- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2009

New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez admitted Monday he took illegal performance-enhancing drugs from 2001 to 2003, saying he succumbed to the pressures of fame and fortune by doing something “very, very stupid.”

In a televised interview with ESPN’s Peter Gammons, Rodriguez said he took the drugs during his three seasons with the Texas Rangers but insisted he hasn’t used them since his trade to the Yankees in 2004.

“When I arrived in Texas in 2001, I felt an enormous amount of pressure,” said Rodriguez, who at the time had signed a 10-year contract worth a major league-record $252 million. “I felt like I had all the weight of the world on top of me, and I needed to perform - and perform at a high level every day.”

“I did take a banned substance,” he added. “For that, I am very sorry and deeply regretful.”

During his prime-time news conference, President Barack Obama said Rodriguez’s admission tarnishes an era.

“I think it’s depressing news on top of what’s been a flurry of depressing items when it comes to major league baseball,” Obama said. “And if you’re a fan of major league baseball, I think it tarnishes an entire era to some degree. And it’s unfortunate because I think there are a lot of ballplayers who played it straight.”

Rodriguez’s admission came two days after SI.com reported the three-time American League MVP, along with 103 other players, tested positive for steroids in 2003 as part of Major League Baseball’s survey testing program designed to gauge how widespread steroid use was in the game.

Players who failed drug tests that year were not subject to punishment, and their names were supposed to remain anonymous. Rodriguez said Monday he was informed in 2004 by Gene Orza, chief operating officer of the MLB Players Association, that he may or may not have tested positive in the 2003 survey. He said he had heard nothing else about those testing results until a Sports Illustrated reporter confronted him with the latest allegations last week.

Though he admitted using performance-enhancing drugs, Rodriguez could not name which drugs he specifically used. The SI.com report, which cited four unnamed sources, said he tested positive for testosterone and Primobolan, an anabolic steroid.

“It was such a loosey-goosey era,” Rodriguez said. “I’m guilty for a lot of things. I’m guilty for being negligent, naive, not asking all the right questions. And to be quite honest, I don’t know exactly what substance I was guilty of using.”

In five full seasons before 2001, all with the Seattle Mariners, Rodriguez averaged 37 home runs and 115 RBI. From 2001 to 2003 with the Rangers, he averaged 52 homers and 132 RBI. Since 2004, he has averaged 42 homers and 123 RBI while also winning two AL MVP awards.

MLB officials did not comment Monday. But Rangers owner Tom Hicks spoke out against his former star shortstop, telling reporters on a conference call, “I feel personally betrayed. I feel deceived by Alex.”

Rodriguez likely won’t face any punishment as a result of his admission. MLB did not begin suspending players for positive drug tests until 2004, and he has never lied under oath about his actions, negating any possible legal ramifications.

But his image in the baseball world surely will be tarnished forever. Though fans generally have been far more forgiving to players who have admitted steroid use, such as Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte, Rodriguez has long been a polarizing figure in the game. While he has been perhaps baseball’s best player for a decade, he has a career .279 average in the playoffs - compared with .306 in the regular season - and has not reached the World Series with the Yankees.

Rodriguez also did himself no favors with the public when he upstaged the 2007 World Series by announcing he was opting out of the remainder of his contract. He wound up re-signing with the Yankees for another 10 years and $275 million, a deal that won’t expire until after the 2017 season.

New York’s notoriously harsh fans already had been known to boo Rodriguez in his home ballpark before this admission came out. When he reports to spring training in Tampa, Fla., later this week, he is sure to be the focus of increased scrutiny and ire.

And what if Rodriguez someday threatens to break baseball’s career home run record? He has already hit 553 homers at age 33 and until this week was seen as a worthy (and clean) heir to the title Barry Bonds claimed two years ago under a cloud of suspicion. If Rodriguez surpasses Bonds’ mark of 762, it’s possible his record won’t be considered legitimate by the public.

Even Rodriguez acknowledges the task he now faces to win back fans.

“I have millions of fans out there who will never look at me the same,” he said. “There’s no excuse for what I did. If I were a fan of myself, I’d be extremely [ticked] off.”

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