By Selena Roberts
Brian Cashman leaned against a wall near the visitors' clubhouse inside Tropicana Field, near the end of a made-for-tabloid season in 2008, a year illuminated almost daily by A-Rod's hedonistic romp through the headlines with Madonna, strippers and celebrity Kabbalah followers. With impatience in his voice, Cashman, the Yankees' general manager, was weary of the high drama. Then, as the conversation veered into doping territory, he grew wary. He fixed his eyes on a BlackBerry while listening to a reporter ask him about an incident: Was he aware that Alex Rodriguez was seen by other players with HGH ampoules at Yankee Stadium in 2004?
Cashman didn't look up from his device. He paused, glanced down and away, as if to ask a director on the set, "Line, please." With no eye contact, he finally shrugged his shoulders and offered a curious response: "I don't even know what HGH is?" Cashman said. "What is it?"
A howl of incredulity always has accompanied A-Rod's daft the-cousin-made-me-do-it explanations about steroid use in his past. The ignorant response from Cashman resounded with the same feigned naiveté as Alex's hammy acting on the subject of performance-enhancing drugs. Somehow the lying game gets easier to play the longer it goes: Stammering fibs mature into smooth-talking denials, and rationalizations take root and flower as self-delusion. Neither the Yankees nor A-Rod even twitch now on the topic of doping. They've honed the cold-blooded pathology of spin, able to talk without the mouth contortions Alex couldn't help but reveal as he falsely denied he had ever doped to Katie Couric on "60 Minutes" five years ago.
Even before that night in 2007, the Yankees and A-Rod joined in a Liars Club alliance with a single password: deception. Now, as they publicly scramble to explain the latest doping jolt -- a Miami New Times report on Tuesday that linked A-Rod to an alleged supplier of growth hormone and other performance-enhancing drugs -- each club member is attempting to manipulate the public. In one corner, there is Alex, with hired publicists and legal stars, lip-syncing the practiced lyrics of denial. In the other, the Yankees are whispering that they will try mightily to extricate themselves from A-Rod's cheating heart in an attempt to save themselves the $114 million still owed to their jalopy star over the next five years.
Both are faking it. When I was writing a book about A-Rod, numerous ex-Yankee players and two executives discussed the heavy suspicions the organization had two seasons into his Yankee career, which began in 2004. They test drove this souped-up machine -- kicked the tires for four years, knew they were knockoffs -- and still couldn't fight the seduction of a big-time swinger. The Yankees asked him back to New York.
The Yankees and Alex are entwined as co-narrators of this doping tall tale ever since A-Rod sweet-talked The Steinbrenner Boys into inking a $275-million deal in December of 2007. Any loopholes in the contract actually are tripwires. If the Yankees attempt to void the deal, Alex could say the team ratified, validated and even endorsed his doping because of one simple fact: They knew he juiced. A team such as the Yankees doesn't end up with a 20 players from the dynasty years on the Mitchell Report in December of 2007 -- same bat time as A-Rod's celebration of a contract worth $300 million with the Yankees -- without recognizing what fuels championships.
The Yankees hedged that the steroid era would continue. They bet that A-Rod's power would spring eternal in the same way it did for Barry Bonds, even as Commissioner Bud Selig began making it his mission to end the Bulk Fiction in 2004. The Yankees never believed anyone of star value would get caught. They never believed the testing would catch up to the cheats in time to ruin history's chase of titles and glory. "These are not incentive bonuses," Hank Steinbrenner explained when they agreed to terms in 2007. The 10-year, $275-million deal was to balloon to $300 million as Alex passed a legend on his home-run journey to reach and best Bonds. "For lack of a better term, they really are historic bonuses. It's a horse of a different color."
These white lies provided cover for the red flags. The Yankees never thought A-Rod would be linked to taking a hard-to-detect HGH cocktail that would have a twist: His body has caved beyond the help of PEDs. What the Yankees enabled -- and what many folks in the media gladly accepted, too -- was the simplified window A-Rod claimed as his experimental usage years. He pinned his cousin, Yuri Sucart, as his mule while he was with the Rangers from 2001 to 2003.
It is often said and written that Alex "admitted" to steroid use in 2009 as if the truth spilled from his soul out of a noble effort, but it was more of a guilty plea to reduce the punishment when confronted with evidence of doping by David Epstein and myself at S.I. A-Rod, with publicists and legal swag, hatched a scheme to say something to fit a necessary time frame that would not taint all of his stats, only some, saving himself from the crosshairs of MLB suspensions that began post-2003.
The compartmentalization worked for A-Rod and the Yankees. It was a coated fabrication that was easy to swallow, satisfying the public and pushing the let's-move-on button that allowed the celebration to bubble when Alex vanquished his playoff gremlins to help the Yankees win the 2009 World Series. No one wanted to disrupt the joyride to ask the obvious: Did A-Rod play that postseason clean?
What athletes who use steroids and PEDs will tell you is that the magic beans are addictive, not so much for the quick muscle-beach strength and Men's Health look, but for the ripped confidence they feel in the batter's box and on the mound. The Yankees knew A-Rod hadn't come to that point naturally long before his selective confession.
There was talk internally about the signs: the 15 pounds of bulk he added in '05 when other sluggers were shrinking as drug-testing intensified, the nickname of "Bitch Tits" he picked up in the locker room for rounded breasts common in the steroid era, the sight of known steroid bagman Angel Presinal with Alex on 2007 road trips. "I absolutely think Alex is using HGH, probably a combination of growth and steroids," Jose Canseco told me for the book. As always with Canseco, the tent to his circus act has always been on firm ground with the truth about steroids.
The Yankees' truth? They counted on a steroid party that would never end when they signed Rodriguez in 2007. There is no escape clause for that brazen risk when the Yankees knew what they were getting with A-Rod: The Unnatural.
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This article originally appeared on roopstigo.com.