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BILL SHAIKIN ON BASEBALL

Getting from 'A-Roid' back to A-Rod

Alex Rodriguez's explanations for performance-enhancing drug use are unconvincing, but they're a start. If he becomes an antidrug crusader, he might yet salvage his image.

February 18, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN | ON BASEBALL

He squirmed before his inquisitors. He stared back at them. He would not render judgment upon himself.

And so, to the question of whether steroid users were cheaters, this was his answer: "That's not for me to determine."

That was not Alex Rodriguez. That was Mark McGwire, testifying before Congress, four years ago.

This was Rodriguez, on Tuesday: "That's not for me to decide."

As Rodriguez talked a little about his steroid past, there was another McGwire flashback. McGwire kept telling Congress he would not talk about the past at all, but he would work toward the future, with young athletes, educating them about steroids.

This too was Rodriguez, on Tuesday: "I think God has put me now in a position, in a forum, where my voice can be heard. I hope kids will not make the same mistake I made."

Let us hope Rodriguez does not make the same mistake McGwire made.

McGwire failed to make good on his word. He vanished. So, as it turned out, did his chance of making the Hall of Fame.

Rodriguez ought to let his voice be heard, from every mountain, as an indefatigable crusader against steroid use. Not just today, not just this season, but for the rest of his career. He promised, after all, and his Hall of Fame chances might depend on it.

There was something vaguely unsatisfying about Rodriguez's nationally televised news conference from the Yankees' spring training complex in Tampa. There was the sense that his many handlers had prepared him all too well for this moment.

He offered few specifics, falling back too often on the "young and stupid" defense, as if he were a kid caught stealing a Big Gulp at 7-11. At the time he claims he started using steroids, he was a veteran with more than 3,000 at-bats.

He wished he had gone to college. McGwire went to USC, Barry Bonds went to Arizona State, Jason Giambi to Long Beach State, Roger Clemens to Texas, Rafael Palmeiro to Mississippi State.

He reminded us he played well in Seattle, before steroids, then told us that in Seattle he used a since-banned substance later found to be responsible for the death of Steve Bechler, a pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles.

He wanted us to believe he wasn't sure he was doing anything wrong at the time, but he also wanted us to believe he let a cousin inject him with steroids for three years without knowing whether the shots were administered properly.

"I knew we weren't taking Tic Tacs," he said. "I knew it potentially could be something that perhaps was wrong."

Bill Clinton must have heard that sentence and smiled. It depends on what the definition of "wrong" is, right?

This is not to discount what Rodriguez did say 10 days after Sports Illustrated reported that he had used steroids. He owned up to testing positive for a banned substance, without blaming the test or a supplement manufacturer, without pointing a finger at a teammate or suing a former trainer.

"For a week, I've been looking for people to blame," he said. "This is about me. I'm the one that screwed up, and no one else."

That's a start.

Rodriguez could have played the "I've put it behind me" card. He had his news conference, provided a few details, answered a few questions, offered a mea culpa.

But he volunteered to do more. He called Don Hooton, whose son committed suicide after using steroids, and offered to assist in the educational mission of his foundation. Hooton traveled to Tampa and joined Rodriguez for the news conference.

So drop the political operatives from the entourage, gather the kids and speak from the heart. This isn't about writing a modest check, smiling for a picture, filming a public service announcement. This is about doing everything he can to honor his word.

Baseball's owners have contributed $450,000 toward research for a urine test for human growth hormone. Rodriguez, with the richest contract in baseball history, ought to match that contribution. That's 1.6% of his 2009 salary.

In New York, and in every city in which the Yankees play, throw a clinic for kids. "Yes, I cheated," he should say unequivocally, and say why. He could tell them everyone was doing it, turning it into a lesson about peer pressure.

McGwire might never have made it to Cooperstown anyway, but Rodriguez should have been a shoo-in. By the time he is eligible for induction he might be baseball's all-time home run king, and the steroid era might finally be history.

If Rodriguez puts energy, sincerity and time behind his words, if he commits to helping repair baseball's damaged reputation, perhaps he can save his own.

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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Q&A

Questions: What did Alex Rodriguez take, how did it work and was it really that easy to get it?

Answers: Experts say "bole" or "boli" may be short for Primobolan, there are still questions about how forthcoming he was in his explanation, and . . . yes. PAGE 3

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HE SAID . . . THEY SAID

A glance at what Rodriguez said at Tuesday's news conference. And what others are saying about him. PAGE 3

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