A-Rod Failed Steroids Test in 2003

According to an story by Selena Roberts, who also happens to be writing an unflattering book on him, and David Epstein, Alex Rodriguez was one of 104 baseball players to fail a steroids test in 2003, prompting the beginning of regular testing in baseball since more than 5 percent of the players tested positive.  Roberts managed to get four different if anonymous sources to confirm that A-Rod was one of the 104.  If true, and doubters should brace themselves for the very real likelihood that it is, A-Rod not only took steroids but also lied about it on at least one occasion, lying to Katie Couric on “60 Minutes” and looking uncomfortable and a bit twitchy in doing so.

Bad news for A-Rod, and worse news for his historical legacy.

I have no idea whether or not this will affect his play this season and beyond. My hunch is that it won’t do so too much.  I also don’t know whether or not testing positive scared A-Rod straight afterward, though his numerous negative tests seem to indicate that it did, or that he has found a superior steroid with masking agents.  But I do know a few things.  This will weigh on A-Rod at least somewhat, since he’s a sensitive guy who cares very much about his appearance before others.  He also seems to care very much about his place in the game now and within its history.  As 2006 and, to a lesser degree 2008 showed, A-Rod has had issues dealing with various distractions and personal issues.

Along those lines, I also know that A-Rod’s place in the game will be forever shrouded by the cloud of steroids.  Even if A-Rod was only caught once, it was once, putting him in the same category of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Andy Pettite, Roger Clemens, Jason and Jeremy Giambi, Jeremy Giambi, Matt Williams, and so many more caught, accused, and/or confessed users.  Although Bob Costas was right to point out yesterday that A-Rod experienced neither the physical nor statistical ballooning that Bonds, McGwire, and Jason Giambi did from steroids, and that A-Rod has been remarkably durable had he been a steroids user, the fact remains that A-Rod will have his career judged by what he used at least as much if not more than what he did, whether or not he was caught once.  The revelation of this positive test result (more about that in a bit) might reveal that A-Rod had done steroids to some degree right up until 2003 and, rather than A-Rod being the seemingly anomalous baseball slugger not to use steroids, has instead been the seemingly anomalous slugger to experience neither a precipitous drop in his production nor a deterioration of his body–yet.

Additionally, I know that A-Rod will hear loud boos and chants about steroids the rest of his career, at home and on the road.  When I was in Chicago for the April 23 game last season, there were scattered “Steroids!” chants when Giambi came to the plate–a few years after his apologetic, non-admission admission.  Because of his status in the game, enormous salary, and apparent lies about using steroids, A-Rod’s treatment should be much worse, especially in Boston.

I know that the touted anonymity of the players who tested positive in 2003 is an embarrassing joke.  This leak needs to be investigated just as the leaking of Bonds, Giambi, and Sheffield’s names was investigated and prosecuted.  It could be that someone in the testing agency leaked the information about A-Rod.  It could also be that the four sources for Roberts and Epstein’s story are from the federal government, that some deemed public embarrassment for high-profile athletes sufficient remedy for their taking steroids.  I honestly don’t know, but I do know that this is a violation of their right to privacy.  That’s gone, as is any shred of integrity and anonymity that baseball and the Players’ Association had intended the 2003 testing program to have.

I know that many others will join Joel Sherman of the New York Post in thinking that the Yankees were stupid not have cut bait on A-Rod when they had the chance after the 2007 season.  At the very least, they will join Harvey Araton of The New York Times in singing “Nine Long Years,” the remaining time on A-Rod’s $275 million contract, as if it were a riff off the blues song Eddie Boyd wrote and Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, and others have covered.  Nine Long Years the boos and chants will continue, particularly since A-Rod’s massive contract renders him practically immovable elsewhere, should the Yankees ever consider it.

I know that the other 103 players who tested positive in 2003 are scattered through most of the rest of the teams.  Yet the Yankees, as with the release of The Mitchell Report, have taken a disproportionate public-relations hit with this revelation because A-Rod is their player.  With the Mitchell Report revelations, it creates the image that the big-spending Yankees are a steroids team, while others–players and teams–skate by with the illusory image that they try to do things “the right way.”   I’m not complaining about A-Rod’s apparently positive test, but rather pointing out the fact that the Yankees take an unfair hit, since A-Rod’s positive test was before he joined the team and in all likelihood they knew nothing about it.  But it is what it is, and the organization needs to deal with it.  They traded for and re-signed the guy.  I guarantee that at least some in the front office share some level of agreement with Sherman’s column, probably wondering how much A-Rod and his ever-full trunk of baggage is worth.

I know that, if revelations that Players’ Association Chief Operating Officer Gene Orza tipped off players about pending tests are true, he should resign.  It’s not the first time Orza has been accused of such actions.  It puts the MLBPA in a bad light, again, and further compromises, again, what little integrity the steroids testing program in baseball has left.

