Just in time for spring training, more allegations and admissions of steroid use in Major League Baseball have surfaced. Although this has become an annual exercise, this year’s cycle is extra special with the inclusion of Alex Rodriguez—one of the greatest players in the history of the game.
After three separate anonymous sources leaked the story to Sports Illustrated, it was reported that Rodriguez failed a test for steroids in 2003. While the test was supposed to be illegal, the list of the 104 MLB players that tested positive for steroids is making the rounds and may be released later this year. Sensing an opportunity to make amends, Rodriguez admitted to steroid use in the three-year period of 2001 to 2003, his only three seasons with the Texas Rangers.
Of course, a veritable media storm has followed. Strangely, Rodriguez has never been a media darling, despite a neutral disposition and a team-first mentality (as exhibited by his move from shortstop to third base in order to accommodate the universally inferior Derek Jeter). Since 2004, Rodriguez has been blamed for the continual post-season failures of the Yankees, despite his consistently excellent performance. With his admission of steroid use, the flames of media disdain have been fanned. But is the media reaction justified, or even rational?
Rodriguez is not the classic steroid case; as a 20-year-old shortstop for the Seattle Mariners, A-Rod put up an astronomical stat-line in his first full season (.358/.414/.630 AVG/OBP/SLG). In short, Rodriguez has been a baseball god since the tender age of twenty. He is no Bret Boone, or Brady Anderson, or even Luis Gonzalez — players who experienced massive power spikes at abnormal (read: late) periods in their careers that stand as outliers when compared to their bodies of work. Rodriguez, on the other hand, experienced his second most powerful season (the aforementioned .630 slugging percentage in 1995) in his first full year in the majors.
This is certainly perplexing, as the majority of steroid users possess less than half of A-Rod’s talent. The effect of his steroid use cannot be quantified, but it is safe to say that steroids did not make Rodriguez a great baseball player; greater perhaps, but when the options are really, really, really good, and really, really good, is there a discernable difference? What’s likely is that A-Rod’s steroid use had little effect on his statistical output, as he used them at a fairly young age. In examining his career path, any spike in production can be explained by either a) his move to Texas prior to the 2001 season: a much more hitter-friendly environment than Seattle, or b) an unbelievable baseball player entering his prime years of 27-31.
For the rest of his career, A-Rod will certainly be scrutinized, and with good reason. Without steroids, he will not experience the sort of renaissance that Barry Bonds enjoyed in his age 36 through 40 seasons. It will be impressive if Rodriguez plays the duration of his contract (2017), let alone maintains his current performance level. As has been shown numerous times, steroids are most useful in injury recovery and longevity for older players like Bonds, not young superstars like Rodriguez.
Fair or not, A-Rod’s entire career will be defined by the upcoming season. With no room for error, one subpar season could get him out of New York and make it impossible for him to reach Cooperstown—a travesty, but one that will hopefully be a