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A-Rod book lacking in substance

A new book by journalist Selena Roberts says Alex Rodriguez used steroids while in high school and as a Yankee, but the evidence is largely circumstantial.

May 05, 2009|Neil Best

"I am complicated," Alex Rodriguez tells Selena Roberts on Page 3 of "A-Rod," the latter's book about the former, which hit stores Monday after the customary leaks and back-page headlines.

"Isn't that better than being simple?"

That mostly is a matter of personal preference, and Roberts makes a case over 249 crisply written pages that A-Rod prefers it that way -- as any insecure, narcissistic jumble of contradictions might.

As Roberts has insisted, a complete reading reveals a more nuanced picture of the man than do excerpts, portraying a socially awkward fellow who even when he means well often does or says the wrong thing -- unlike the sainted Yankee positioned to his immediate left. (The subtitle is "The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez.")

But we already knew that, right?

So beyond the peek into his family dynamics and amateur psychology -- "Baseball wasn't like his father. Baseball never left him." -- the news-making centerpieces here are steroids and a scandal about tipping pitches to opponents as a Ranger in the early 2000s.

(What about s-e-x? Despite rumors about what the book might include, it offers far fewer details about epic philandering than, for example, new books about Roger Clemens and Darryl Strawberry.)

The pitch-tipping charge is the most interesting revelation, especially for fans whose eyes now glaze over at the mere mention of performance-enhancing drugs.

It has a ring of truth, with details of how it worked and direct knowledge from teammates who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity.

The sourcing for Roberts' PED charges is much fuzzier, though, full of circumstantial evidence, both regarding Rodriguez's alleged steroid use in high school and even more so his years with the Yankees beginning in 2004.

Roberts is a well-regarded journalist, but without making an airtight case for PED use after 2003, she writes, "Alex was no novice. He knew exactly what he was doing as a Ranger -- and then as a Yankee."

And she quotes a source saying it was "possible" notorious Dominican trainer Angel Presinal jump-started A-Rod's 2007 season with a low-dose cycle of steroids and HGH.

In describing a cheesy joint appearance with Barry Bonds in 2005, Roberts writes they were "pulling gawkers into the tent with their inflated numbers and their artificially inflated bodies. It was a circus, and they were the freaks."

In an interview Monday, Roberts agreed much of her evidence of Rodriguez's post-2003 is circumstantial.

But she said in the absence of HGH testing or an eyewitness, the only journalistic option available was to seek the opinions of experts -- guidance that has convinced her A-Rod used PEDs as a Yankee.

"The side effects he has exhibited as a Yankee are consistent with HGH use and a low dose of testosterone," she said.

For many readers, though, it will not be enough to know A-Rod was seen with human growth hormone in the presence of Kevin Brown and that he would not sever ties with Presinal and that teammates teased him about having what resembled a woman's breasts.

It is a stark contrast to the exhaustive -- and exhausting -- case against Clemens in "American Icon," a new book by the New York Daily News' steroids snoops.

Much of the information in that book has been reported before, but the authors thoroughly tie it all together, with much help from Brian McNamee, portraying a self-confident bully -- the antithesis of Rodriguez.

"A-Rod" is the far more enjoyable read of the two most recent Yankees-on-steroids books, but it ultimately feels thin. It surely is compared with this year's biggest sports book, in which A-Rod also plays a prominent role.

"The Yankee Years," by Tom Verducci and Joe Torre, had so many layers, it took a week of stories in every New York-area paper finally to peel them all back and report all the juicy stuff.

That book still is a bestseller three months after it was released.

Unless Roberts, another journalist or MLB further fleshes out the information in "A-Rod," its shelf life is unlikely to extend much beyond Rodriguez's first day back in the Yankees' lineup.


Best writes for Newsday.

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