- Tim Keown, ESPN Senior Writer
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On second thought, maybe the steroid era isn't over. Our idea of the steroid era might have ended, along with the antiquated idea of guys sharing a bathroom stall to inject Winstrol, but it's becoming relatively clear the steroid era, as a concept, will never end.
We should accept that. Not embrace it, but accept it for the undeniable, universal truth that it is.
There's no such thing as a clean sport. Never will be, probably never has been.
But that basic level of acceptance can serve as a starting point for baseball to determine how to move toward: (1) finding the guys who do cheat; and (2) dealing with them in a manner that precludes further cheating.
It's true that Tuesday was a bad day for Bud Selig. Several big names in his sport shared notebook space with several Miami women with enough money and vanity to take the fight against their 40s to a pharmaceutical extreme. But it could also turn out to be a good day for Selig, as soon as he realizes he may never again find himself sitting in front of this much of the house's money.
Which brings us to the topic of baseball's current recidivist of choice, Alex Rodriguez, a man whose code name, real name and apparent drugs of choice reportedly filled the notebooks of a medical fraud who ran a Miami anti-aging clinic with all the discretion of a kid posting on his Facebook page.
If baseball's investigation corroborates the Miami New Times' story about Tony Bosch and his ballplayers, what if Selig stood at his bully pulpit and decided to turn Alex Rodriguez into the honorary sacrifice of the steroid era? What if A-Rod, the guy who confessed once before and may yet again, becomes the skin Selig displays on his wall to ward off future intruders?
Rodriguez, through a spokesman, strongly denied his involvement, a move we've come to expect as straight from the manual at this point. But assuming the allegations are true -- and the evidence appears strong -- could A-Rod be suspended from the game long enough to effectively end his career? Just spitballing here, but could Selig make him the Pete Rose of PEDs and use A-Rod's arrogant, repeated nose-thumbing of the best interests of the game to make him ineligible for the Hall of Fame? Could this be the tipping point that finally brings some sanity to the Cooperstown Kabuki theater?
That might be asking too much, but by the power vested in Selig by the new Joint Drug Agreement, he doesn't need a positive test to dole out suspensions. If he has evidence, he can suspend Rodriguez -- or, if you'd prefer, El Cacique -- for 50 games or more.
And I acknowledge that this might take us too far down the Schadenfreude Express, but Selig will never find a better sacrifice than A-Rod. He is a man with very few allies. He's alienated fans, opponents and teammates with his hubris and above-it-all demeanor. You want to close the door on the Old Testament version of the steroid era? What better way than a severe punishment and public humbling of A-Rod to tell every other player he better think twice?
In other words, what if Selig decided to act like a fan?
(Forget for a moment the Yankees' attempt to void Rodriguez's contract. Nobody really cares about that, except for the Yankees and Rodriguez and the union. In fact, let's make an example out of the Yankees, as well, by forcing them to pay every penny of Rodriguez's contract as a message to the rest of the owners: Don't sign players to contracts that go beyond any reasonable estimation of a player's peak -- or even near-peak -- productivity. You give a guy $25 million a year past age 40, you're practically asking him to seek an edge as a means of justifying the contract. That's not to excuse the use of PEDs, but as Chris Rock might say I understand.)
Rodriguez is being compared to Lance Armstrong, but that's a stretch because Rodriguez never stood for anything -- real or imagined -- beyond himself. Rodriguez didn't need PEDs to be one of baseball's best players, but it's possible he needed them to be the guy he thought he was. To live up to his own inflated sense of self, there was no choice.
There's undoubtedly fear involved, too. Fear of mortality, athletic or otherwise. It's the same motivation that brought the vain women into the clinic: Fear of what's out there beyond baseball or fame or childbirth. Much like Barry Bonds, A-Rod might view the idea of the superstar aging gracefully into an inevitable twilight as laughably old-fashioned. When there's a pill for that, why bother taking the risk of ending up like Willie Mays as a Met or Steve Carlton as a Twin?
Selig is correct when he says baseball has a stringent drug-testing system, and he can point to the fact two of the five players connected to Biogenesis were already caught and suspended. But we know the testing program will never be sufficient. Cycling's underground, with its bonuses for doctors based on their ability to bioengineer winners, has taught us there's more money in beating the system than upholding it. There's not the time or the expertise or the interest to make it onerous enough to stop any and all cheating.
Still, the Miami PED scandal -- or PED event, since scandal connotes shock and we're well beyond that -- is a pivotal moment for baseball. If Selig responds like someone who is tired of being played for a fool, he can put a figurative end to the steroid era. And maybe, if he plays it right, he can usher in a new one. Its message could be simple: An insufficient system doesn't have to be insignificant.
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1dAndrew Marchand and Wallace Matthews