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Alex Rodriguez left with lots of questions

Alex Rodriguez has no say in the matter, so maybe that’s why nobody popped the question during his news conference Sunday. Or perhaps the media covering the Yankees concentrated so much on the news of the day, what happened and why, that it somehow slipped through the crevices.

It was a tricky question but not a trick question, a nuance in journalism that some people might not understand or appreciate. There was no right or wrong answer, only one Rodriquez should have provided, upon request, while tap dancing around the fact he was forced to retire because the Yanks no longer want him.

Amid the myriad of softballs that come with players ending their careers – How did you arrive at your decision? Do you think you could still play? What’s your greatest memory? – Rodriguez was allowed to walk away from the game he loved without being asked about his eternal place in the game he loved.

The magic question: Alex, do YOU THINK you belong in the Hall of Fame?

It’s not a question A-Rod would welcome for numerous reasons, starting with the fact he doesn’t get a vote. For better or worse, baseball writers will determine his fate in Cooperstown. If he remains on the ballot for more than 10 years without getting enough votes, it goes to the Veterans Committee.

Some might suggest the time and place, hours before a game Sunday at Yankee Stadium, was not for asking tough questions. But it was the ideal place to put the question to him, for him to state his case knowing darned well it wouldn’t need to be asked if not for his own transgressions.

If we were talking about Derek Jeter, it would be a different story. Asking him if he belonged in the Hall of Fame would be putting him in an uncomfortable position when it wasn’t necessary. Everyone knows a red carpet from the Bronx to Cooperstown awaits him in 2020.

Rodriguez should have been asked because we’re not sure how guys like him, players who were elite before they turned to performance-enhancing drugs, should be judged after their careers. Should they gain entrance to the Hall because baseball lacked restrictions? Should we lock the doors on them and throw away the key?

I don’t know.

The closest the media came was 15 minutes into his news conference when a reporter knowing A-Rod’s love for baseball history, asked Rodriguez how he thought he should be remembered. He paused while gathering his thoughts. He shrugged his shoulders. For someone armed with scripted answers, he looked stumped.

“Oooh, um, I mean, it’s not for me to say,” he said. “I do want to be remembered as someone who, you know, was madly in love with the game of baseball, someone who loves it at every level, someone one who loves to learn, teach it, watch it, play it, coach it. Also, I’m going to be hopefully remembered for someone who tripped and fell a lot but someone who kept getting up.”

Retirement announcements come in different forms. Most players release a statement through the team or the players’ union. Good players make a formal announcement, which is what Mark Teixeira did last week. A few great players, such as Jeter, have a farewell tour and give fans one final chance to see them play.

Rodriguez was not your typical player and, with $20 million in salary left on his contract for next year, didn’t retire under normal circumstances. If he wasn’t the best player of his generation, he was one of them. But with his career came a 211-game suspension for PED use that defined his era and tarnished his career.

Anyone who watched him play knows, based solely on his production, he belongs in the Hall of Fame. He played more than 2,700 games, had more than 3,000 hits, 696 homers and 2,084 runs batted in over 22 seasons. Take away the PEDs, and he’s left with an 19-year career that ends in Cooperstown.

Take away the PEDs, however, and you’re also taking away his production. A-Rod hit 154 homers between 2001 and 2003, the three-year stretch in which he admitted to using drugs after lying for years.

But how many were hit based on his ability and how many can we count because he had assistance? Exactly how much was his production inflated? It’s impossible for anyone to know with any certainty.

Baseball didn’t have official rules prohibiting PEDs use until 2005, or two years after the stretch in which Rodriguez admitting to using them. In other words, he may have violated the spirit of the game without actually breaking the rules of baseball.

Is Cooperstown off limits to all who used PEDs or just players who were caught? How do we know the difference? I have no idea.

Barry Bonds, one player who could rival Rodriguez’s talent and production, would be a lock for the Hall but has little chance of getting the votes required for induction. He’s part of a group with Roger Clemens that would make strong cases for the Hall but did not, and likely will not, receive enough votes.

Mike Piazza was suspected of using but never was formally accused and never tested positive for them. If he wasn’t innocent, there was enough reasonable doubt to collect the votes needed for this year. Baseball writers had little choice but to base their decisions on evidence rather than suspicions, rumors and innuendo.

Who belongs? Who doesn’t? I’m not sure anybody knows, which is why someone should have asked A-Rod on Sunday.

Here’s where I stand today: The Hall of Fame celebrates baseball’s rich history. The big leagues didn’t have PED restrictions in place until it was too late. Even though we know they cheated, they technically didn’t break rules that weren’t in place. Ask me again tomorrow, and I might have a different opinion.

It’s maddening.

The media played a role in this mess, too, if only because there was talk about PED use long before it became obvious. Nobody needed a medical degree to figure out that inflated players were putting up inflated numbers. Too many looked the other way. The media should have pressed harder and sooner.

And they should have pressed Rodriguez on Sunday. Rather than challenge him, they threw too many batting-practice fastballs he could hit with his eyes closed. They turned his news conference into a retirement party of sorts, missed the story and let him get away. We’re still left with more questions than answers.


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