to purchase incriminating documents, and perhaps even contradictions in his responses during baseball's Galea inquiry, the threat of a lifetime ban looms. And whether he appeals—or can strike a deal similar to the 65-game suspension doled out on July 23 to Milwaukee's Ryan Braun with few details made public—there's simply no good way to spin it. If Rodriguez falls again, no amount of horses and men gets him back on the wall.
One reason, of course, is that the public tends to allow one clean shot at redemption. "He got a second chance and didn't make good on it," says MLB broadcaster Bob Costas. "There's an acknowledged first episode and now there's this, and it makes people think, Well, perhaps he's, in one way or another, been doing this throughout his career."
But there's another reason, and it gets at the heart of what has long been a general unease with Rodriguez. Scouts and coaches have raved about his smarts—his biggest detractors, even now, would be hard-pressed to question his superlative, even sublime, baseball IQ—since he began holding press conferences as an 18-year-old. Few athletes can be more polished, to the extent that even now the idea of his risking everything with another foray into PEDs is mind-boggling. "When this came out, I said, 'You got to be kidding me,' " says Rich Hofman, Rodriguez's baseball coach at Westminster Christian in Fort Lauderdale, of the Biogenesis story. "I've heard of dumb guys doing this but not a guy of Alex's nature. He's one of the more intelligent people in the game."
Yet, as is his wont, last week Rodriguez again proved himself too clever by half. On July 21, after sitting out his final rehab game with the RailRiders, he underwent an MRI in New York and was judged by Yankees doctor Chris Ahmad to have a Grade 1 strain in his left quadriceps. Though he had been the first to point out the injury, Rodriguez insisted he was ready to play and wanted to rejoin the Yankees in Texas, and then he began a campaign to, essentially, embarrass the team into activating him.
After telling Yankees president Randy Levine two days later that he didn't trust Ahmad and wanted a second opinion, Rodriguez—in violation of the collective bargaining agreement that calls for written notice from the player beforehand—asked an outside doctor, New Jersey orthopedist Michael Gross, to evaluate the MRI. The next morning, after Rodriguez refused to take calls from Levine and Cashman, Gross appeared on New York's WFAN and said that he saw no strain in the MRI results. Gross also admitted that he hadn't examined Rodriguez personally. By the time that sank in, the news broke that, in February, Gross had been reprimanded and fined $30,000 by the state for "failing to adequately ensure proper patient treatment involving the prescribing of hormones including steroids" at his Hackensack, N.J., wellness center. (Gross claimed the steroids were not anabolic and that he was not working with an athlete.)
That sewed up the Yankees' win for this round. Relations were to grow only chillier: Rodriguez brought a lawyer with him to last Thursday's teleconference with team officials; Cashman had taken to referring to his eight-year employee as "Mr. Rodriguez" and mulled slapping him with a hefty fine. By the end of the day, all involved appeared to agree to the new timetable that could return A-Rod to action by Aug. 1, but, Lord knows, that could easily change.
"Our position is very simple," Levine says. "He's our player and we need him, because he'd be the best third baseman we have, and we've done everything we can. We've said it publicly and through our actions. There's not one scintilla of evidence that we've done anything—anything—to try and keep him off the field."
The absurdity of Rodriguez's trotting out a doctor with reprimand and steroids in his CV to speak for him anytime—much less the day after Braun became the first Biogenesis domino to fall—couldn't be more self-evident. Yet his obliviousness when it comes to his actual public image is nothing new. Rodriguez never seemed to get why that magazine photo a few years back of him kissing his own reflection might be off-putting, or that his flirtation with two women in the stands during last year's playoff loss might seem inappropriate coming from someone flailing through a 3-for-25 skid. The illegal slap at Bronson Arroyo's glove in 2004? That "Ha!" to distract a Blue Jays fielder in '07? For a man who appears so self-conscious, it's remarkable that the only one who doesn't see through him is ... him.
Indeed, Rodriguez has always given off an oddly needy vibe, irresistible chum in the shark tank of any men's locker room, and puzzling when it rises off a rich alpha male. He came to the Yankees in 2004 with baggage—that $252 million contract, a lack of playoff success, the memory that he had, in 2000, unleashed some dismissive quotes about former "blood brother" and the epitome of all things Yankee, Derek Jeter—that never lightened much. Though the better shortstop, Rodriguez gracefully moved to third base, but neither that, nor his two Bronx MVP awards, nor his torrid hitting during a 2009 title run, was enough to win over hard-core pinstriped hearts.
"He can go hit 50 home runs next year and the next three, four years do the same, but no matter what Alex does in New York, he's never going to be put in that Jeter class or the Mariano [Rivera] class, even though his talents and his stats are incredible," says former Yankee Johnny Damon. "Derek Jeter is Mr. New York. It's understood: Everybody loves Derek. I love Derek. A-Rod's never going to get that love that Jeter has."