When I first heard the news that Alex Rodriguez used steroids, there was nothing but shock. The report triggered a San Andreas fault-line straight through my aorta; it created a blow to the gut that could have turned Lennox Lewis into a pile of mush.
Shock. Clear and sharp, painful and wrenching.
All of this surprise, all of this reverberation, wrought by a man whose transgressions should have been limited to blonde bimbos and Material Girls.
Years ago, I acquiesced to the fact that my childhood love, baseball, turned out to be smoke, mirrors and a whole lot more. The teams I grew up with were laboratories, comprised of dishonest DH’s and petulant pitchers all searching for an improper edge.
We all know the names. We all know their transgressions. Mark McGwire was the original villain, duping us first and cutting us the deepest. Roger Clemens was the angriest man this side of Christian Bale, a “clear” aftereffect of his usage. And Barry Bonds was despised, sick with jealousy, so his guilt was sealed long before the underpinnings of his game were revealed.
America had no problem condemning these traitors to history, these thieves of a nation’s loyalty. They were disreputable bunch, and their punishments more than fit their crimes.
But Alex Rodriguez was clean. He was a prodigy, a five-tool player who resembled Bonds’ early mold but checked his envy at Derek Jeter’s door. His power was uncompromised, lean and fit where McGwire was bulging and doughy. And while his cuckolding was unbecoming, his misbehavior landed him a relationship with a crypt-keeper named Madonna, an unenviable duty that even he didn’t deserve.
Sure, I hated the guy. I couldn’t stand the dispassion he displayed, his willingness to act as a mercenary rather than a man. I took solace in the fact that he’d never won a World Series. I grinned amidst the flurry of Monopoly money that greeted his returns to Seattle’s Safeco Field.
That was then. This, unfortunately, is now.
When I view A-Rod, A-Fraud, A-Roid, there will no longer be enmity flowing through my veins. Instead, there will be the chunks of concrete that have crumbled from baseball’s foundation, obliterated by a 2003 test whose results should never have been revealed to SI.com.
And yet they were. And now we’re stuck with the realization that America’s pastime will never have the comfort of continuity that it long provided.
Bringing the past into the present, creating the ties and relationships that only Marty McFly could experience, was always the greatest part of baseball. Achievements were cemented in decades, battered by wars and economic slumps, surviving our lineage and allowing comparison between the generations.
These numbers created epics. Babe Ruth has a heartier following than Barack Obama; Cy Young’s name will live on long after David Petraeus passes; Willie Mays and Hank Aaron will inspire more than the Jonas Brothers ever could.
As a child, I was one of those in awe of the numbers. I remember lying in bed, paging through my book of “100 Greatest Baseball Moments,” soaking up the grainy images of a time long past. My history teachers could not reach me in the way that these recountings could.
I imagined where the current teams, rife with power, met their previous counterparts, and smiled with the knowledge that we could measure time based on wins, losses, and everything in between.
This makes what Alex Rodriguez did inescapable. As much as I hate to say it, I was cheering for Rodriguez to continue his trek to 762 home runs. He would be the savior that reconnected the passage severed by steroids. His talents were natural. His monetary greed was unfortunate, but his achievements, fashioned during an era of uncertainty, could at least be held to a higher standard.
Perhaps I was naïve. Perhaps I refused to give up the slice of childhood belief that lingered when I watched baseball, keeping me steadfastly convinced that one day Rodriguez would wipe the slate of Bonds’ stain. Perhaps I had too much faith in the goodness of an era, the belief that someone other than Ken Griffey Jr. was also clean.
But after last Saturday, any faith I harbored is gone, replaced by callousness and sorrow. We can never see how far we’ve come. We had already given up on the realities of McGwire, Bonds, and Clemens, resigned to the fact that their careers were embroiled in shadows and sideways glances. Alex Rodriguez now joins this unholy bunch, creating a Mt. Rushmore of malfeasance.
I can only hope that, someday, this mountain of deceit crumbles in the same shocking manner that baseball’s history has. Until then, though, the burns will remain. And my faith in my sport—our sport, America’s sport—will be no more.