Beast of the Month - June 2009
Steroid-Fueled Baseball Star
"I yam an anti-Christ..."
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
"Jose Canseco Smirking Smugly At Nation"
Recent article title found at Onion.com
Is Jose Canseco ever wrong? Seriously, give this man a Pulitzer. In April, he speculated the reason Manny Ramirez (a two-time World Series champion for the Boston Red Sox and current Los Angeles Dodger superstar) didn't receive a monster contract offer during the off-season was because the owner's knew he was a steroid juicer. More than likely, Canseco guessed, Manny was on the 2003 list of players who tested positive for doping, a list of names likely already leaked to MLB owners. On this score, Canseco said he was 90 percent sure.
For his wacky conspiracy theorizing, Canseco was once again lambasted in the media, the same way he has been repeatedly treated over the last four years since his book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big, was released. Since then, not one claim by him has been proven false, and many of his claims, even those sounding most luridly outlandish at first, have been proven true. Despite his track record, one sportswriter dismissed Jose C as "ridiculous and irresponsible" for engaging in "pseudo-slanderous steroid chatter" over Ramirez.
But what do you know? Barely a month after Canseco made his reckless hunch, Manny was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for a banned substance. While he wasn't actually caught taking steroids, the drug he did test positive for, human chorionic gonadotropin, is popular among roiders for stopping the side effects of ending a cycle. (You know, little things like lower sperm count and shrunken testicles.) Maybe there's another explanation for why Ramirez was taking a female fertility drug, but that he is indeed a drug doper as Canseco had suspected seems to fit Occam's Razor the best.
Of course, the whole steroid scandal may have jumped the shark with the Ramirez revelation. At this point, is anybody shocked when a ballplayer is revealed as a drug cheater? This is, after all, the third time since 2005 The Konformist has focused Beast of the Month on the subject, which means we've covered this more in our 13-year history than we have Israel's brutal treatment of Palestinians and Lebanon. Yes, baseball is America's game (well, really it's football, and anyone who claims otherwise is kidding themselves) and yes, the steroid scandal has tarnished the game's legacy, but at this point, we've got more important things to do, like investigate Wall Street mass thievery, remind people there are still bloody pointless wars being fought in the Middle East and search YouTube for videos of Lady Gaga. So consider this BOTM a kiss-off to the whole "professional baseball players cheat" moral outrage as we get onto better things.
But before we jump off the whole steroid scandal bandwagon, The Konformist needs to get one last jab in, to a guy really deserving it. After all, part of the reason the steroid outing of the best player on baseball's second most famous franchise received such a ho-hum response is because the best player on baseball's most famous franchise (Alex Rodriguez, The Konformist Beast of the Month) had been outed as a fraud only months before.
For those who don't follow baseball, Rodriguez, better known as A-Rod, is not only the best player on the New York Yankees, he is arguably the best player in baseball, period. (Only Manny and Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals come close.) He has already won 3 MVP titles, this despite not winning in 2001 and 2002, when he hit 52 and 57 home runs. In 2006, he was the only non-pitcher still active to make Sports Illustrated's Alltime All-Star Team. (Fellow Yankees Roger Clemens and reliever Mariano Rivera also made the team.) It is suspected by many that Barry Bonds, the man formerly viewed as the best player in baseball, was snubbed from the team thanks to the evidence against him as a steroid cheat.
Indeed, the conventional wisdom until last year was that A-Rod was going to be the hero who saved the game by restoring the integrity of the numbers. He ended last season with 553 career home runs, 13th all time. He is second to only Ken Griffey Jr. among current players, and Griffey (perhaps the only modern slugger without any steroid suspicion due to his non-muscled physique) appears soon to be headed to retirement. That left A-Rod with the best chance of surpassing Bonds' career total of 762* round-trippers, something he could conceivably do in four great seasons. After that, balance would be returned to the universe, as the most sacred record in American sports would not be held by a doping phony.
Even without the recent revelations, the "A-Rod as Christ savior" storyline had its problems. For all his talent, he's never been particularly loved by the public or, perhaps more importantly, his fellow teammates. He isn't a surly SOB like Bonds, but his well-noted narcissistic self-absorption (on full display on the April 2009 cover of Details where he was seen kissing his own image in a mirror) has made him a magnet for haters. As for his contributions to teams, here are some curious facts: in 2001, after he left the Seattle Mariners for a ten-year, $252 million payout with the Texas Rangers, the Mariners won an astounding 116 games. His Rangers, meanwhile, finished in last place the three seasons he was there. Since he has moved to the Yankees in 2004, meanwhile, they have yet to even appear in a World Series despite all their well-paid talent, while their nemesis in Boston broke the Bambino curse with two titles, starting coincidentally the year he started playing in the Big Apple.
