Another asterisk?

The Baltimore Sun

Come on, what baseball fan was genuinely surprised by superstar Alex Rodriguez's admission this week that he used steroids while playing for the Texas Rangers from 2001 until 2003? Probably just those who believed the Yankees slugger when he previously said he'd never taken a performance-enhancing drug. It's a small universe of the eternally naive - die-hard fans and the SEC.

This much can be said in A-Rod's defense - he's got a smarter sense of public relations than Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and those others who believe it's useful to deny, deny, deny the evidence of drug use no matter how overwhelming. In his interview on ESPN, Mr. Rodriguez came across a great deal more sympathetically than the ballplayers who have fibbed or stonewalled.

But that's about the best that can be said. If Major League Baseball's owners and players thought the steroid issue was behind them because of more stringent testing procedures now in place, they're wrong. It's still not clear how tainted baseball was or how badly the record books have been distorted. A-Rod was just one of 104 players who tested positive in a 2003 survey that was supposed to be kept anonymous but got leaked thanks in large measure to the Balco investigation. The rest of the names may never be known, but what does it matter?

Baseball's steroid era has done considerable damage to the sport, and it has all the elements - chiefly, greed - that have been the undoing of America's pastime for even longer. Mr. Rodriguez had signed the biggest contract in the game in 2000 and says he opted for steroids to ensure that he produced on the playing field.Sadly, that kind of rationalization sounds awfully familiar to a nation dealing with the fallout from the subprime lending mess. Too bad there's no drug test that spots the Bernard L. Madoffs of the world.

Remember when A-Rod was viewed as the talented and humble successor to Baltimore's Cal Ripken Jr.? The comparison seems laughable today. No matter how many home runs he hits or how many Gold Gloves he wins, Mr. Rodriguez will never be able to match the Iron Man for the most prized achievement of all - a baseball career marked by honor and integrity.

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