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Steroids accusations haunt US baseball

By Mike Carlson
US sports analyst

Alex Rodriguez throws a batting glove to fans in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic
Alex Rodriguez had been viewed as a "clean" player

They called him "ARod" but now it is "AFraud" and "ARoid".

Alex Rodriguez, star third-baseman for the New York Yankees, baseball's highest-paid player and, with 553 home runs already hit at age 33, the latest threat to the all-time record, has been accused of using steroids.

But the impact of the scandal goes beyond one player. It is as if the sport itself has failed another drug test.

No matter how hard they try, Major League Baseball cannot make the steroids go away.

It has been more than a year since ex-Senator George Mitchell released his report into baseball's steroid abuse, implicating many of its biggest stars, including current all-time home-run king Barry Bonds and pitcher Roger Clemens.

As I wrote on this website at the time, Americans hold baseball to a higher standard, and the revelation that the player his Seattle teammates called "Mr Clean" may be a drug cheat is another crippling blow.

Perhaps in retribution for years of keeping their heads buried in the drug-free sand, steroids are back in baseball's headlines.

Timed to coincide with the opening of Bonds's trial for perjury in telling a federal grand jury he had never taken steroids, Sports Illustrated broke the story on their website, saying Rodriguez had tested positive in 2003 for both testosterone and for the "designer steroid" primobolan.

The drugs were not banned in baseball at the time, although primobolan has never been authorised even for prescription use in the US.

The testing, which covered all 1,198 major league players, had been agreed with the players' association to determine the extent of drug use in the game: if more than 5% of the players tested positive, it would trigger the instituting of mandatory random tests in 2004.

Nearly 9%, or 104 players, tested positive, though their identities were supposed to remain secret and no punishments were called for.

Confronted by SI.com reporter Selena Roberts in Miami, Rodriguez passed up the chance to comment on the report. "You'll have to talk to the union," he said. "I'm not saying anything."

Star quality

Rodriguez has been a star ever since he went directly from high school in Miami to the Seattle Mariners with the first pick of the 1993 amateur draft.

As a fine defensive shortstop with both speed and power, he led a resurgent Mariners team before abandoning them as a free agent to sign a then unheard-of 10-year contract with the moribund Texas Rangers, for $252m - $2m more than owner Tom Hicks (of Liverpool FC) had paid for the team.

The year 2003 was his last year in Texas. He won the league's home run title and was the Most Valuable Player but in 2004 he was traded to New York, where he was hailed as a saviour.

But since his arrival the Yankees have failed to reach the World Series and his quiet performances in October's playoffs have made him the fans' favourite target.

He has faced accusations of poor sportsmanship on field and of multiple adulteries off it.

Last summer, stories emerged speculating about a possible relationship with Madonna, claims the pop star denied. Rodriguez's wife sued for divorce and reports said she had told friends the singer had used Kabbalah to "brainwash" her husband.

In 2007, Rodriguez announced, in the middle of the World Series, that he did not want to return to New York.

The Yankees rewarded him with a new 10-year deal, worth a minimum of $275m, with $6m bonuses payable whenever he passes one of the four players still ahead of him on the all-time home run list: Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Bonds.

He signed the contract the same day the Mitchell Report was released and became the acceptable face of baseball, despite accusations by former player Jose Canseco, a confessed steroid abuser, that he had provided ARod with the name of his supplier (and that ARod tried to seduce his wife but Canseco was promoting his second book).

Interviewed by Katie Couric on the prestigious 60 Minutes news magazine, Rodriquez said point-blank that he not only had never used steroids, he had never been tempted to.

Now those statements may come back to haunt him, just as a failure to face up to the prevalence of performance-enhancing drugs years ago has come back to haunt baseball.

The one thing unlikely to come back is George Mitchell.

Having dealt with the Northern Ireland peace process and drafted a landmark report on Arab-Israeli relations in 1991, the former senator is currently Barack Obama's special envoy to the Middle East.

Compared to sorting out baseball, Mr Mitchell may feel he has got it easy.



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SEE ALSO
League silent on A-Rod drug claim
08 Feb 09 |  Baseball
US baseball 'rife' with drug use
14 Dec 07 |  Americas
Baseball drugs network is exposed
28 Apr 07 |  Baseball

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