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Between pessimism and paranoia

By Matthew Reid

A few days after Alex Rodriguez publicly admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs during his time with the Texas Rangers, many Yankee-hating Red Sox fans screamed proclamations of “I told you so!” and “I knew it all along!”

Oh really?

It’s easy to paint Rodriguez in a negative light, especially for Red Sox fans, given his mammoth salary, frequent appearances in the tabloids, and above all, his pinstriped uniform. But the news about his steroid use has to come as a surprise to even his staunchest detractors.

The main reason a Bostonian would claim to have known about A-Rod’s steroid use is because Rodriguez is now a Yankee, and after all, Yankee players are evil cheaters who have no pride in themselves or pride in the sport. But when one climbs off of the high horse that comes with a membership in Red Sox Nation, it becomes harder to be so black-and-white about criticizing A-Rod, especially if you believe his latest claim that he stopped using once he arrived in New York.

His slap of Bronson Arroyo’s glove aside, Rodriguez was a hard guy not to admire. His numbers were as astronomical as his salary and he did it (or so we thought) without steroids. And most Boston fans forget how exciting it was back when the Red Sox were close to making a deal to acquire Rodriguez. Most people think Greg Maddux is as decent a ball player (not to mention person) in MLB today, but put him in a Yankee uniform and all of a sudden Red Sox fans would have him luring kids into his gingerbread house. While Rodriguez is no Maddux, you have to admit that A-Rod’s on-the-field dominance was something no one could deny.

How fooled were people by A-Rod? Some were even calling him a “savior” of sorts when it came to baseball’s most cherished record. Even as a self-proclaimed Yankee-hater myself, a part of me was rooting for A-Rod to one day break Barry Bonds’ newly-acquired all-time home run mark, thus honoring former king Hank Aaron. Now, instead of restoring honor to the home run record, A-Rod could one day become the latest fraud to tarnish it.

One thing that would force Red Sox fans to step back and reevaluate the situation would be if one of their own was revealed to be a user. Guys like David Ortiz and Jonathan Papelbon walk around wearing tank tops with the sleeves torn off, showing the tree trunks that they call biceps, and everyone in Boston loves them. Who wouldn’t love a guy with a smile as charming as Ortiz? Who wouldn’t love a dancing fool like Papelbon? But if either of them ever had to sit in front of Peter Gammons and say that they took steroids to get ahead of the competition, odds are that charm and personality would be given the same asterisk that will now follow A-Rod wherever he goes.

Red Sox fans got off easy when the Mitchell Report was released in December 2007. Sure Clemens and Mo Vaughn were on there, but Clemens lost his allure when he donned pinstripes and Vaughn is viewed now by most as a poor man’s David Ortiz anyway. Plus, most Red Sox fans hit the reset button following the World Series Championship in 2004, and anything that happened before then is now ancient history. No player from either championship team was named by former Sen. Mitchell, but if all of a sudden Jason Varitek or Tim Wakefield were to be reveled as a user, Red Sox fans would have some serious reevaluating to do.

Would the naming of a recent Red Sox truly tarnish the 2004 and 2007 titles? Rodriguez told ESPN that his steroid days ended a long time ago, and that people should judge him on the years when he wasn’t juiced. The only reason A-Rod was signed by the Yankees in the first place was because of the great seasons he had in Texas. No matter how many times he launders his past it will still come up dirty, and no matter when he gets elected to Cooperstown his career will always be partially built upon a foundation of lies. It’d be hard to tarnish the Red Sox recent tradition of winning championships because it takes an entire team to win the World Series, but adding one or two players to the growing list of proven users would certainly put a noticeable chink in the armor.

I don’t think that Rodriguez should get a free pass. What he did was wrong and his apology seemed forced and insufficient for what he is guilty of doing. But don’t point a finger at him just because he is a Yankee and hating A-Rod is the “cool thing to do” in Boston. If there is one thing this week’s revelation has taught us it’s that baseball’s steroid problem goes even deeper than we originally thought (if that’s even possible). Baseball’s drug epidemic isn’t limited to the best players, the richest players, or the most famous players. The problem stretches all the way from Chavez Ravine to the Trop, and Fenway isn’t immune. When guys like Andy Pettitte turn out to be users, you really can’t overlook anybody. It’s a horribly pessimistic way to approach America’s pastime, but it’s the reality of the baseball world circa 2009. I truly hope a Red Sox great doesn’t get named, but at this point I can’t say I would be too surprised.

I’m not saying I think Dustin Pedroia is juiced. There’s pessimism and then there’s downright paranoia. But the bottom line is this, there are a lot of people across America who would love to see a big-name Boston player be revealed as a steroid user. People would love to see the air let out of the tires that drive Red Sox Nation. Many MLB fans already claim Boston has become the second-coming of New York in a lot of ways, and listing David Ortiz along with A-Rod would do just that. Is it likely that any current Red Sox players are users? Looking up and down the roster I would say no. Then again, I said the same thing about Alex Rodriguez.

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