Okay, maybe the bad luck of the Rangers and Yankees isn't his entire fault. (Although his notorious showing in post-season play, which has earned him like Bonds before the insulting nickname of "Mr. April-September" from some, certainly hasn't helped.) Still, entering his sixth year in NY pinstripes, he wasn't even half as loved by fans or fellow Yankees as fellow teammate Derek Jeter. This was underscored in manager Joe Torre's recently published book The Yankee Years, where he reveals A-Rod was derisively termed as "A-Fraud" by teammates annoyed by his shallow insincerity. His 2007 demand to renegotiate his record contract to an even larger ten-year, $275 million didn't help.
Torre's tell-all bio was only the second recent book to dish dirt on A-Rod. The first came out last year, when Canseco released his sequel to Juiced, titled Vindicated: Big Names, Big Liars, and the Battle to Save Baseball. The big bombshell in the tome: Canseco claims in the latter half of the 1990s, A-Rod asked for help in finding a trainer that would supply steroids. He refused to name the trainer (referring to him only as "Max") and when pressed on Nightline over his refusal to provide corroborating evidence, Canseco replied: "Let's see how Alex reacts. Let's see if they call me a liar again. How's that for ya? Let's see if all of a sudden they're gonna call me a liar again."
Surprise, surprise. As he was lambasted earlier this year over his Manny hypothesis, Canseco, despite his history of truth-telling, was indeed shredded in the press as a liar again in 2008 over the claim. In this case, it didn't help Jose that he has an admitted beef with A-Rod, claiming Rodriguez had an affair with Canseco's then wife. (Apparently A-Rod's affairs don't merely include cheating with wives of teammates: late last year, his wife Cynthia filed for divorce after a rumored adulterous affair between A-Rod and Madonna became top tabloid news.) His allegations did get some backing last year when former reliever John Rocker claimed MLB commissioner Bud Selig knew he failed a drug test for steroids in 2000, and doctors for both management and the players' association advised him and three other Texas Rangers - among them Alex Rodriguez - on how to use steroids. Of course, when the one person who helps confirm your story is a notorious pariah like the racist Rocker, it tends to undercut, rather than enhance, credibility.
Despite this, it appears Canseco is once again vindicated. In February, Sports Illustrated reported that A-Rod was one of the 104 players who tested positive for steroids. As the controversy became the talk of the news cycle, A-Rod finally fessed up and admitted, yes, he was a steroid cheat. The mea culpa came with a convenient asterisk, as A-Rod insisted he only did it from 2001-3 while with the Rangers, meaning he denied any usage after steroid use had penalties attached. In any case, his apology, especially the one he sent publicly to his teammates, was widely deemed as insincere.
Even with this limited hangout by A-Rod, outrage became the order of the day. No longer was "A-Fraud" enough of a put-down of the dude by his critics: "A-Roid" or (with even greater ingenuity, courtesy of a NY Post cover) "A-Hole" became the new insults. On David Letterman, a top ten joke list featuring messages left on A-Rod's answering machine included this knee-slapper: "Could you find a steroid that keeps you from choking in the playoffs?"
The SI report become the first shot of reporter Selena Roberts' A-Rod bio, the third book to talk smack about Rodriguez. Roberts claims A-Rod started his steroid regimen in high school, and that he has continued it during the Yankee years. She also made claims of another A-Rod cheating scandal: that A-Rod would tip buddies on other teams the pitch they were facing late in blowout games. According to Roberts, the quid quo pro deal allowed players in the pitch-tipping scandal to pad their stats in at-bats for games already decided, at the expense of late-inning pitchers. While the scheme wouldn't change the winner of the game, it certainly qualifies as an attack on the integrity of the game, perhaps even more so than steroids, and a betrayal of pitching teammates almost on par with sleeping with their wives.
