A-Rod not worthy of company he keeps
It pains us a bit to even put the name of New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig in the same sentence with that of a proven cheat and liar such as current Yankee Alex Rodriguez, but it is required if we are to comment on a sports story from a few days ago.
Baseball fans know Gehrig, who was famed for his power and endurance, as the Iron Horse. Those familiar with Rodriguez know that his character and veracity are on a par with something that comes out of the back end of a horse.
Earlier this year, Rodriguez was suspended for 211 games for being tied, once again, to performance-enhancing drugs. Such a term could effectively end the career of the increasingly brittle 38-year-old. Because it would be based on a violation of baseball’s drug rules, it also could allow the Yankees to avoid paying Rodriguez the tens of millions left on his bloated contract.
But Rodriguez and his army of lawyers and advisers appealed the suspension, and that has afforded him the opportunity to play until his case is resolved, most likely shortly after the end of this season. As such, he got the chance the other night to hit his 24th career grand slam home run, which lifted him to the top spot in the record books in that category, past the venerated Gehrig.
Most of the important power-hitting records in baseball are now a joke, thanks to the “steroids era” of the game. First, the bulked-up, barely-human-looking Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were practically celebrated as national treasures – by fans, sportswriters, broadcasters, even by the folks running Major League Baseball – as both surpassed the previous single-season home run mark set decades ago at 61 by Roger Maris. McGwire ultimately came out on top in that race, finishing the 1998 season with 70 homers. But then along came Barry Bonds, one of the most loathsome players – make that human beings – in baseball history, who used illegal substances to transform himself from a muscular-but-slender player known as much for his speed as for his power into a lumbering Incredible Hulk, complete with a head the size of a Butterball turkey. He smacked 73 home runs in 2001, having never hit even 50 before, then continued his drug-aided assault until he had passed Hammerin’ Hank Aaron for the career homer record, finishing with 762.
All the while, the whispers about drug use in the game were turning into shouts. Former players were telling their stories of using steroids and other banned substances, and they said a fairly significant percentage of their teammates had been doing the same. For years, the folks who should have been looking out for the integrity of the game, led by see-no-evil, hear-no-evil Commissioner Bud Selig, failed to take corrective action. In some cases, they blamed the messengers. Sure, it’s easy to mock a clown like Jose Canseco, but when the lights were finally flipped on and the cockroaches started scurrying, it turned out that Crazy Jose was right. Selig talked a good game about his desire to clean up the sport, but when push came to shove, he didn’t shove hard enough against the all-powerful players union to ramp up testing and get the cheaters out of the game.
Baseball has finally taken significant steps to confront drug use. Improved testing started to catch more users of illegal substances, even though most of those snared were fringe players. Then the Biogenesis investigation led to a slew of suspensions, including those of Rodriguez and the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun, who won the 2011 National League MVP Award while “on the juice,” fought off one suspension with lies and good lawyers but ultimately was forced to come clean and start issuing mea culpas. But it’s too little, too late in terms of the tainted home run records. It seems rather unlikely that we’ll see those marks, particularly the single-season record, toppled by a player not aided by some substance from a drug lab.
As such, for what it’s worth, we will continue to recognize Maris and Aaron as the legitimate holders of their formerly hallowed records. And we hope that Rodriguez gets the punishment he so richly deserves before another ignominious milestone is achieved. He’s just a few home runs behind the great Willie Mays on the career home run list.