Talkin’ Biogenesis and A-Rod

As I write this on Monday morning, Baseball Commissioner Bug Selig is expected to announce who is getting suspended for use of performance enhancing drugs.  One has to have some respect for Ryan Braun the 2011 National League MVP who has already started his 50 game suspension without a whimper.  Contrast that to Alex Rodriguez.  There are rumors of a suspension through the end of next season, but I’m not sure why he isn’t being banned for life.  He’s already been caught once.  Can you tell that I don’t much like the man?

George Vecsey has a  great piece in the New York Times today about A-Rod and the entire scandal.  Rodriguez’s father disappeared when he was nine – the excuse for his inability to grow up.

The singular event in the life of Alex Rodriguez is not his imminent suspension, or the career home run record that now will never happen.

The event that makes him so remote, so rudderless, took place when he was 9, when his father disappeared. This is not pop psychology to explain a man who blundered into the airplane propeller of adult reality. This is his own theory.

Back when he was a young major leaguer, Rodriguez would occasionally explain himself in terms of his missing father. His mother was strong and smart, and remains so to this day, but he expressed bewilderment that a father could just take off.

Many commentators have pointed out the we have a President who actually never knew his father.  While some consider President Obama to be aloof, he cannot be accused of not being an adult.  He also has what is from all appearances a terrific marriage and kids who love him and he loves back.  So can A-Rod really use this as an excuse?   Everyone is different and reacts differently to the same situation.  But here you have an intelligent, gifted man who has wasted his life

Now A-Rod is like the Zelig of baseball, showing up in the spotlight on the busy Canadian doctor, Anthony Galea, who helped bulk up American superstars. And now he is unable to bury his tracks leading to the defunct anti-aging clinic Biogenesis in South Florida. He was a five-tool player. Now he is a multitool cheat, rejected, like a badly grafted body part, by the main corpus of the New York Yankees.

I’ve never been a Yankee fan even before I moved to Boston.  They were the team my friends and I love to hate, but even I understand that there are guys who play for the Yankees and then there are Yankees.  (The same could be said about the Red Sox – just think about Carl Crawford.)

He swatted a ball from the glove of a Boston Red Sox pitcher, violating the rule, and he yelled at a Toronto Blue Jays third baseman trying to catch a pop-up, violating the code. You could vaguely sense Yankees heads jerking and eyes rolling, nothing you could prove, as A-Rod walked past.

In February 2009, Rodriguez made one of those ritualistic explanations of his adventures with drugs. Jason Giambi had staved off the posse in 2005, and Andy Pettitte had charmed us with his spiritual confession in 2008. Now A-Rod was supposedly coming clean. His old pal Jeter looked sick as he made the mandatory response to A-Rod’s comments about how common drug use was back in the olden days, a few years past.

“One thing that irritates me is that this was the steroid era,” Jeter said. “I don’t know how many people tested positive, but everybody wasn’t doing it.”

Alex Rodriguez with Derek Jeter in 2004

Alex Rodriguez with Derek Jeter in 2004

Too bad A-Rod had a falling out – of his own making with Jeter who is clearly a grown-up and someone even a Red Sox fan can admire.

By contrast, Derek Jeter has a father, Charles, who was a drug counselor, and a mother, Dorothy, who was an accountant, as well as a sister. The family seems to have sent him a message: Derek, whatever you do, don’t be a jerk. Which he never has been.

Rodriguez and Jeter discovered each other when they were teenagers, and in their early years in the majors offered the spare room on trips to Seattle and New York.

In 1999, the teams milled around in one of those baseball brawls, and Jeter and Rodriguez paired off away from the scrum, smiling and keeping each other occupied. A transient Yankee, Chad Curtis, criticized Jeter for waltzing with the enemy, but Jeter and Rodriguez were showing good sense in not risking their expensive talents.

In March 2001, A-Rod moved to Texas for that infamous contract of $252 million for 10 years. Just as infamous was an interview with Esquire in which Rodriguez blabbered that Jeter was “never your concern” when playing the Yankees, and that Jeter “never had to lead” his team. They patched it up superficially, but they never waltzed after that.


Vecsey ends on this sad note.

