It's not steroids alone that make this latest chapter so troubling. Alex Rodriguez broke into the big leagues in 1994, when rampant performance-enhancing drug use was still baseball's dirty little secret. For him to seek the same advantage as the other cheaters, while disturbing, was understandable.
It's not that A-Rod lied through his pretty white teeth when he said on "60 Minutes" that he never used, and never considered using, steroids that makes allegations of the opposite so disconcerting, either. What did you expect after he spent years building his image as a model player and citizen?
What hurts more than anything is that we believed in him.
When Barry Bonds was chasing Babe Ruth's home run record amid allegations that he was on 'roids, we had A-Rod standing behind the Giants slugger as the player who would eventually make things right. Bonds could keep the record for a few years, asterisk and all, so long as we could count on A-Rod to break it.
As far as we were concerned, you could push aside Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and all other suspected juicers from that era. Their place in history, whatever it may be, had largely become irrelevant in our minds. Steroids might have tarnished baseball for more than a decade, but A-Rod had a way of maintaining its innocence. After all, he was the real deal. Right?
Sure, he had personality flaws. His passionless, polished interviews exposed him as a phony. In Toronto last summer on the day Bobby Murcer died, I walked away from Rodriguez doubting he had a genuine bone in his body. He had a dangerous combination of insecurity and egomania. He was a womanizer. He was greedy. He craved attention.
He certainly wasn't the first athlete to possess such qualities, and he definitely will not be the last. But strictly as a ballplayer, well, that's a different story.
A-Rod has a habit of gagging in October, but he's precisely what teams want in a baseball player. Only a handful of legends in big league history can match his resume, a fact that led many to look past his personal shortcomings and embrace his professional success.
We wanted to believe him because we needed to believe in him. It's our nature to seek good in others. We want someone to hold up as an example for our children. Too often, we tend to look for heroes in sports rather than firehouses and cop cars, hospitals and schools. So we screwed up. We trusted him.
It's all gone now with Sports Illustrated outlining over the weekend how he tested positive for steroids in 2003. We've become numbed by drugs in sports, so the revelation wasn't exactly shocking. The surprise was only that it was him after he emphatically denied using. It's too bad Mr. Clean didn't come clean last week rather than hide behind the players' union for two days.
Rodriguez never hit more than 42 homers before clubbing 52 in 2001 and 57 a year later. He hit 47 homers, won his second gold glove and was named MVP in 2003, the year he tested positive. He has averaged 41.6 homers over the last five years, which includes a 54-homer season in 2007.
How many of his 553 career homers were a direct result of him juicing? We don't know. Much like Bonds, whose career hardly needed enhancement, A-Rod will be convicted in the Court of Public Opinion, cast aside as a liar and cheater on the field as he was off the field.
The real shame is that fans are more suspicious of all players, the innocent dropped into a pot with the guilty.
Rodriguez was on a list of 104 players who tested positive. Tell me that Ken Griffey Jr., in his prime the best player of his time, isn't among them. Or Derek Jeter. Or Tom Glavine. Or Albert Pujols.
At this point, they're all we have left.