Lastly for now, though there is more to say about this, I know that only a championship can blunt–not erase–the discussion about A-Rod’s steroid use.  That will require a fully healthy Mariano and Posada, a highly effective trio of new Yankees Sabathia, Teixeira, and Burnett, a resurgent Jeter, a healthy and productive Matsui, a better bench, a steady bullpen, and a focused and productive A-Rod.  I have no doubt A-Rod will be productive.  How much and how focused he will be, especially in light of this revelation and his own history of providing and at times succumbing to distractions, will parallel the steroid story throughout the season.

[Edit: Three additional takes on A-Rod’s steroids mess worth reading come from Buster Olney at, Sam Borden at The Amsterdam Journal News, and Tyler Kepner of The New York Times. I don’t know exactly what all this will portend for A-Rod’s historical legacy.  Right now, I’m inclined to agree with the harshest critics that, based on how McGwire has fared, this will destroy A-Rod’s chances for the Hall of Fame.  Should A-Rod somehow acknowledge guilt and become a public leader against steroid use, maybe that will change, but I’m doubtful. For all the popularity of and laundry list of indiscretions and illegalities in football, baseball remains a sport judged more harshly than others.  My belief is that it relates to baseball’s being the nation’s “original sport,” that it and its imagery invokes, rightly or wrongly, a pastoral sense and mood in people that reinforces a sense of somewhat pre-industrial simplicity in life–a sense of “purity.” I don’t think those have ever been true, for the conditions under which baseball was played for years–segregation, de facto peonage for players under the reserve clause, corruption, and more–belie all that.  Yet the discourses about things, in this case baseball, can both create and become the reality to which people cling.

This becomes all the more difficult in light of such revelations as we witnessed yesterday, further calling into question their accuracy in the first place.  Whether or not that’s for the better is for us and others to debate.  But grapple with this, as with so many other complicated issues throughout baseball and American history, we must.  There is no other choice.]

Published in: on February 8, 2009 at 9:04 am  Comments (11)  

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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I do wonder if the names of the other 103 will come out. Some may be in the Mitchell Report however. What I do want to know is if this is going to be selective (going after the big boys, like Bonds, Clemens, A-Rod) or if the justice (and I do wonder about the justice in leaking what was supposed to be anonymous; still a law broken is a law broken)is to be dealt to all equally, meaning the revelation of all 104 names.

  2. Harvey Araton’s “Nine Long Years” column is just an inkling of how the press will continue to view these revelations. ARod’s life will be tough (except for paydays). I agree: coming clean and leading the charge against enhanced play is his only hope for redemption.

  3. Another black eye for baseball and the Yankees.

    I mean let’s be honest. Baseball has had a long histroy of less than reputable behavior by its players. Ty Cobb was a racist, Mickey Mantle was a womanizer and a drunk, and players used speed/amphetamines along with PEDs. Am I upset that A-Rod juiced, yes I am. I am suprised, not particularly. Steroid use was rampant. The better question is who was not on steroids?

    The ball is in A-Rod’s court. If he tells the full and complete truth than there is a chance this will pass. However, the chances of him giving a full confession are slim.

  4. I think it’s way too early to be having the HOF discussion. Let’s let the guy speak. If he used steroids in 2003, he’ll have to suffer the consequences. (And so will the Yankees, sadly.) But he hasn’t been charged with perjury or tax evasion or betting on baseball. I don’t mean to be an A-Rod apologist, because I’m as sick about this as everyone else. I’m just pissed off that the other 103 players weren’t named and that we’ll never know who Selena Roberts’ “sources” were.

  5. nice job jason

    i’m just wondering how long it will take for there to be an accurate assessment of the “steroid era” and how these guys will fit into the history of the game. there can be no assurances that anyone who played in the 1990’s are clean. yeah you have your moose’s that you would bet your life never touched the stuff, but you still can’t be certain. in the end—perhaps in 20 years the best players from the period- the ones that have the hall of fame numbers i suspect will get in and the others won’t. the guys that got caught shouldn’t be treated any differently than the guys that didn’t.

  6. Mike S., I have my doubts that all 103 other names will come out. I do believe, however, that a significant number of them will in the coming days and weeks. That wouldn’t necessary help A-Rod, but it might help deflect some of the attention away from yet another issue.

    Welcome, famdoc. I don’t expect A-Rod to get much of a break from the press but, should he fess up right away, he could end up blunting the worst the press could make of this.

