Public relations is one game Rodriguez is playing the right way

The Baltimore Sun

So, I guess this is the point at which we finally look at the steroid era and concede there is nothing else that would surprise us - short, of course, of Cal Ripken Jr. suddenly going on 60 Minutes to admit that all the milk he was drinking was spiked with stanozolol.

Alex Rodriguez has come forward to confess he used illegal performance-enhancing drugs during the early years of this decade and he's truly sorry for it. Never mind that what he's really sorry about is that his positive steroid test in 2003 that was supposed to be anonymous got leaked to the media, but let's not split hairs. The most talented baseball player in the world was juicing and he's apologizing, and what are we supposed to do now?

I really don't know what we're supposed to do, but I know what we will do, and it isn't the same thing we'll do for Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire or Roger Clemens. We'll eventually forgive - if not forget - and send A-Rod off to the Hall of Fame in 15 years or so.

We'll do that because he got the right advice from his high-paid spin doctors. He came clean and threw himself on the mercy of a forgiving sports nation. He didn't squirm in front of Congress or allegedly lie to a grand jury. He took whatever control he could get over the situation and began the process of putting it behind him.

Don't get me wrong. This doesn't take him off the hook for being the latest big star to slink out of the game of shadows. He cheated, and that will always be part of his legacy, but he obviously was paying attention while many of his performance-enhancing predecessors were spontaneously bursting into flames.

He learned from Jason Giambi, who was one of the first to apologize for his steroid-related transgressions, even though - for legal and contractual reasons - he never specifically said why he was apologizing. He learned from Andy Pettitte, who somehow retained his fresh-faced, boyish persona after admitting he got human growth hormone from personal trainer Brian McNamee. He learned that the truth, no matter how long you withhold it, will eventually set you free to resume your statistical march to Cooperstown.

And he will get there, because he has something that Bonds and Clemens don't - almost half of his baseball career still in front of him.

Time really does heal all wounds, but Clemens was at the end of his career and Bonds was forced to end his, leaving them no opportunity to rebuild their relationship with the fans or reinforce, with a continued high level of performance during the steroid-testing era, that their greatness did not really come out of a syringe.

A-Rod, whose image has taken a beating on several fronts recently, still has nine years left on the huge contract he signed with the Yankees in 2007. He still is likely to challenge Bonds for the all-time home run title. If he plays out that deal and retires, he's still nearly 15 years from the day he appears on his first Hall of Fame ballot.

I'm guessing by then we'll pretty much know everything that happened during the steroid era, and his dalliance with performance-enhancing drugs will no longer seem shocking in the rearview. He'll have all that time to make amends with targeted charitable donations and anti-steroid public service announcements. And we'll have all that time to rationalize that everybody was doing it, so why lay it all on him?

The other guys - Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro - will be on the Hall of Fame ballot while the whole thing is fresh in everybody's mind. McGwire already is being ignored by the voters. The others likely will feel the backlash for a while, though Bonds and Clemens might still have time to get rehabilitated by history.

I don't know that anybody was truly surprised by all this. There have been whispers about Rodriguez for years, and his behavior since signing his first ridiculous contract doesn't exactly make this seem all that out of character.

There's a reason some of his New York Yankees teammates called him "A-Fraud," according to Joe Torre's new book, The Yankee Years, even if everybody now wants to claim it was all in fun.

A-Rod really is a fraud. I doubt he's truly sorry for what he did, and I'm pretty sure he's going to keep the money he earned while he was defrauding the public and the Texas Rangers. But he said he's sorry and played the public relations game the way it's supposed to be played when you're a big celebrity and you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar.

I bet Big Mac and Bad News Barry and The Rocket wish they could have another chance to do that.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM).

Faceoff: Should the other players who tested positive in 2003 be named? PG 2

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