Forgiving Alex Rodriguez

Frank ThomasCorrespondent IFebruary 9, 2009

"I was stupid."

That sentence stands out when listening to Peter Gammons' exclusive Alex Rodriguez interview. The best player in Major League Baseball and arguably the best all-around player in the history of the game has admitted to using substances banned from the game to improve his performance on the field.

Citing baseball's culture, the oft-tabloided player gave what one can only hope to be an honest, heartfelt apology for his indiscretions: "When I arrived in Texas in 2001, I felt an enormous amount of pressure, felt all the weight of the world on top of me to perform and perform at a high level every day."

That sounds like an honest statement and one that is also understandable.

Rodriguez claims that he only used during the period that he was with the Texas Rangers from 2001-2003. To those who were watching the game, his slightly increased production over that period seemed like a natural progression. In the last of those three seasons, A-Rod won his first MVP Award.

In his supposed clean years since, and in the period of drug testing, suspensions, and names being named, Rodriguez has collected two more pieces of this prized hardware with the New York Yankees (though probably not the one he'd hoped for after being acquired by the Bronx Bombers).

The one page of this unfortunate story that doesn't seem to stick is the now infamous interview conducted by Katie Couric for CBS's 60 Minutes, in which Rodriguez claimed he'd always felt too good to have any need for outside help. This seemed to condemn and belittle those below him who had resorted to using.

Believing A-Rod's story is hard to fathom given his previous claims to such a highly-rated and regarded network news magazine. Obviously, Rodriguez has taken the stark contrast in the public response to Jason Giambi and Andy Pettitte against the response to Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa, weighed his options, and decided to admit guilt. Admit guilt, and you will be forgiven. Sustain your innocence, and you are toast.

However, given these findings, and all of the reasons for Alex Rodriguez to come clean, and the fact that baseball's best player and the one who was supposed to clean up the record books has admitted to using steroids, there are many reasons to forgive Alex Rodriguez.

He is and always has been a great player: With or without performance enhancing drugs, the type of which Rodriguez claims he was too naive to know, he is still a great player. Rodriguez, in my humble opinion, would have gone down as the best shortstop to ever play the game had he never been forced to switch to the hot corner, where he gradually has become one of the better defensive players in baseball yet again.

Now, taking into account the believable story that Rodriguez only used from 2001-2003 due to the pressure from signing the largest contract in Major League Baseball history, let's compare A-Rod's production with and without PEDs.

2001-2003 Average Stats
Games Played: 161.7
Batting Average: .305
Home Runs: 52.0
Slugging Percentage: .615

10 Seasons with Mariners/Yankees
Games Played: 148.4
Batting Average: .309
Home Runs: 39.2
Slugging Percentage: .574

What we see here is a believable story. An outstanding player improves his slugging ability slightly with the recreational use of PEDs. It does not sound like Alex Rodriguez was "cycling" or following a strict regimen built to create the greatest ballplayer of all-time, such as what happened in the BALCO/Barry Bonds fiasco.

We shouldn't even know about this: Alex Rodriguez gets betrayed after unknowingly testing positive for drugs he was not yet sure were steroids, and we're supposed to condemn him? In tests that were to be completely anonymous? He could have refused that test, but instead took it knowing that there was no risk if he tested positive.

He claims he never knew exactly what he took and was responding to baseball's culture and that he was not 100 percent sure that he was even taking steroids. Now, he's unfairly being ostracized because of this. If baseball fans feel they have been betrayed, A-Rod has every right to feel even more betrayed.

Baseball is a game of cheaters and has a history of cheating: This does not excuse Alex Rodriguez's now-admitted use of PEDs. However, the climate in the early 2000s was one of "use or be passed." Peter Gammons estimates as much as 80 percent of Major League Baseball players were on some form of Performance Enhancing Drug during this period. Think about that.

Let's look at the many ways baseball players have cheated throughout the game's storied history: Ritalin, scuffed balls, Vaseline, red juice (amphetamines), cutting the bases, spitting on the ball, watering the basepaths, drying out the field with gasoline, pine tar, telescopes in CF, blinking lights, foot tappers in the third base box, infield decks, corked bats, holding a runner's belt, stealing signs from the dugout, and now PEDs such as HGH and steroids.

I find it almost impossible to believe that all of those forms of cheating are immediately forgiven, yet PEDs are unforgivable. That gets into a whole other argument, though, that involves a pompous Hall of Fame Voters Committee unwilling to look back on its own actions.

Rodriguez has a lot of baseball left: One of the many reasons that Rodriguez must be forgiven is the length of time his career still has left. Unless you want to hear about PEDs every time he steps into the batter's box for the next decade, forget about this. Forget it ever happened.

Hopefully, before long, the Alex Rodriguez positive test and admission of guilt goes the way of the others who admitted guilt, and is almost forgotten. By the time he retires, baseball will surely have begun to let accused abusers of steroids into the Hall by comparing them to their peers at the time of their performance, rather than to batters of previous generations. Those who stood out against PEDs such as Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Curt Schilling will even get extra consideration.

In conclusion, the culture of Major League Baseball in the '90s and early 2000s is to blame, not Alex Rodriguez. Ostracizing Alex Rodriguez is not fair. We'll never know the complete list of everyone who used PEDs while playing Major League Baseball, and to pick Rodriguez out of 104 names is incomprehensible.

Argue what has happened to Barry Bonds all you want, but I truly believe that Rodriguez was not taking PEDs to the sheer extent that Bonds was, and Rodriguez has never lied to a grand jury. Those at the reins of Major League Baseball who continually allowed players to take these drugs while turning the other cheek to higher ratings should be blamed as much, if not more, than these players.

For the many reasons listed above, I forgive Alex Rodriguez, and I hope this is a non-story sooner rather than later.