SI piece details A-Rod saga
Magazine hits newsstands, provides backdrop to story
NEW YORK -- Years from now, the 1,957 words set in the middle of this week's Sports Illustrated may become something of a historical artifact -- a scrapbook reminder of how the man who might have become a baseball legend saw his reputation unravel.
A good number of baseball fans believed -- or at least hoped -- that Alex Rodriguez was clean, that he might one day become the all-time home run leader the honest way. That much can't happen anymore. Sports Illustrated has released its print story on Rodriguez, a compilation of everything that has hit the internet over the past five days.
The feature is an extended piece that follows the original Saturday SI.com article that led to A-Rod's Monday admission on ESPN to the use of performance enhancers. Co-authors Selena Roberts and David Epstein discuss the four independent sources who confirmed that Rodriguez's name was among a list of 104 players who failed a steroid test in 2003. They also discuss how three players contend that the chief operating officer of the players union, Gene Orza, alerted Rodriguez to an upcoming steroid test in 2004.
In the newest Sports Illustrated piece, Roberts and Epstein describe the scene at a University of Miami gym, where Roberts approached Rodriguez last week seeking comment on the steroid allegations. Rodriguez dismissed her before he knew her intentions, figuring perhaps she would ask about Joe Torre or Derek Jeter. But she did not. She asked about steroids.
"Rodriguez's green eyes widen, and he looks away," the article states. "He processes the question and says, 'You'll have to talk to the union,' as he begins to fiddle with a plate. He is asked if the positive result could be a mistake, if maybe he took a tainted supplement, if the information is wrong. He says nothing. Is there any explanation, anything further he wants to say? 'I'm not saying anything,' he replies and turns toward a barbell.
"One more question comes his way: Three major league players told SI that Orza tipped Rodriguez about an upcoming drug test in early September 2004. Rodriguez is asked if that is true, but he does not respond. He looks at the trainer and orders him to 'get someone. [The reporter] is not supposed to be in here.' "
Orza denied the magazine's charges earlier this week in The New York Times. "It makes juicier stuff to suggest there were tip-offs," Orza told the Times on Monday. "But there weren't. I don't care about the press coverage. It's irrelevant."
The union said, in a statement released on Saturday, that "there was no improper tipping of players in 2004 about the timing of the drug tests."
But SI contends that Orza shielded players by alerting them to drug tests in advance. One Major Leaguer told the magazine that Orza informed him of a test on Sept. 24, 2004, saying, "so make sure there's nothing in your system."
If, as the Mitchell Report noted and as Sports Illustrated reported, Orza tipped players in 2004, that would have been post the anonymous survey testing period and into the penalty phase years for drug testing in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Any player, Rodriguez included, would have been subject to suspension if he tested positive. In Monday's interview with ESPN, Rodriguez was asked by interviewer Peter Gammons if the time period for his taking banned substances "was 2001, 2002 and 2003?" Rodriguez responded by saying "That's pretty accurate, yes."
The magazine also stated that the union was resistant to steroid testing, writing that "Orza openly mocked baseball's crackdown on steroids, saying, 'I have no doubt that [steroids] are not worse than cigarettes.' According to the 2007 Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drug use in baseball, Orza stalled MLB in its attempts to test players for "reasonable cause" and declined to speak with Mitchell Report investigators. In September 2004, according to the Mitchell Report, Orza violated an agreement with MLB and tipped off a player (not named in the report) to an upcoming, supposedly random, drug test."
The article discussed what this all might mean for Rodriguez, the Yankees and for baseball.
"The Yankees news this spring was supposed to ride on CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett -- nearly half a billion dollars' worth of talent the team added in the offseason in an attempt to woo fans to its new, luxury-appointed stadium," the authors wrote in their piece. "But Rodriguez will consume the discussion."
Rodriguez now says he took banned substances as a member of the Texas Rangers from 2001-2003, three of the most prolific power-hitting years of his career. "I was young, I was stupid, I was naïve," was the way he put it, and the image of him admitting his mistakes on ESPN, white dress shirt tucked underneath a blue sweater, is one that seems likely to stick with fans for some time to come.
There are questions over whether this will mar his Hall of Fame candidacy, much in the same way that steroid suspicion has done so for Mark McGwire, and may do so for Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds in the future.
There are questions over the 103 other players who reportedly also tested positive during the 2003 survey, but whose identities remain a secret. And there are questions over how it will affect A-Rod this season, as he still has nine years remaining on a $275 million contract.
At that moment, it's doubtful that Rodriguez realized how close he was to the brink of a firestorm, the type that has consumed baseball over the past five days. He has since had to apologize and answer questions, then endure the scrutiny of his answers. He has had to listen to Hall of Famers and teammates both vilify and defend him. The Players Association has had to answer questions. The Yankees have had to, too. And with the start of Spring Training only two days away, things might become worse for A-Rod before they grow better.
He still has to face the militant New York media and a season's worth of fans, both at home and on the road.
So perhaps the allegations are complete for now. But that doesn't mean that Rodriguez has survived. His penance is still to come, in whatever form it might take.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.