- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 19, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

So we’re supposed to believe that Alex Rodriguez — nearly 40 years old and out of baseball for more than 18 months — is hitting better now than he has in perhaps five years.

We’re supposed to believe that A-Rod — who looked like he was done at the age of 38 the last time we saw him struggling at the plate — can now, three months shy of 40, blast mammoth home runs like the two he did Friday night against the Tampa Bay Rays.

We’re supposed to believe that a player at his age can recapture the glorious, if fraudulent, years of his youth by starting the season batting .314 with four home runs and 11 RBI through 11 games.

We’re supposed to believe — just one year removed from watching Derek Jeter, at the age of 39, look every bit his age in his final season, batting just .256 with only two home runs and 35 RBI — that A-Rod is immune to the same effects of age.

We’re supposed to believe that watching what we are seeing from Alex Rodriguez is for real — that this is some sort of miraculous comeback?

Please.

How many times have we laughed at ourselves in the so-called post-steroid era of baseball about our ignorance in simply buying into the notion that a player can get better at an age when players used to be on their last legs?

When will we finally learn that if what we are watching seems too good to be true, then it probably is not true?

Or do you believe A-Rod — a serial liar and con artist — when he tells reporters, like he did after Friday night’s game in Tampa, that he’s “just feeling very grateful to be back playing baseball”?

“I’m very grateful to [owners] Hank and Hal [Steinbrenner] for giving me the opportunity to put the uniform on again,” he said. “It’s something I don’t take for granted and it’s much appreciated. It just feels good to be playing baseball. I’m having fun out there.”

If you don’t believe that, then why would you buy into any of it?

Do I think Alex Rodriguez is using some sort of banned performance-enhancing substance? I think if you cut A-Rod open, Ben Johnson would fall out.

You have to question the intelligence of all of us if we were to believe that A-Rod — who repeatedly publicly lied over his career about using performance-enhancing substances — represents the truth now.

You believe this guy?

His interview with Katie Couric in 2007:

“For the record, have you ever used steroids, human growth hormone or any other performance-enhancing substance?” Couric asked.

“No,” Rodriguez replied.

Asked if he had ever been tempted to use any of those things, Rodriguez told Couric, “No.”

“You never felt like, ‘This guy’s doing it, maybe I should look into this, too? He’s getting better numbers, playing better ball,’” Couric asked.

“I’ve never felt overmatched on the baseball field. I’ve always been a very strong, dominant position. And I felt that if I did my work as I’ve done since I was, you know, a rookie back in Seattle, I didn’t have a problem competing at any level. So, no,” he replied.

Two years later, following the Sports Illustrated story about A-Rod’s 2003 positive drug test, his press conference and so-called confession: “In the years 2001, ‘02 and ‘03, I experimented with a banned substance that eventually triggered a positive test. … I’m here to say that I’m sorry. I’m here to say that in some ways I wish I went to college and had an opportunity to grow up at my own pace. You know, I guess when you are young and stupid, you are young and stupid. And I’m very guilty of both those.”

His statement following his season-long suspension in 2014 for his role in the Biogenesis scandal: “I have been clear that I did not use performance-enhancing substances as alleged in the notice of discipline, or violate the Basic Agreement or the Joint Drug Agreement in any manner, and in order to prove it I will take this fight to federal court. No player should have to go through what I have been dealing with, and I am exhausting all options to ensure not only that I get justice, but that players’ contracts and rights are protected through the next round of bargaining, and that the MLB investigation and arbitration process cannot be used against others in the future the way it is currently being used to unjustly punish me.”

One year later, in the most disingenuous hand-written letter ever written: “To the Fans, I take full responsibility for the mistakes that led to my suspension for the 2014 season. I regret that my actions made the situation worse than it needed to be. To Major League Baseball, the Yankees, the Steinbrenner family, the Players Association and you, the fans, I can only say I’m sorry.”

And seriously, now you believe what you see on the field?

Do you really think A-Rod walked the earth during his year-long suspension looking for truth and forgiveness? Or do you think he looked for his next Dr. Feelgood — one who could assure him he could beat the baseball drug testers?
Why would he risk so much, you might ask? His next suspension would be a lifetime ban, and with it he would lose the rest of the $61 million the New York Yankees owe him on his contract.

Why? Because A-Rod worships at the altar of vanity. Why else would be go back to the well for what we know is a minimum of a second time with Biogenesis after he suffered the embarrassment of being exposed the first time around in 2009 by Sports Illustrated? He was going to get paid at that point, whether he hit 13 home runs or 35 home runs — just like now.

It’s not the money. A-Rod is still owed $50 million in deferred payments from the Texas Rangers through 2025, according to the Dallas Morning News — a soft cushion to land on even if his Yankee contract were voided with a lifetime ban. No, it’s the moment he is basking in now — the comeback, the redemption, going from the most hated and despised figure in baseball to a sympathetic figure, fighting against all odds.

I think A-Rod would inject plutonium in his veins if he meant we would like him again.

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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