During the 2007 World Series, Rodriguez opted out of his contract, making himself available to other teams, but the Yankees re-signed him to a higher infamous contract, the one ticking over the team today. His broken marriage and his escapades are well known. So is his testing of the Yankees’ front office. All that is left now is for Rodriguez to save as much as possible of the approximately $95 million that remains on his contract.

He is heading for the dreaded Sargasso Sea of sports, where banished athletes wait, becalmed, hoping for winds of pardon. Shoeless Joe Jackson, who never ratted on the plot to throw the 1919 World Series, never reached the Hall of Fame. Pete Rose hobbles around on his aging, stumpy body, paying for being a knucklehead when baseball caught him betting on his team’s games, as a manager. Lance Armstrong is downsizing his life in Texas. Many behemoths of the past generation are hoping baseball writers forget why they aren’t voting all those fantastic career statistics into the Hall. And good luck with that.

Alex Rodriguez, just turned 38, is about to fade away. He never had that stern voice in his ear that said, “Alex — don’t!”

I don’t know if he will ever play again and if he does if he can play at his all-star level.  What a waste.

Photograph: Barton Silverman/The New York Times

March Madness 2010 begins

I have to admit that except for watching North Carolina lose a couple of times and seeing parts of some Big East games, the college basketball season has past me by this year.  Which will not prevent me from filling out my bracket, of course.  But first the news that the NCAA may try to expand the tournament to 96 teams.

Stupid move!  These are supposed to be college students getting a degree not money makers for the NCAA.  Would the idea be to do away with the league tournaments?  Those are exciting and always produce surprise winners.  The NCAA would be better off figuring out how to get the players an allowance in addition to the scholarships – so they have a little pocket money for pizza and to take a girlfriend (or boyfriend) out to a movie like normal college kids. 

George Vecsey wrote recently in the New York Times

It is never a surprise when sports officials act out of greed — the outrageous prices at New York’s two subsidized ballparks, the gouging at the coming World Cup of soccer in South Africa, for example.

Sometimes, I am stunned when people don’t have respect for their own product. I am talking here of the threat to dilute the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament from a compelling 64 in the first round to a ludicrous 96. (The N.C.A.A. counts 65 teams, including the early play-in game, but I prefer to consider that a gimmick.)

This lumbering monstrosity is looming on the horizon because the folks from the N.C.A.A. want to make more television money to not share directly with the players.

The N.C.A.A. is thinking of ruining the tantalizing first days of the tournament, when a great deal of the nation roots for some zippy little No. 16 from a third-tier conference to upset a No. 1 seed. It’s never happened, but we can only hope.

The first Thursday and Friday are so enjoyable that I like the first round better than the Final Four. Coppin State beat South Carolina once upon a time. Hampton beat Iowa State. Santa Clara beat Arizona. Those are epic moments. Why diminish them with some low-rent first round?

Going into this month’s tournament, a No. 15 team has beaten a No. 2 team four times. I caught one on television — in 1991, when Dick Tarrant’s Richmond team beat Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse team. Nothing against Syracuse. Nothing personal, but it was fun to watch.

And the No. 3 versus No. 14 upsets? Fifteen of them. I’ve caught some of them, including Kevin Mackey sidling up to Bob Knight before the Cleveland State-Indiana game in 1986, saying, “Take it easy on me, big guy,” and Knight predictably going off, knowing Cleveland State was loaded and about to beat him.

No. 13 seeds beating No. 4? Twenty-one of them. I’ve seen Pete Carril’s Princeton team stun the defending champion, as I called it, the University of Catatonia at Los Angeles. It was hilarious, watching the champ trying to figure out the back-door offense. That’s what we want in the opening round.

More network money would produce more games involving the seventh or eighth teams from major conferences — teams that couldn’t even reach the semifinals of their own conference tournament.

Part of the fun is debating who from the bubble makes it and who doesn’t.  And winning a bracket means picking those upsets when 13 beats a 4.  Vecsey is right:  The early games can be the most exciting. 

Vecsey ends perfectly.

Sixty-four is perfect. Or 65, depending on how you count. Just don’t get too greedy.

Let the madness begin!  But let it be the games not the NCAA that is mad.