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A-Rod soap opera is beyond sordid, yet we still watch

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Rick Morrissey
February 10, 2009

What’s our limit? How low are we willing to go?


I don’t know, but I’m guessing we’re not there yet.


Alex Rodriguez has admitted using performance-enhancing drugs from 2001 to 2003, and if you’re like me, you’re wondering what in the world we’re supposed to do about it. You might also be wondering why we’re supposed to believe A-Rod stopped using steroids when he went to the Yankees in 2004 and why we’re supposed to believe he’s clean now.


There’s a feeling of raging helplessness in all of this, a feeling that, if baseball is a sham, then mom very well could be a ’60s fugitive in hiding and apple pie likely is being genetically modified by international black-market scientists.


What’s next, bat boys admitting to being juiced? And if so, would it stop us from buying tickets or turning on ESPN?


No. We’d probably like to see them get a few at-bats.


What it looks like from here is that major-league baseball has been a chemistry set for a good 20 years, and that no one really cared, then or now. If people had cared, they would have stopped going to games in protest. But the opposite happened. More fans came to watch large men hit monstrous home runs.


The patriots among us were quick to point out that the accused were innocent until proven guilty. All well and good. But now that A-Rod has fessed up to using performance-enhancing drugs, can we expect a drop in attendance for Yankees games, home and away? Doubtful.


We, the viewing public, haven’t yet reached our limit when it comes to bad behavior. In fact, we seem to welcome it. Watching athletes mess up has become part of the enjoyment of sports. Jocks making spectacles of themselves has become a spectator sport.


It’s the only explanation for our continued interest.


We can rant about greed and self-centered ballplayers all we want, and I’ve done my share. Salaries have been outrageous, borderline immoral, for a long, long time. But at some point we have to start looking at ourselves. The only way Rodriguez receives that $252 million contract from Texas in 2001 — the contract he said put so much pressure on him to perform that he started using drugs—is if Americans flock to ballparks to watch chemically enhanced ballplayers do extraordinary things.


To pretend we didn’t know what was going on during the Steroid Era is disingenuous. Whenever Barry Bonds went on the road in his last few years in baseball, huge crowds followed. A high percentage of people believe Bonds was an inveterate steroid user, but that didn’t stop lots of those same people from going to the park to witness the freak show chasing history.


A-Rod should be suspended, for the simple reason he made a mockery of baseball while he was the premier player of his era. But satisfaction? We won’t find much in it.


Rodriguez was one of 104 players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003. Those results were not supposed to be made public, but federal investigators looking into the BALCO scandal seized them, and Sports Illustrated, quoting sources, reported that Rodriguez was one of the players who had tested positive. That led to Monday’s admission.


Pitcher Curt Schilling has called for the release of the other 103 names, so that the players who were clean can be publicly cleared. I have news for Schilling: That era was such a mess that everyone is under a black cloud. Passing one drug test with flying colors isn’t going to lift it. To some people, maybe a lot of people, it just means you didn’t get caught. Everyone from the past 20 years is under suspicion.


Not that baseball fans care. The guess here is that if attendance drops this season, it will be because of the struggling economy, not because fans are disgusted about cheaters having overrun their game.


What’s our limit?


In the headlines section on ESPN.com, here were five of the top 10 stories as of 6:15 p.m. Monday:


“A-Rod admits taking PEDs from ’01 to ’03 “


“McNamee: I had to be truthful about Clemens”


“Burress sued at least 9 times to recover debts”


“Feds again ask judge to allow Bonds test results”


“Report: Barkley back on TV after All-Star game”


You might be thinking, “Oh, positive news about Charles


Barkley. What’s he coming back from, laryngitis?” No, a leave of absence after being arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.


He’ll likely receive applause at his first game back.


How low will we go? We have not yet demonstrated a limit.



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