I loathe Alex Rodriguez. When I see him come to the plate a primal rage rises in me that is really out of proportion simply because he wears a Yankee uniform and makes almost $40,000 an at-bat. And yet, when the Sports Illustrated story came out about his alleged steroid use in 2003 I felt no glee; no triumph. Somehow, someway, this diehard Red Sox fan who has been known to yell profane curses at A-Rod when he comes to Fenway, can't help but feel a little sorry for him. It's time for us to get angry at the real villains here: Commissioner Bud Selig and Players' Association Head Donald Fehr.
Is Rodriguez at fault? Yes. He admitted it. But I'm not angry at him because we've seen this movie too many times now. Players are easy targets in the steroids witch hunt because they're the ones who are in the spotlight and make the biggest bucks. It's easy to cast Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, and yes, A-Rod as "dishonest" and a "cheat." But the press needs to come down off their high and mighty horse and look at the big picture. We now know the entire post-Strike era of baseball is tainted with the ugly mark of steroids until mandatory testing was implemented in 2004 (not to mention baseball still doesn't test for human growth hormones). We're talking about almost a ten year period where we still can't comprehend how many players were using illegal substances. Whispers of numbers like 75% of players using some kind of performance enhancing drug can make even a casual fan shudder. How did it get so bad? We know why: Selig and Fehr let it happen and did nothing to stop it.
The numbers are so obvious it would be laughable if it wasn't so sad. After the strike of 1994 and the World Series was canceled, baseball was dealt a huge blow and lost millions of fans and tens of millions of dollars. Bud Selig was in just his 2nd year as acting commissioner was already public enemy number one in the eyes of fans for taking away their beloved Fall Classic (even though it was the players who were on strike). But when the strike ended, things got exponentially better every year. The Wild Card format was a huge success. Attendance rose by the millions every year. Two more expansion teams added in 1998. And most importantly – the home runs were flying out of parks.
But we all know this. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa's race to 61 in 1998 captured the imagination of the country and made baseball important again. But behind the curtain, everyone from the owner's box to the players' union knew what was going on – steroids were rampant throughout the game. But why should Selig care? Testing wasn't mandatory even though the substance was banned in every other major sport. And baseball was raking in tens of millions of dollars and attendance had never been higher. Why should Donald Fehr care? The players he represented were getting ridiculous and unprecedented bloated contracts. Players were being rewarded for their drug use. Why should they want it to stop?
Finally, when somebody in the government realized Barry Bonds' head was disproportionately smaller than his body, the testing began. And Selig acted like he couldn't believe it. It is hard to accept facts when sleeping on the millions earned from steroids. If the players deserve to be attacked by the press, then Bud Selig should be crucified. What he did is despicable. His sport got insanely rich by basically turning a blind eye to a drug trade. And since the implementation of the stiff suspensions in 2005, Selig is trying to paint himself like a white knight. And if Selig is a villain then Fehr is worse. The players he claims to represent essentially became drug addicts under his watch.
Alex Rodriguez did use steroids and his reputation is tarnished, but as hard as it is to believe, he shouldn't be torn down any more than any other player on that mysterious list of 104 players. What needs to be done is a re-evaluation of every statistic from 1995-2004 and figure out what it means in the continuity of the history of the game. This is way bigger than Alex Rodriguez, or Barry Bonds, or whoever. This is about a drug culture that got out of control and the people like Bud Selig who let it get to that point. So it's for these reasons I will not be chanting "A-Roid" this summer when the Yankees come to Fenway Park.