TAMPA, Fla. — An emotional and nervous Alex Rodriguez offered more detail Tuesday on his positive steroid test six years ago while also revealing that a cousin, whom he refused to name, helped him acquire an over-the-counter substance from the Dominican Republic, which he said he injected about twice a month from 2001-03 after signing his monstrous 10-year $250 million deal with the Texas Rangers.
Rodriguez admitted in an ESPN interview with Peter Gammons last week that he had used performance-enhancing substances — leading to the positive test in 2003 — but had left some questions unanswered. For one thing, he told Gammons he didn’t know what he was injecting, but yesterday he referred to the substance as ‘‘boli’’ — short for Primobolan, a steroid — and said his cousin had recommended it to boost his energy.
Rodriguez, who was 21 minutes late to the press conference at the Yankees’ spring training complex here because he was taking his physical and undergoing a steroids test, sat with general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi. Off to his left was Don Hooton, president of the Taylor Hooton Foundation, which supports steroids education for youngsters, of which Rodriguez will become a spokesman.
Approximately 30 of Rodriguez’s teammates, including prominent ones such as Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada (who left before the conclusion of the press conference), sat in the from row, while many other teammates, including newly acquired A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia, stood in the background with Hank Steinbrenner.
Rodriguez read from a prepared statement. Toward the end, he turned to his teammates and began to break down.
“It isn’t lost on me the good fortune I received from playing baseball,” Rodriguez said. “Like everyone else I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. The only way I know how to handle them is to learn from them and move forward. One thing I know for sure is that baseball is a lot bigger than Alex Rodriguez. And to my teammates … ”
After pausing for about 20 seconds, choked with emotion, Rodriguez said, “Thank you.”
Asked how taking the ‘‘boli’’ helped his performace, Rodriguez said, ‘‘I’m not sure what the benefit was.’’ He said using was ‘‘half physical and half mental,’’ and he picked up his bottled water to draw the analogy that if he believed drinking water would help his performance, it would indeed help. While saying he did feel more energy, Rodriguez was no more specific on the benefit of the steroid. ‘‘It was hard to say,’’ he said.
Pressed as to why he kept taking something he wasn’t sure was working — he said he wasn’t even sure he was administering it properly — he resorted to the ‘‘young and foolish’’ defense.
‘‘I didn’t think they were steroids,’’ he said. ‘‘That again is part of being young and stupid. It was over the counter, it was pretty basic. It was really amateur hour. It was two guys doing a very amateur and immature thing. We probably didn’t even take it right.’’
Asked later why, if he thought he wasn’t taking a steroid, he kept it quiet and didn’t ask any trainers or team officials about it, Rodriguez said, ‘‘That’s a good question. I knew we weren’t taking Tic Tacs.
‘‘It goes back to being young and being curious. I realized — thank God that I realized — that I was being silly and irresponsible, and I decided to stop. And I was a young guy.’’
The Yankee superstar also said that early in his career with the Seattle Mariners he took “Ripped Fuel,” an ephedrine-based substance bought at nutrition stores that he said was later banned by major league baseball, but denied ever using human growth hormone or amphetamines.
Hooton, whose 17-year-old son’s suicide was linked to steroid use, added credence to Rodriguez’s ‘‘young and foolish’’ comments. He said Rodriguez’s statements rang true in that
throughout America, 85 percent of school-age children know nothing about steroids and have never been taught the dangers of using them.
Hooton said he reached out to Rodriguez after watching the ESPN interview in hopes that Rodriguez could become a huge advocate for steroid education for children and bring in
corporate sponsorships to help spread the word.
Asked if Rodriguez appeared sincere to him, Hooton said, ‘‘I think we’ll find out about his sincerity over time. If he tests positive six months from now, we’ll have to cross that
bridge, but we feel he’s very sincere in helping us spread the message as a spokesman, to make videos that we can distribute to schools. He told us, ‘I’ve got nine years to play in this
league and I can make a difference on this issue.’’’
Rodriguez said in retrospect he wished he’d been able to go to college rather than sign a major league contract at age 18 because he believed he would have been more mature. “If I had a son I would definitely recommend going to college and having a chance to grow up, and I didn’t [do that],” he said.
Rodriguez was asked about the validity of his statistics during his three seasons with the Rangers or the all-time home run record should he break it.
“I’m trying to get by the day today,” he said. “It’s been a very difficult couple weeks for my family. And I’m here to take my medicine.
“I’m sure there will be a lot of debates and a lot of question about everything I did in that period.”
Rodriguez acknowledged “a misunderstanding” in attacking SI’s Roberts for charges she stalked him in pursuit of the story. He said he phoned her to apologize and said he also apologized to CBS news anchor Katie Couric for lying to her about steroid use during an interview a couple of years ago. He said that at the time he was in denial about his own usage and “I thought that since I didn’t hear about it for five years there was a chance that it was OK.”
While Jeter said he would speak about Rodriguez’s comments Wednesday, manager Joe Girardi said he thought his star third baseman came off as very believable.
“I thought he told the truth,” Girardi said. “I think Alex wants to move forward and get on playing baseball. This was a tense, nervous time for him. I’m sure there’ll be more extension tomorrow because people will want to watch him on his first day back on the field. I’m sure that they’ll be less, less and less. I think when he gets on the field he’s going to feel like a baseball player. But I think he put himself out there.”
Girardi was asked if others would believe Rodriguez.
“I don’t think you can tell people to believe him,” said Girardi. “With a lot of people you have to earn it back. There’s no timetable. That’s something that’s going to take time. People are going to watch and they’re going to watch very carefully.”
Cashman also said yesterday was the first step of many Rodriguez will have to take to repair his image.
“This isn’t going away anytime soon,” he said. “The first spring training game you’re going to see how the fans react to him. The first game of the season you’re going to measure it. Every time he goes into a new city there are going to be stories written about the fan reaction to Alex. The story is going to follow him for a long time. So I think this was an important step and a necessary step.”
In many ways, Cashman said, Rodriguez is on mental rehabilitation.
“To use an analogy, he’s Humpty Dumpty, and it’s up to us to put him back together again. He’s rehabbing his image now on one end, but he’s also rehabbing how he feels about himself and how he feels about what he’s going to go through.
“So, maybe we can put him in the same category as a Posada, a Rivera, a [Chien-Ming] Wang — guys coming back from physical issues. Now, we have a third baseman going on somewhat of an injured-reserve list because of coming back from a controversy that’s very public. To survive, it’s both mental and physical. His [ailment] is more mental than physical. It won’t be easy.”
The 33-minute press conference was ended by Yankees public relations director Jason Zillo after Rodriguez responded to a question about how this has affected him.
“The last 15 months have been very, very tough. I’ve been through divorce. I’ve been through tabloids. You name it. I miss playing baseball, I miss simply playing baseball. Judge me from this day forward. That’s all I can ask for.”