Understanding A-Rod

The New York Times

Feb 9, 2009

By Doug Glanville

For most of my life I wore a number on...

But there was one clear moment when I wanted to be treated like a number. It wasn’t when I was opening up a new bank account, or looking to renew my license at the D.M.V. It was the day in 2003 that I went in for a drug test as a member of the Texas Rangers. And not only did I want to be treated like a number, I was supposed to be.

After receiving a text message the other morning that read, “Did you hear about A-Rod?,” I wasn’t sure what to think. I certainly couldn’t stomach another Madonna sighting. But of course it wasn’t that. And soon enough, after a couple of days, he admitted to what he’d been accused of.

Alex Rodriguez was, no doubt, the best player I ever played with. There was nothing he couldn’t do on a baseball field. I had signed with Texas in 2003 as a free agent, and as the lead-off hitter I salivated at the idea that I would have guys like Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, Michael Young, Carl Everett and A-Rod behind me in the line-up. I was hoping I could score 150 runs that season.

In spring training, my locker was next door to Alex’s, so we talked quite a bit. I came to like him. From what I saw, he was happy to be there, a smile on his face every day, and I certainly respected how early he came out to work on hitting the curveball machine. At one point in spring training, his neck was bothering him and the team had to practically force him to not practice. So my first impression was that he was not only talented, but he could outwork you, too.

I sensed it frustrated him that he couldn’t get people to embrace the image he sought. He wanted to be universally accepted. He wanted to lead his team, and not just because he was better than pretty much every other player. He seemed fascinated by my Ivy League degree, declaring that he would love to graduate from Harvard one day. He talked about it too much for it to have been just a fleeting thought. It didn’t really matter; at least he was trying to have a conversation, which isn’t always the case with the best of the best.

The fact that he cared enough to at least try to be this squeaky clean statesman is commendable for someone who is seen as the best in the business. At times his attempts fell flat, leading people to see them as phony or contrived. To be the best in the world and have trouble connecting with teammates or fans is a bad place to be. Common sense would have him just walk into a room and have E.F. Hutton powers. It wasn’t anything of the sort, to his evident frustration.

Let me put his talent in perspective. We were playing the University of Texas to kick off the spring training season. Most players feel like they have nothing to gain and everything to lose when they play against a college team, but for college programs, it’s great. Buck Showalter, our manager, decided to bat Alex lead-off; his plan was to have him bat once, go home early and get some rest.

Well, a crafty left-handed pitcher for the Longhorns struck out Alex on a high fastball. This kid had to be thinking, “I just struck out one of the best players in major league baseball.”
Alex made the walk back to the dugout and announced, “There is no way I am going out like that!” He told Buck he had to get another at-bat. And once the line-up flipped over to the top again, Alex was ready.

The University of Texas brought in some hard-throwing right-hander who missed the strike zone on his first three pitches to Alex. All of them were high in the zone, almost at head level.
Alex stepped out of the box and said to the catcher, “Tell him to bring the ball down so I can see how far I can hit it!” From the on-deck circle, I marveled at the bold move. If Alex had said that to a major-leaguer, the next pitch would have been in his earhole.

The pitcher did bring the ball down, and Alex hit one of the longest home runs I have ever seen. It went over some inflatable Coke bottle well beyond the fence. But he wasn’t done. Before beginning his trot, he left a greeting for the catcher: “Welcome to the big leagues.”

It was right out of “The Natural.”
As the bad news spread that A-Rod had tested positive for steroids in 2003, my phone started ringing, and it didn’t stop the rest of the day. Not only was I Alex’s teammate then, but I was a member of the Executive Subcommittee of the Players Association, and closely involved in working on the drug policy.

The first question I was asked in every interview was, “What did you think when your first heard the news?”

My first thought was not really about Alex Rodriguez. It was about what I had come to understand about the drug test in 2003, that the results were not only supposed to be confidential but anonymous.

So how did people get access to these records? And how can they just put the information out there for the world to see?
Therein lies the bigger problem.

I understood that when the federal government was looking for evidence in the BALCO investigation it might tread on players’ toes at some point. It seemed like all of baseball had become guilty by association once Ken Caminiti alleged that 50 percent of the major league players were on steroids. Or maybe the feds would be looking to catch players like Barry Bonds or Jason Giambi. The union and the league both knew that keeping these results privileged would be difficult. But for not one but four anonymous sources to leak this information, as is apparently the case with A-Rod, is unfathomable.

I’m not surprised by baseball’s extensive drug culture. It’s part of the game’s history and has as much to do with insecurity as greed. Players have to capitalize on opportunity, and at the hypercompetitive major-league level that’s like threading a needle — no wonder they will do just about anything to get ahead. Not that this justifies taking performance-enhancing drugs.
But before we get self-righteous, we should look in the mirror and ask ourselves whether exposing A-Rod, or any player for that matter, is worth stepping all over rights, privacy, confidentiality and anonymity.

There is a lot of outrage out there about Alex. Not surprising. But what really surprises me is the lack of outrage about how a confidential and anonymous test could be made public. We seem to gloss over the fact that these players voted to re-open a collectively bargained agreement in a preliminary effort to address the drug problem. When privileged information is shared it effectively hurts anyone who has expected privacy in any circumstance, just as when someone made Britney Spears’s medical records public.

The 2003 test was only supposed to assess whether the number of players using performance-enhancing drugs exceeded a certain threshold. If it did, as part of the agreement, a full drug policy would be instituted in the following testing year. One that was more comprehensive with penalties. This was at least a step in the right direction.

So: if Alex tested positive then, but he hasn’t since (and Monday he stated that he’s played clean since joining the Yankees), maybe that program served its purpose as a deterrent. If we take the higher ground and talk about the greater good of the game, then why create trust issues between owners and players by allowing an agreement to be breached this way? It undermines any sense of cooperation.

In the end, it isn’t about Alex Rodriguez, though we are making it about him. He must be in quite a dark place, because he could always rely on the authenticity of his talent to overcome any criticism of his civilian self. Now that is gone, and I am sure the public will exact a price from him for years to come. Sure, all this has come about because of certain choices he made, but he was outed by forces beyond his control, in a way that was not honorable. That is not good for any of those 1,200 players who were tested. That is not good for anyone. And why focus on Alex Rodriquez and not the other 103? Why weren’t there leaks about everyone?

We should step back and think about what we really want to gain from this situation. While I was playing professionally, it was disturbing to watch players cut corners through chemical means to get to that next contract. But I don’t see the good in selling our souls while claiming we want to chase the devil from our midst.
I hope we learn how to keep our word. If the tested players had known up front that the results were going to be made public (or that there was even a chance that they might be), not a single one would have agreed to cooperate, and it has very little to do with hiding anything. It has everything to do with privacy. Being A-Rod should not change that fact.

New York Times 02/09/2009


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