(Adding insult to his injured reputation, a Yahoo! Sports article from August 2008 reported the next generation of Bill James wannabees had statistically uncovered a sabermetrics to measure clutch hitting, and A-Rod, as critics had long insisted, was indeed a pressure-situation choker.)
Fortunately for A-Rod, a cyst on his hip forced him to miss the first full month of the season. (Cynics note that a common side-effect of steroid usage is cysts developing at injection point.) By the time of his May 8th return, A-Rod outrage had dipped and been superseded by the Manny dope scandal, and hitting a home run on the first pitch certainly aided him in forgiveness. Come October, maybe A-Rod can finally earn the love (and the $275 million) he has long craved from fans by finally delivering in the playoffs, and the forgiveness that comes with it. Based on his track record, however, The Konformist is betting against him once again.
In the end, A-Rod is merely just another scapegoat in sports, a face for the public to focus wrath. And that's why we expect this to be the last steroid-related athlete BOTM we do, even if another great baseball superstar is eventually shockingly uncovered as a secret doper. But that doesn't mean we'll stop covering this issue: as The Konformist and Jose Canseco long have pointed out, the owners and the league itself have long sanctioned the steroid era with their covert consent. The tale of John Rocker, that the commissioner himself knew he failed a 2000 test and that management advised him on how to properly juice, provides ample evidence of just how complicit they are. Indeed, the evidence suggests that even as Bud Selig was personally promoting the "A-Rod as baseball savior" myth, he already knew via the 2003 tests that Rodriguez was a cheater. Meanwhile, as Nation magazine writer Dave Zirin has noted, owners "have yet to have to face any kind of Congressional subcommittee, grand jury or operatic media melodrama for their role in cheapening the sport." If they ever are, no doubt The Konformist will be there ready to point fingers again where they deserve.
In any case, we salute Alex Rodriguez as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Al!!!
Blum, Ronald. "A-Rod Says He Expects Questions on Drugs." Associated Press 20 February 2008 <http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5iCj65bmE8AEQ7MvFQrBVYXwwJp9QD8UUAVI80>.
Brinson, Will. "Jose Canseco Says '90 Percent Chance' Manny Ramirez Is on 'The List'." MLB FanHouse 6 April 2009 <http://mlb.fanhouse.com/2009/04/06/jose-canseco-says-90-chance-manny-ramirez-is-on-steroids-list>.
Canseco, Jose. Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005.
Canseco, Jose. Vindicated: Big Names, Big Liars, and the Battle to Save Baseball. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008.
"Details on A-Rod's Alleged Pitch-Tipping Scheme in Texas." Sports Illustrated 30 April 2009 <http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/baseball/mlb/04/30/roberts.qa>.
Escherich, Katie. "Exclusive: Jose Canseco Says 'The Truth Hurts'." ABC News 26 March 2008 <http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/story?id=4528387>.
Harris, Beth and Blum, Rondald. "Ramirez Suspended 50 Games for Drug Violation." Yahoo! Sports 7 May 2009 <http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news;_ylt=AozPbdpnRxDcG.ttoQ3gr6URvLYF?slug=ap-dodgers-ramirez-drugs>.
"Jose Canseco Smirking Smugly At Nation." The Onion 12 February 2009 <http://www.theonion.com/content/from_print/jose_canseco_smirking_smugly>.
Passan, Jeff. A-Rod Is a $300 Million Migraine." Yahoo! Sports 31 August 2008 <http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news;_ylt=AqYZcgXmuHwg3tDIHBh5_VYRvLYF?slug=jp-arod083108>.
Roberts, Selena. A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009.
Roberts, Selena and Epstein, David. "Sources Tell SI Alex Rodriguez Tested Positive for Steroids in 2003." Sports Illustrated 7 February 2009 <http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/baseball/mlb/02/07/alex-rodriguez-steroids/index.html>.
Streeter, Kurt. "Manny Ramirez Blindsided Everyone but Jose Canseco." Los Angeles Times 7 May 2009 <http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-spw-streeter-manny8-2009may08,0,5943246.story>.
Torre, Joe and Verducci, Tom. The Yankee Years. New York: Doubleday, 2009.
Verducci, Tom. "Alltime All-Star Team." Sports Illustrated 3 October 2006 <http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2006/magazine/10/03/bb.allstar1009/index.html>.
Zirin, Dave. "A-Rod, Anabolic Agonist Sports." The Nation 9 February 2009 <http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090223/zirin>.