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Dan Shaughnessy

He really must change his tune

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / February 18, 2009
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Young?

Alex Rodriguez kept going back to that. He kept telling us he was young.

"I was 24-25. It's part of being young and stupid."

Twenty-four? Twenty-five?

Young?

I kept thinking about my father-in-law. He was one of those thousands of Americans, then and now, who serve their country when they are teenagers. When Ludwik Wit was 19 years old in 1945, he was on a boat in the Panama Canal waiting to invade Japan. At this hour, there are 18- and 19-year-old American men and women in harm's way, on foreign soil, defending our way of life.

"Young" is a relative term, but Alex Rodriguez was certainly old enough to know better when he was injecting a banned substance into his body while he was playing for the Texas Rangers from 2001-03. In A-Rod's final year with the Rangers, when he was still juicing, he was 28 years old and had been a professional baseball player for more than 10 years.

Young?

Yesterday was not a good day for Rodriguez. He read a statement. He took questions. He tried to make us believe he cares about his teammates. But he was not believable. He was Richard Nixon talking about his dog (Checkers) and his wife's Republican cloth coat. A-Rod is handsome, rich, famous, and smart enough to speak fluently in two languages, but he seems constitutionally incapable of presenting himself as genuine. It's pathetic.

It makes me feel kind of bad for the guy. How much public humiliation is enough?

Last week in this space, I wondered, why so much hate for A-Rod?

Yesterday, he answered the question. People can't stand him because he's a phony. Sure, some of his detractors are merely jealous. It's easy to hoot on him because he folds in the clutch, or because he tried cheap tricks like slapping the ball out of an opponent's glove, or yelling, "I got it," to decoy an infielder when rounding the bases. Here in Boston, people hate him because he is a Yankee. Parents and fans who embrace baseball feel cheated by those who cheated the game.

But it's the phoniness that makes A-Rod less sympathetic than other admitted users like Andy Pettitte and Rodney Harrison (yes, Patriots fans, you have Rodney and Larry Izzo to answer for, as well as Spygate, so tread gently on the "cheating" outrage, OK?).

A-Rod's performance yesterday was awful. He said he didn't know that what he was taking was a steroid. He claimed to be unaware that he'd been skewered by former Seattle teammate Jamie Moyer. He said he hadn't given much thought to whether he'd have outed himself if the positive test never had been disclosed.

Wow. More whoppers than a Burger King drive-thru at lunchtime.

He trotted out the nameless, nefarious cousin (an old Ty Law trick) and characterized his juicing as "amateur hour." He said it was not for him to decide whether he's a cheater. He said it's not for him to decide whether his home run numbers are tainted. He pledged his support for the cause of a family that lost a son to steroids, a tactic that could be viewed as shameless or constructive, depending on how one looks at it.

The press conference was carefully managed by the Yankees and A-Rod's handlers, allowing no follow-up questions (slo-pitch Gammons winds up looking like Edward Murrow). This made it easy for A-Rod to control the podium.

Still, he couldn't help himself. When he was asked how a world-class athlete - one so careful about everything he puts in his body - could inject himself for three years without knowing what he was taking, Rodriguez went back to "I wish I knew. I was 25. I was pretty naíve and pretty young. I just gave it a try."

Twice a month. For six months. For three seasons. Quite a try. It's a little like the Barry Bonds defense. He didn't know what it was.

Then there was the phony pause at the end of his statement when he said, "and to my teammates . . ."

The wait was interminable. A-Rod looked as if he was trying to cry but couldn't generate a tear.

He winced.

He took a gulp of water.

It was awkward, like standing on the doorstep at the end of a blind date, wondering what might happen next.

Finally, after 37 seconds of phony silence, Rodriguez said, "Thank you," to Yankee teammates and coaches.

A bad day for A-Rod. And another bad day for baseball.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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