Commentary

Luckiest man on earth? It's A-Rod

On 75th anniversary of Lou's speech, Alex is Yank with most to be thankful for

Updated: July 2, 2014, 8:50 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- On the day the Yankees commemorated the 75th anniversary of the famous Lou Gehrig speech, it is clear Alex Rodriguez is truly the luckiest man on the face of the Earth ... Earth ... Earth.

It is also clear that for a guy with low testosterone, he sure has some set of onions.

[+] EnlargeAlex Rodriguez
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesA new book says MLB permitted Alex Rodriguez to use testosterone before his 2007 MVP season. A-Rod's big year led to another huge payday.

In some ways, the A-Rod story is an inspiring one, the tale of a man beset with crippling physical disabilities -- in addition to his testosterone deficiency, he also was born with congenital deformities in both hips, according to his orthopedic surgeon -- and yet was able to rise to a level of success in Major League Baseball achieved by only a handful of (presumably healthy) men who came before him.

And he did it all with the help and blessing of MLB, which in its benevolence took pity on this poor specimen and helped him live his dream.

If anyone should be angered by this heartwarming tale, it is the New York Yankees, because without that help, A-Rod might not have won that 2007 MVP award, nor would he have had the gumption to opt out of his 10-year, $252 million deal at the seven-year mark to seek an extension and a raise.

Then again, maybe he would have.

That is, of course, if the Yankees didn't already know about it.

If nothing else, this latest A-Rod tale -- that he requested, and received, permission from MLB to use testosterone and a female fertility drug called clomiphene citrate (Clomid), both banned performance-enhancers, on the grounds that his body was deficient in both substances -- only reminds us of how this man's hubris truly knows no limits. (Unless, of course, he was trying to get pregnant, too.)

For one thing, if he was deficient in testosterone, it was likely because prior (undetected) steroid use had curtailed his body's ability to produce its own.

For another, when the bill finally came due in 2013 in the form of the Biogenesis investigation that ultimately cost him a one-year suspension -- and $25 million of that raise he had extorted out of the Yankees based on a PED-tainted season -- he had the nerve to appeal the decision, publicly smear his benefactors-turned-accusers, and file lawsuits against everyone in sight.

Of course, there are no good guys in this tale, told in a forthcoming book, "Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez, Biogenesis and the Quest to End Baseball's Steroid Era" by authors Tim Elfrink and Gus Garcia-Roberts.

For one thing, the players' association did everything it could to resist tougher steroid testing for as long as possible, and MLB went along with it.

For another, none of the players publicly seemed to have a problem with illegally jacked teammates, as long as they were helping their teams win and helping them collect playoff checks.

In fact, if there are 750 major league baseball players, you can imagine there were 750 requests for what baseball terms TUEs -- therapeutic use exemptions -- for everything from testosterone to Ritalin and Adderall. Because as we have recently learned, a disproportionate number of professional baseball players suffer from attention deficit disorder, too.

The fact that Alex Rodriguez was granted one of those TUEs is not only comically ironic, but deeply embarrassing to baseball.

Already, he had tested positive for steroid use in survey testing conducted in 2003, an offense for which there was no penalty since Congress had yet to pressure MLB and the MLBPA into adopting the current Joint Drug Agreement.

And there had been suspicions about Rodriguez throughout his career; by his own admission, he began using steroids in 2001, after signing what was then the largest contract in sports history, for fear of not being able to live up to the expectations. (Testosterone can be used to treat performance anxiety.)

So while it may be hard to believe that a reputable doctor would diagnose low-T and prescribe testosterone to a man with the body, physical abilities, and history of Alex Rodriguez, that is precisely what happened.

A North Carolina physician, Bryan W. Smith, approved the medical exemption. Smith was the IPA -- independent program administrator -- appointed jointly by MLB and the MLBPA, but supposedly not answerable to either.

Requests for comment from Dr. Smith on Wednesday were rejected, and all calls were referred to MLB's public relations department.

None of MLB's officials would comment on the record, but the league did release a statement distancing itself from the process and never mentioning Alex Rodriguez by name.

A baseball source refused to tell ESPNNewYork.com whether the Yankees were aware of A-Rod's medical exemption when they tore up his old contract and replaced it with a new 10-year, $275 million deal that could add another $30 million in home run bonuses. But clearly, they liked whatever he was doing and weren't really interested in how he was doing it.

In fact, the only way this information even came to light was because it was introduced into evidence at A-Rod's grievance hearing in his 162-game suspension, of which a confidential copy of the testimony "somehow'' found its way into the hands of the authors.

None of it is going to matter, of course.

Alex Rodriguez winds up losing $25 million in salary for this year, which is money he was only due under the new contract, which was based on tainted numbers.

He is free to come back to the Yankees next year, and in fact has every intention of doing so.

Even if, at 40 -- the age he will turn on July 27 of next season -- he can't put up the kind of numbers he did in the Golden Age of 2007, he is still entitled to some $61 million of Hal Steinbrenner's money.

And with a little bit of luck, he will still hit enough home runs to collect on at least one, and maybe even two, of those $6 million bonus checks.

On the day that we commemorate the tragedy of a man who only thought he was lucky, it is only fitting to take a moment and marvel at one who truly has been.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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