- Ian O'Connor, ESPN Senior Writer
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CHICAGO -- The damning evidence says that Alex Rodriguez never believed in himself, that he believed only in what some underground chemists told him he could be. He needed the pills and potions to feel whole. He needed a superhuman jolt out of a lab to forget about the all-too-human weaknesses within.
On a ball field, chasing those childhood dreams, the reality of Alex Rodriguez never measured up to the elaborate hoax that was A-Rod. So after Bud Selig hammered him with a devastating 211-game ban to start Thursday, the 38-year-old star once scheduled to become the clean, big league champion of the long ball -- yes, the clean one -- ended up under a pile of the biggest losers in sports history.
Rodriguez was nailed on a Monday, bloody Monday for baseball, when Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta were also among the 13 players to receive performance-enhancing drug suspensions in the Biogenesis case, the dirty dozen accepting their 50-game penalties without a fight while Rodriguez said he'll appeal. Go ahead and call them Alex and the Rodriguettes, for this dark day in baseball history was about A-Rod as much as the Mitchell report was about Roger Clemens.
Rodriguez got a reprieve of sorts in the night, when he made his 2013 debut and amounted to one of the few competent New York Yankees in an 8-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox, who entered with a 40-69 record and a 10-game losing streak. Rodriguez was booed in all four of his at-bats (fans chanted "A-Roid" at him in the eighth) and one fan on the first-base side held up a sign with the number 211 shaded in pinstripes and shouted "Cheater!"
Rodriguez didn't bother assuming the role of Gorgeous George, the villainous professional wrestler who blew kisses to the jeering masses. A-Rod merely opened with a bloop hit to left, flew out a couple of times, struck out looking in the eighth and showed decent range to his left in getting Jeff Keppinger on an earlier groundout.
Beforehand, he said he felt like an 18-year-old making his big league debut at Fenway Park. Afterward, surrounded by cameras and microphones at his locker, Rodriguez was asked if the day went about as well as he could've hoped.
"I don't think there's a 'well' in any of this situation," he said. "I just hope that there's a happy ending somewhere."
Good luck with that on all fronts. Hours after Derek Jeter was returned to the disabled list, the Yankees looked like an old, feeble, semi-interested team, and 41-year-old Andy Pettitte looked completely shot.
But on-field misery was a secondary concern on this day, a day that brought the whole unwieldy Biogenesis mess back to its simple core. As it relates to Rodriguez, this story was never about a disputed MRI on a quad, or some fame-chasing doctor in Hackensack, or whether whispering officials with the Yankees and MLB were conspiring in the dead of night to take out the larger-than-life A-Rod and his larger-than-life contract.
This story was about doping and cheating. A-Rod's repeated doping and cheating.
"Rodriguez's discipline under the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program is based on his use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including Testosterone and human Growth Hormone, over the course of multiple years," read MLB's statement. A-Rod was also hit under the Basic Agreement, MLB said, for trying to cover up his violations "by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner's investigation."
So baseball says Rodriguez didn't just pump more illegal garbage into his system as a member of the Yankees, just as he had in a different life as a member of the Texas Rangers. He interfered with MLB's investigation into Anthony Bosch and Biogenesis, a probe that concluded he'd returned to the dark side after swearing it off forevermore in 2009.
A probe that concluded he'd become a chemically enhanced fake all over again.
How sad. How tragic.
How impossibly dumb.
Rodriguez wouldn't even deny baseball's findings of PED use in a news conference held before he batted cleanup at U.S. Cellular Field. Given more than one opportunity to state that he is and was clean, A-Rod would only say: "I think we'll have a forum to discuss all of that and we'll talk about it then."
As if the proper forum wasn't right then and there, facing the cameras after MLB rocked his world.
"It's been the toughest fight of my life," A-Rod said.
A fight he waged against himself. Banned substances took down the banned slugger, and of course Rodriguez will keep raging against this sentence and the elders who imposed it. A-Rod is expected to play for the Yanks for weeks on appeal. It will be a carnival act that will put to shame any Boss-Billy-Reggie circus from the past.
But unless A-Rod wins his appeal, nothing he does at the plate anymore can save him. Up until this case, I was among those willing to vote him into Cooperstown as a member of the With or Without Club, as another Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens -- players I believe were so exceptional that they would've been Hall of Famers with or without drugs.
Rodriguez has Willie Mays numbers, after all, with 647 homers, 1,950 RBIs, a career batting average of .300 and an on-base percentage of .384. But he no longer qualifies for the Hall after his pathetic behavior here. Man, if A-Rod could do everything baseball said he did in a desperate attempt to keep his job, he would've done anything over his 19 years to maintain his standing in the game.
I now believe Rodriguez used PEDs his entire career, an automatic no-go for the Hall.
Rodriguez confessed in 2009 to three years of banned substance use in Texas before the sport's drug program kicked in, coincidentally enough, and swore he was a clean Yankee who would remain a clean Yankee. He signed up to support the Taylor Hooton Foundation, named for a teenage steroid user who committed suicide, and challenged high school kids to learn from his mistakes.
But it now appears A-Rod was making the same mistakes over and over again while doing his preaching from the mount. He was the A-Fraud character in Joe Torre's book times 10, and after the Miami New Times exposed him and the entire Biogenesis scam, Selig went after him and went after him hard.
Monday's takedown was ugly, and it left Rodriguez looking like baseball's answer to Lance Armstrong. Though 150 games seemed like a fair-and-square penalty, Rodriguez was popped for 61 more and ended up with a sum of 146 more than Ryan Braun got, a term earning him a permanent seat in baseball infamy right next to Pete Rose.
A-Rod can't blame past or present enablers, crisis managers, lawyers, spokespeople, you name it. He can't even blame his supplier, because if it wasn't Bosch, it would've been some other shadowy figure down the road.
No, Rodriguez can blame only the man in his bathroom glass.
Rodriguez never liked what he saw in that mirror, even if he once kissed his own reflection for a regrettable magazine spread. A-Rod needed something more, something that would make him the best player of his time, maybe of all time. Something that would make him a greater Yankee than his sworn frenemy, Jeter.
The $275 million man lost the gamble, lost it in a spectacular way, and all that's left of his career is stuffed inside the briefcase carrying his appeal. A-Rod could never summon the courage to believe in his own talent and work ethic, so he believed in a pharmacological lie instead.
The Yankee slugger who needed pills and potions to feel whole must live with his own destructive choices. Today, Alex Rodriguez might consider himself the loneliest man on the face of the earth.
3mJesse Rogers and Jerry Crasnick
3hEric D. Williams