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WORLD SERIES

The year of redemption for A-Rod

Yankees' Alex Rodriguez enters his first World Series tonight, finally fulfilling the promise of his talents. But this season has been about keeping a different promise too: warning kids off steroids.

October 28, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN | ON BASEBALL

NEW YORK — We couldn't help ourselves. We thought Alex Rodriguez was lying again.

He had lied about not using steroids, until he got caught. He summoned the media to apologize, and we were fine with that. He also trotted out Don Hooton before the television cameras, and then we rolled our eyes.

Rodriguez had promised to tell his story to kids, to speak out about his shame, to share how he would learn from his mistake rather than hide from it.

Hooton travels the country, delivering an anti-steroid message forged by grief. Rodriguez pledged to join him, and we figured that promise would last until the next big story rolled around, until the cameras scattered.

Rodriguez could have filmed a public service announcement, or written a big fat check to Hooton's foundation. That could have been the end of it.

It was not. This has been a year of redemption for Rodriguez on and off the field, and Hooton could not be prouder of him.

"We decided to step forward with Alex," Hooton said. "We have not regretted that at all. We're very, very pleased about working with him."

Rodriguez slayed his October demons this year, hitting .438 with five home runs in nine games, lifting the New York Yankees into the first World Series of his career. He hit the first pitch he saw this season for a home run. He has Kate Hudson.

The truth shall set you free, and maybe win you a ring too.

"Alex's decision was to tell the truth and move forward, and to really open a new chapter in his career and his life," agent Scott Boras said. "He was really, I think, speaking about a way to approach his life. That, to me, says a lot about where he is headed."

And where he came from, a day where he fessed up, the first day of the rest of his life.

"It goes all the way back to all the stuff I went through, the press conference and all that," Rodriguez said. "Just not having any expectations and being in a good place all year. So I felt comfortable."

In the batter's box, of course, but also at a Baltimore school last month, in front of 500 students and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

"It's kind of hard to snow me," Cummings said. "I grew up in the inner city."

Cummings listened intently as Rodriguez told of his misdeed, of taking a shortcut to greater success because other guys did, of cheating his natural gifts and his fellow players, of his dishonesty.

"He didn't come off as cocky," Cummings said. "He came off with a lot of humility. I think what impressed me the most was that he had the nerve to do it. He made a mistake, and he had the nerve to admit it.

"He was outstanding. He was very effective."

There is something here that rings hollow, as any street-smart kid might suggest: You got rich and famous on steroids, and now you're lecturing us to stay away from them?

Rich, famous and busted for steroids? Those are exactly the guys Hooton wants.

"It puts these guys in a very strong position to talk to kids about why they should not be fooling with this stuff," he said, "not the least of which is what they've done to their reputations."

This is serious stuff to Hooton, deadly serious. He has devoted his life to this, ever since his son abused performance-enhancing drugs and committed suicide at 17. He runs anti-steroid programs at every major league ballpark.

Rodriguez has joined Hooton at other schools this year, in several states. Rodriguez won't let him say where else, and all Hooton will say is that the relationship is ongoing.

But Hooton has something else to say, to the dozens of players linked to performance-enhancing drugs, past and present.

"We would hope more of the guys that have been wrapped up in this would step forward and speak up with us," he said. "I think they've got an important message.

"They should all be on our program, rather than denying it and saying it came from a box of Cheerios."

Or throwing their doctor under the bus, as Manny Ramirez did. Boras represents him too, and he repeated the statement that Ramirez was tripped up by a doctor who inadvertently prescribed a banned drug.

Never mind that Ramirez was suspended for violating baseball's drug policy, or that the drug was HCG, a female fertility drug most commonly used by men to restore testosterone levels after a cycle of steroids.

Boras takes his share of hits, but he can't force regret upon his clients. Ramirez had no interest in telling the truth and moving forward, in finding a new way to approach his life. That's just not him.

Ramirez has tried to laugh off the issue rather than explain it, let alone express a drop of remorse. So his sincerity level in speaking to kids would be less than zero.

This was Manny being Manny: "I didn't kill nobody, I didn't rape nobody, so that's it. I'm just going to come and play the game."

Hooton could only shake his head in disgust.

"You want to go, 'Manny, that's not the signal we should be sending to kids,' " he said. "You contrast that with A-Rod's immediate reaction: 'I made a mistake, and I want to use my persona to give back to the kids, and make sure they know I made a mistake.' "

To promise to give back is one thing. To fulfill that promise is another thing.

"You might say Mark McGwire has made the same comments," Hooton said.

You might. But we're here to talk about the World Series. We're not here to talk about the past.

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Rodriguez steps up

How Alex Rodriguez's regular-season statistics compare with his postseason stats:

*--* HR RBI RUNS BAT AVG ON-BASE % SLUG % SEASON 30 100 78 286 402 532 POSTSEASON 5 12 10 438 548 969 *--*

Source: baseball-reference.com

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