Alex Rodriguez leaving behind tainted legacy

Alex Rodriguez was just a kid when he came to play baseball at the Oakland Coliseum for the first time in 1995. He was 19, still innocent and still new to the big leagues.
 
Four hours before the game, I stood with a small group of reporters for an appointed interview with the Seattle Mariners’ boy wonder. But he was late. Very late.
 
When he finally showed up, he confessed the reason for his tardiness. He had taken a BART subway train from San Francisco and, well, somehow he missed his stop.
 
“I got lost,” he said, embarrassment creeping into his smile.
 
I couldn’t help but think of that moment as this mess surrounding Rodriguez took its latest unfortunate step – a 211-game suspension announced Monday that Rodriguez will appeal.
 
A-Rod got lost again.
 
He’s no longer an innocent teenager with talent and good looks that would certainly make him a major star. He’s now a poster boy for the game’s performance-enhancing drugs scandal, one that refuses to fade into the background.
 
It would have been simple, and appropriate, for Rodriguez to accept his punishment. But he’s holding baseball hostage, stealing headlines from a season that has provided some wonderful storylines: the Dodgers’ comeback from last to first, Max Scherzer’s 16-1 start, the amazing season of the usually downtrodden Pittsburgh Pirates.
 
Rather than focus on division races over the final two months of the regular season, baseball instead will be preoccupied with Rodriguez on a nightly basis, at least until an arbitrator hands down his final decision. But it will take weeks for that to happen.
 
Rodriguez will never come out clean. His career won’t be judged on home runs or batting average. His plaque will never hang in Cooperstown. He will forever be the player who sabotaged his career for financial gain — the $350 million he has already been paid and the millions more he is trying to preserve by shortening his suspension.
 
Rodriguez is already considered a serial user of PEDs, and the severe penalty handed down by commissioner Bud Selig is based primarily on allegations he obstructed Major League Baseball’s investigation by trying to buy documents incriminating him.
 
But Selig made it clear it wasn’t just about an attempted cover-up. In his statement, Selig pointed out that Rodriguez violated the league’s joint drug prevention and treatment program “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.”
 
Remember the day in 2009 when Rodriguez sat in front of a press conference and told reporters, “The only thing I ask from this group today and the American people is to judge me from this day forward”?
 
Now we can judge him. He will have his day in front of an arbitrator, and it’s quite possible his suspension will be reduced. But it will not absolve him from his previous crimes or his alleged cover-up.
 
How sad. There was so much talent, so much potential, when he arrived almost 20 years ago. He was Mike Trout before Mike Trout. Once he got going – 36 homers and a .358 average at age 21, 42 home runs in 1998 and 1999, before he admitted using PEDs for the first time – there was no way to gauge what A-Rod might accomplish in his career. Five hundred homers? Six hundred? Seven hundred?
 
But he’s a disgraced player now. He’s 38, his skills are eroding, his hips are bad and he is a pariah to fans and most players. The Yankees may have to pay him his money, but they’re better off cutting him loose and preserving their honorable tradition.
 
Baseball should take two steps moving forward: Punish first-time violators with 100-game suspensions and give teams the right to void their contracts, putting future money at risk. Second, ban second-time violators for life.
 
I guarantee it will drastically slow, if not completely stop, chronic PED use. Even better, it will allow fans to enjoying the games and their teams.
 
There’s no reason for baseball to get lost as Rodriguez clearly has.