- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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Alex Rodriguez can engage in all the magical thinking he wants, but he isn't winning the spin war or passing the smell test right now.
The latest allegations to surface against Rodriguez on Friday -- a report by ESPN's "Outside the Lines" that Anthony Bosch, the head of the South Florida anti-aging clinic that Major League Baseball has been investigating for months, personally injected Rodriguez with performance-enhancing drugs -- considerably upped the ante on Tuesday's initial reports that Rodriguez's name and doping regimen had turned up in Bosch's handwritten records of his baseball clients.
Rodriguez can continue arming himself with high-end legal muscle and crisis management experts and issuing all the denials he likes. They feverishly can work to put out sunny reports, basically ignoring how the Yankees were fuming at the latest news that A-Rod might have relapsed into using PEDs and are finally ready to cut ties or negotiate a settlement with him. The Yankees' chances of voiding the remaining $114 million on Rodriguez's guaranteed contract are probably not improved, even if Friday's news is proven true. But you can't blame them for still dreaming.
The retort A-Rod's handlers had to all the Yankees' outrage was a non sequitur: We were assured that good ol' unsinkable A-Rod has no intention of retiring or taking a buyout -- he's vowing to come back to New York better than ever. He acts like he has the leverage. Not the Yanks. And to an extent, he's right. But it's eroding.
Rodriguez's handling of this latest fiasco feels a lot like the first time he was accused of PED use in 2009, when he adopted a strategy of denial until it was impossible not to. If he has any hope of salvaging his career, it might be time to finally try a novel strategy, at least for him: How about shutting up already? He's in danger of more embarrassment, at best. At worst, he'll make himself such an irredeemably toxic figure that a return to the big leagues will be impossible.
A source told "Outside the Lines" that Bosch would get text messages, usually late at night, to head to Rodriguez's waterfront mansion on Biscayne Bay, where he would inject him with performance-enhancing drugs every few weeks. One night last spring, a source said, Bosch told associates he had been kicked out of Rodriguez's home after he had trouble locating a vein and infuriated the Yankees' third baseman. The sources did not explain to "Outside the Lines" why Bosch would have been tapping a vein since HGH and testosterone do not require intravenous injections. But whatever he was doing, "Tony said A-Rod was pissed at him," a source said. "He said he was bleeding everywhere."
A spokesperson for Rodriguez said on Friday that "the allegations are not true."
But given Rodriguez's belated confession to his past PED use, and the spike his performance took in 2009 (when he was supposedly using again, according to Bosch's notes), Friday's story is damning stuff. It also provides the sort of detail that sets off alarms about whether Rodriguez's latest denials can be believed.
Major League Baseball officials consider Bosch's Biogenesis of America clinic in Coral Gables the center of a widespread doping operation in South Florida that included at least five big-league players, counting A-Rod. Two of the others (former Yankees Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon) have already been handed 50-game suspensions by the league, the maximum penalty A-Rod probably would face, too, if he is found guilty.
MLB officials have urged the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to pick up the investigation.
But Rodriguez may have one thing working in his favor: the government might be loathe to take up any more such cases after the millions of dollars it spent for the relatively low bang-for-the-buck convictions it got while chasing everyone from Barry Bonds to Roger Clemens (and Lance Armstrong, at least for a bit) on criminal charges.
But even if he's never prosecuted, that won't spare Rodriguez from the added shame this latest mess is costing him in the court of public opinion.
And you know what the shame of it is?
Like Bonds, Rodriguez always seemed like one of those players who never had to use. Ego and insecurity made him do it.
Even worse, after the first time he was charged of using and admitted to PED use, Rodriguez actually laid out a blueprint for how he might overcome it and still make the Hall of Fame. He said it started with staying clean (something he insisted he's been since 2003) and proving himself again in the seven or eight years he had left in his career. He also stated a hope that attitudes toward users and the era might soften over time.
But all of those hopes are pipe dreams if Rodriguez becomes the first baseball PED user to deny, confess, make another denial and confess a relapse.
Rodriguez has the right to shout he's innocent until proven guilty.
And he may yet get every penny of salary he's owed.
But he wouldn't be the first jock to pass countless drug screenings and still flunk the smell test.
His credibility is bankrupt until proven otherwise.
A-Rod should learn from 2009 before he digs himself into a hole he can't climb.