The Washington Times - February 10, 2009, 12:21AM

Unlike Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez decided to come clean and apologize. Just two days after Sports Illustrated reported that he had tested positive for two anabolic steroids in 2003, the three-time MVP admitted Monday in an interview with ESPN’s Peter Gammons that he used performance-enhancing drugs from 2001 to 2003 while playing for the Texas Rangers. A-Rod said he did so because he was “naive” and felt immense pressure to perform at a level that would place him among the all-time greats after signing an unprecedented 10-year, $252 million contract. Though he cited a “loosey-goosey” baseball culture, he took full responsibility for his actions, expressed remorse and apologized repeatedly.

It was, without a doubt, the smartest thing A-Rod could possibly have done in his unfortunate situation. In spite of all the evidence against them, Bonds and Clemens have steadfastly denied using steroids; Bonds will soon stand trial on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, and Clemens could be on his way to a similar fate. Despite lengthy careers and stats that put them on par with the all-time greats, both men have been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion, their reputations and accomplishments forever tarnished. Andy Pettitte - not as big a name as Bonds or Clemens, but a star in his own right - admitted his mistake and has moved on, with little public scorn. There’s no doubt A-Rod took all of this into consideration before choosing to sit down with Gammons, who he has known since he was a rookie.

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So where do we go from here? A-Rod, his burden lightened considerably by his confession, will soon head to Tampa for spring training. He’ll do so under the media’s microscope, but much less so than he would have if he had refused to address the steroid allegations head-on. He’s given the public and the media what they had demanded from him: an admission and an apology. A-Rod screwed up, we know it, he knows it, and we know he knows it. Because of that, the story will gradually lose steam and move off the front page to a less prominent spot inside. The situation is reminiscent of the end of the movie “8-Mile,” when Eminem’s character trashes his entire existence so thoroughly in his final freestyle that his opponent is left with nothing to work with.

Once the season begins, A-Rod can expect a rousing chorus of boos at every stop and to be insulted in every conceivable way, but it’s not as if he was universally adored before the allegations surfaced this weekend anyway. In fact, because of the way he’s handled this whole mess, some probably respect him more now than ever before. The negativity on the road will never completely vanish, but it will undoubtedly diminish as time goes on. It will be a lot more interesting to see how Yankees fans react to A-Rod. Some will likely forever be disgusted by his presence on the roster, feeling that he has brought shame to the historic Yankee brand that means so much to them. Others will rally behind him. A productive A-Rod is vital to the Yankees’ success and it’s no secret that he’s hypersensitive; Yankee diehards, who want to see their team win at all costs, realize this and will see booing A-Rod as counterproductive.

It remains to be seen how history will judge A-Rod. On one hand, he has removed any reasonable doubt about his use of performance-enhancing drugs, once and for all. Even though he has provided a timeframe for his usage, there are some who will always view everything he ever has and ever will accomplish on a baseball field as tainted - and there’s still the issue of whether you take him at his word that he only used performance-enhancing drugs while he was with the Rangers. On the other hand, there are those who will argue that even though he made a terrible mistake, A-Rod is one of the greatest players to ever put on a uniform. If you believe what A-Rod told Gammons, he never used performance-enhancing drugs before 2001 or after 2003, and he was one of the best players in the game before that time frame and after. Continued success by A-Rod would further bolster this side of the argument.

As the transgressions of more and more Steroid Era stars are exposed, performance-enhancing drug use may increasingly come to be viewed as an unfortunate reality of that period’s baseball culture rather than the despicable action of a few, and the accountability of each individual drug cheat will lessen in the court of public opinion. If A-Rod stays clean from here on out, continues to put up big numbers, finally wins a title or two and - most importantly - does what he can to help baseball put performance-enhancing drug use in the rear-view mirror, he’ll increase his chances of being remembered in a positive light. It’s possible that A-Rod’s admission will one day be looked back upon as an important milestone in baseball’s efforts to come to terms with - and move past - the Steroid Era, which is something that everybody wants. Of course, you could make the argument that admitting to something only because you got caught isn’t all that noble. But because he took the bold step of becoming the first Hall of Fame-caliber player to publicly admit to the mistake of using steroids and apologize for it, I believe A-Rod still has at least some chance of one day being enshrined in Cooperstown - which is more than you can say for Bonds or Clemens.

Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at [email protected]