    You may be right about A-Rod not fessing up, The Wiz. My hunch is that his ego will get in the way; but I’m holding out hope that, presuming that he did in fact test positive (I say that based on reports, which I believe but don’t know 100% are true), he is wise enough to eat the turd burger he made for himself and move forward. I think there is something to consider with what you and Mike F. are saying–that previous eras would be judged in a far different and more negative light under the scrutiny of today’s society. To a degree, I’m all for shedding the occasionally pollyanish presentation those days receive. Alcohol was a big problem in the game–something Peter Golenbock points out well in “Dynasty”–as was racism, in institutions and the daily practice of the game. Lastly, I think your “Who was not on steroids” question is increasingly valid.

    I agree, Jane that to a degree, Hall of Fame status is jumping the gun. But with the mindset and criteria today, especially in light of McGwire’s languid Hall of Fame voting percentages, this is a very important consideration–especially to someone so preoccupied with keeping up appearances as A-Rod is. I don’t take your position as A-Rod apologia, Jane, not at all. One can simultaneously criticize the way his name was illegally released and criticize him for taking steroids.

    Thanks, Mike. I think at some point, baseball and sports writers will need to form some kind of consensus about this era and its players, and not just in light of all the players on some form of juice. Heck, one can’t say that Doc Ellis’s no-hitter that he claims was on LSD (or its lingering effects) didn’t relax him, especially since he had to rush to catch a flight relatively unprepared for the starting stint. Others took amphetamines, alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, and more that depending on the person, may well have benefited them and their performances in the past.

    I’m not saying there’s not a difference between short-term and long-term drugs and their effects. But people need to think more about the false dichotomy between the steroids era of baseball and sports, and the allegedly “clean” eras preceding it.

  7. Here we go again. I think the Yanks should add a clause to any new contracts in which they can void a contract if a person is caught using steriods. That way they can take the high road.

    That said why is it the Yanks again getting nailed. There were 103 other names on that list. The Mitchell report was based on two people who had worked for the Yanks and Mets but very little about the other teams. Unfair, yes, media hype yes. I am not naive and realize that A-Rod probably did do roids but c’mon baseball has to come clean and release all names or up the testing and suspend people for a lot longer than 50 games if they want a change. A-Rod will take a big hit this yewar beacuse of this but is it fair that it is only him? What about the leakers, what about the Players association and what about all the teams that turned a blind eye to this.

  8. As a Red Sox fan, I feel a little uncomfortable about this, but I feel bad for A-Rod. Look, any highly competitive individual who looked around baseball and saw the game’s other best players all taking steroids would have done the same thing. The fault lies not with A-Rod, but with Bud Selig — who knew about steroids in baseball in 1993 and did nothing about it — and the Players Union — who did everything in their power to PROTECT the use of steroids in baseball.

    I hope the other names are released. And not having Sox players named is a mixed bag, as I’m left speculating as to who used and who didn’t, which isn’t fair to any players.

  9. I’m kind of up in the air about this. I don’t doubt that Alex’s name appears on that list but I have to question the motives behind the story. Is it a coincidence that Selena Roberts has a book coming out about all of the self-destuctive things Alex has done? No one knew her name before this article was released and the timing of it all just seems odd. I also question why when she found her sources that she didn’t go after the big score of getting all 104 names. I find that odd also. Alex needs to come out with a statement and he needs to do it like yesterday. He better not issue a non-committal response, where he doesn’t deny or admit to the allegations. If he comes out and denies it, then I’m going to be inclined to believe him b/c if he knows he’s busted he’d be stupid not to come clean.

  10. I don’t think that the 103 other names should be released Swedski, but I wouldn’t complain if the penalties became more severe for steroids use. Baseball and other sports have a big problem on their hands. I’m not sure how much I blame the Players Association for the leak, primarily because of the timing of the federal government’s taking the materials.

    I appreciate where you’re coming from Dan. I too think MLB and the Players Association deserve blame for allowing the steroids problem to fester. But I do think A-Rod deserves criticism for taking steroids. But you’re right, the problem is much bigger than him. On releasing the names, I’m not for that. Even releasing those names won’t give us a full picture of steroids abusers during this era.

    It seems that A-Rod took your advice J-Boogie, and he did the right thing. I’m not a big fan of Roberts, nor of using material that should never have been leaked to her. That information is still part of a pending court case about whether or not the federal government is entitled to it, yet she published A-Rod’s name based on that information.

  11. If its NY it sells. This reporter went after a specific player, fair enough, he is the highest paid player etc., but what about journalistic integrity? Isn’t it her duty to report about all the names she found out and get a more reasonable well rounded article written? If she had released more names (if she knew them and I’m trying to be fair here), we wouldn’t be just going after A-Roid. He is not the only problem here, it is the culture of big time athletes to make as much money as they can in a short period of time. that is what must be dealt with not just the individuals. Until all sports make a stand this is going to keep happening.

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