By Jason Wirchin
She asked the questions. He answered them – each one with a boyish smirk and a hint of narcissism. On December 2007, CBS News’ Katie Couric, script in hand, grilled New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez in a now infamous episode of 60 Minutes.
‘Twas an interview for the ages, as Rodriguez, speaking days after the Mitchell Report disclosed the names of more than 80 Major League players accused of steroid involvement, openly refused his use of illegal drugs.
“For the record, have you ever used steroids, human growth hormone or any other performance-enhancing substance?” Couric asked.
“No,” Rodriguez replied.
“Have you ever been tempted to use any of those things?” Couric asked again.
“No,” Rodriguez replied.
“Given this controversy, Alex, who do you think has the real home run record? Barry Bonds at 762 or Hank Aaron at 755?” Couric continued.
“Well, I think Barry Bonds. He has 762,” said Rodriguez.
“But, he has an asterisk next to his name.” Couric responded.
“Does he?” Rodriguez quipped. “Not yet.”
Neither did he. Until now.
When reports surfaced in early February that A-Rod had used two anabolic steroids – Primobolan and testosterone – from 2001 through 2003 as a member of the Texas Rangers, Rodriguez found himself in the same shunned-upon category as Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa.
Each a gargantuan power slugger, these clean-up men went from fan favorites to mistrusted media bull’s eyes. Their reputations have been tainted and their names will forever be associated with the prospect of cheating.
This reality sticks particularly hard with Rodriguez, who was seen as one of the lone saviors left to break Bonds’ all-time home run record without the help of drugs.
Major League Baseball officials are unlikely to impose a penalty on A-Rod since the substances he took were not banned until 2004. Still, he’s only added more controversy to an already confusing résumé.
Before the 2001 season, he signed a colossal 10-year, $252 million contract with Texas. In 2004, he was traded to the Yankees – an example of the Bombers buying out another egotistical, clubhouse-dismantling superstar.
Notorious for his lame October baseball, Rodriguez was the center of a bizarre play down the first base line during the 2004 ALCS, and failed to hit for average in every postseason appearance.
In 2007, despite leading all of baseball in homers, runs, and RBI, Rodriguez decided to opt out of his contract with New York. Oddly enough, he resigned with the Yankees later that offseason with another 10-year contract, this one worth a whopping $275 million.
His alleged affair with Madonna and late night stints with an anonymous blonde were also front page news, as was the divorce from his wife, Cynthia.
Then there was his unexplained fickleness over which team to play for in the 2006 World Baseball Classic – the United States or the Dominican Republic.
Add to this list his latest steroid mêlée, and Rodriguez makes for quite the character. He’s a magnet for attention, but he doesn’t seem to care. He’s a pretty boy and a conceited celebrity high on his own pride.
Nevertheless, fans cannot ignore the obvious. To many New Yorkers and baseball enthusiasts around the country, A-Rod is the game’s greatest player, regardless of his spotty past. His three MVP awards are a testament to his on-field successes.
A look at the numbers, however, might curb their enthusiasm. Rodriguez hit more home runs from 2001 to 2003 than he did during any other three-year span in his career. In 2002, he hit a career-high 57 dingers, a feat he came close to, but never topped, in 2007.
He might appear scary at the plate, pitchers might quiver in his presence, but the only person this Alexander is conquering is himself.