Say It Ain't So, Alex!

Frank RederContributor IFebruary 8, 2009

When the Senator Mitchell made his findings public Dec. 13, 2007 it was a sad day indeed for baseball.  In the 14 months since, Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, and Barry Bonds have put us through so much.  But we could always take solace in one fact: Someday Alex Rodriguez would pass Bonds and our cherished homerun record would be clean again.

Alex was our golden boy.  We were tired, but he instilled a vigor in us again.  He was the one player we could point to and say "See! He's going to retire as the best player ever to step between the lines and he never touched that stuff."  

Even though his personality was fragile at times and his huge contract disturbed us, we could believe in him.  We could believe that his hands were clean and we could believe that game still had some semblance of integrity.  We could believe there was hope for baseball.

Maybe we were naive.  Maybe we should have known better than to trust in an athlete who none of us could ever really know.

But believe we did.

And on this, the seventh day of February, we were betrayed.

Filled with the hope of a new year that the approach spring training always brings, we woke to ESPN's ticker: reports Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003.

Instantly, this hope disintegrated.

We were left not even knowing what to feel. Anger? Sadness? Disbelief?

Turning to anger, we searched for someone to blame.  The player's union for allowing the confidential test to get out?  Bud Selig for allowing the steroids problem to balloon to the extent it did?  Congress for getting involved with professional sports in the first place? A-Rod himself for betraying our trust and the integrity of the game?

Or do we blame ourselves?

After the player's strike in 1994, fans were angry at baseball players and angry at baseball.  This anger festered and grew uglier and uglier inside us until Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa recaptured our imagination with their chase of Maris in 1998.  Did we suspect something then?

Of course we did.  We just didn't want to believe it.

We were so happy that baseball was fun again that we blocked out from our minds that slimy, black, abhorrent thought. We refused to believe that there was something sinister about all this, that our heroes might be cheaters.  These thoughts floated all the way up to the Commissioner's office, where Bud Selig ignored the issue.

Who could blame him?  Baseball's popularity was at an all-time high, attendance was through the roof, and the '94 strike was a distant memory.  But when those in charge finally realized the extent of the problem, they decided to root out steroids.

Our festering anger re-emerged.

We lashed out at our heroes.  The BBWA struck at McGwire, denying his hall of fame bid. The Commissioner fingered Barry Bonds' historic mark of 73 homeruns, bringing up the addition of an asterisk.  Even Congress is systematically ruining Roger Clemens, the greatest pitcher of our era.

We grew tired of steroids.  We wanted to just move on.  We wanted our faith in players like Alex Rodriguez to be rewarded.  But when our anger at A-Rod ran out and we waited for the sadness to set it, we found nothing.

Baseball has no tears left for Alex Rodriguez.

We're can't feel sad anymore.  We feel only a sense of resignation and a creeping numbness.  The pure, innocent joy that only can baseball can bring, that was absent for so long, that was just beginning to grow in our hearts again, is gone.  Like a parent finding out their child cheated on a test, we are consumed by disappointment.

I found out how much I loved baseball today.

I felt like I was just dumped.  I walked around all day in a haze, reminiscing about the times before this terrible revelation.  This icy numbness growing in my chest could only have been caused by something I loved.

Like the child who famously implored Shoeless Joe Jackson at his trial in 1919, we're left jilted by our hero, numbed by betrayal, begging him to say it ain't so.