Union official tipped A-Rod to test, report alleges
by Ken Rosenthal
Ken Rosenthal has been the senior baseball writer for FOXSports.com since Aug. 2005. He appears weekly on the FSN Baseball Report and MLB on FOX.
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Updated: February 8, 2009, 2:39 AM EST
My 17-year-old son, while not a baseball fan, is savvy to the game's ways. When I told him Saturday that Alex Rodriguez had tested positive for steroids in 2003, he scoffed at the supposed bombshell by SI.com, saying it didn't qualify as news.
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Alex Rodriguez Another MLB superstar is under fire in the steroid controversy. Alex Rodriguez tested positive during his first MVP season in 2003, according to a report Saturday.
"If I've heard of him," my son said, "he used steroids."
Well, that about sums it up, doesn't it? Anyone with even a passing awareness of baseball no longer is surprised to learn that a player — any player — used performance-enhancing drugs. We all have learned to be cynical, and rightly so.
Believe what you will. Or believe nothing at all.
A-Rod's achievements suddenly are in question. So is the legitimacy of Major League Baseball's drug-testing program, which league officials continue to trumpet as the "toughest" in professional sports.
On paper perhaps, but not in practice if top union officials are giving players advance knowledge of upcoming drug tests, as alleged in the SI.com report and the Mitchell Report in 2007.
The most disturbing aspect of the SI.com report was not the revelation that A-Rod now belongs with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire on the Mount Rushmore of juicers.
No, the most disturbing allegation is that Rodriguez was tipped off in September 2004 that he would be tested later that month, tipped off by none other than Gene Orza, the union's chief operating officer.
Orza was accused of much the same thing in the Mitchell Report, which said he violated the union's agreement with MLB by informing a player about an upcoming drug test. The player was not identified in the report.
As any expert will tell you, drug-testing programs are inherently flawed, often amounting to little more than public relations as the cheaters find new ways to stay ahead of the testers.
But the allegations of tipping — denied by the union — create an even bigger problem for MLB, casting doubt on the credibility of its program.
Perhaps the union is getting a bad rap, but it has been on the wrong side of this issue at every turn.
For years, union officials refused to acknowledge the extent of the steroid problem; Orza once said, "I have no doubt that they are not worse than cigarettes."
The union later fought testing, ignoring the interests of its members who were put at a competitive disadvantage if they refrained from using PEDs.
Finally, in the most irresponsible of blunders, the union failed to make sure that the positive samples from '03 were destroyed, even though MLB had agreed to such a plan.
The players agreed to the tests only after being promised anonymity. The tests carried no penalties; MLB was simply trying to determine through a survey whether to implement mandatory testing.
You know the rest: Federal agents, while investigating BALCO, discovered the list of 104 players who tested positive. Surprise! The names are starting to leak, with Rodriguez's being the first.
A-Rod bears responsibility for testing positive, but his dirty little secret would have remained private if not for the union's negligence. When some or all of the other players on the list are identified, they can thank the union, too.
The bottom line: We should never have learned that A-Rod tested positive, but now we know. His image, the union's image and MLB's image will not easily recover, no matter how much spin they all apply.
Can't wait to hear if A-Rod uses the "Andy Pettitte defense" — "I only did it once!" Perhaps he will simply arrive at spring training and give the cheater's copout, announcing, "Baseball questions only."
Rodriguez's agent, Scott Boras, said that even if the SI.com report were true, Boras said, "it was one season and since then Alex has gotten the good-housekeeping seal the last five years."
Meaning, A-Rod must be clean, because he hasn't tested positive for steroids since '03. As if it were that simple. As if players did not use undetectable substances such as human growth hormone. Please.
The truth is, this will never end. There will be no "Mission Accomplished" banner for MLB, no news conference at which Commissioner Bud Selig can honestly proclaim, "The problem has been eliminated."
The game probably is cleaner now than it was, say, from 1998 to 2003; some players, at least for the moment, are scared of testing positive. But fans should not trust that any professional sport, including the almighty NFL, is drug-free.
I've written before that perhaps the Steroid Era will be viewed differently in 10, 20 or 30 years. Fans, judging from attendance, are hardly outraged by PED use. They might grow downright accepting when genetic engineering and other scientific developments produce further "advances."
In the end, the bigger problem might be defining the era, giving it perspective. As we learned again Saturday, we still don't know who did what, and to what end. All we know is that nothing surprises us anymore, nothing at all.