Alex Rodriguez became a big talk show "get" on Friday. He dropped his lawsuits against MLB, commissioner Bud Selig and the MLB Players Association, ending an increasingly quixotic, self-destructive effort to overturn a season-long PED suspension. Damage-control protocol generally calls for an apology tour after such a concession. But if Rodriguez wants to say "I'm sorry," Oprah, Katie and 60 Minutes can't offer him a proper platform anytime soon.
No one will believe a word of contrition from him, not so soon after his bloody engagement with both the game's authorities and his fellow players in the union. The Yankees certainly won't be following the Brewers' lead in the Ryan Braun reclamation project, turning over the phone numbers of season-ticket holders for their wayward star to call personally.
It's unlikely that any critical mass of fans will ever accept a public mea culpa from A-Rod, but he can ease back into the sport a year from now and benefit from a profound desire, mutually held by the game's leaders and followers, to put all doping scandals in the past.
For now, the best course for him is discretion. His strongest immediate move should be an abject apology to his colleagues in the Players Association, some of whom reportedly tried to boot him from the union after learning that they had become targets of his legal crusade. Rodriguez can blame the lawsuit on overzealous attorneys trying to cash in on his troubles. If he genuinely believes that his case revealed significant misbehavior by MLB's investigators or faulty interpretations of the drug agreement that could ultimately harm other players, he can offer to share the evidence supporting that theory.
Otherwise, the apology will have to suffice. It should be offered both publicly, via a statement, and privately, through direct communication with union leaders. A letter of apology to the family of Michael Weiner, the union's executive director who died of a brain tumor at 51 in November, should be part of the package. The lawsuit accused Weiner of undermining A-Rod last summer, with comments that suggested that the Players Association would encourage deal-cutting for any discipline stemming from the Biogenesis investigations. In substance, the attack on Weiner didn't depart from the overall tone of the case, which rejected the idea that the drug agreement had been written and enforced in a way that represented the players' collective interest in restraining PED use. In spirit, the mention of Weiner defined A-Rod as shamelessly callous and narcissistic. A gesture toward the late director might seem hollow, but it still belongs near the top of his to-do list. It would indicate a humility that surpasses public-relations mandates.
A story on ESPN.com suggests that Rodriguez folded because, in addition to not wanting to pay millions in a legal fight almost certain to fail, he hopes for a future in the game after his playing days. The piece says that he reached out to MLB chief operating officer Rob Manfred, in hopes of mitigating the wrath of the game's leadership. If so, that's a wise start, but he needs to pursue reconciliation with his fellow players even more vigorously. Many players may have resented the fact that Rodriguez was associated with Tony Bosch's clinic, creating another blight on the game, but they could have gotten past that. Too many likable athletes have been connected to doping for them to single out even the most highly paid man in the history of the game for disgust. But the lawsuit turned them into unequivocal adversaries, threatening to weaken their union and generate huge legal fees that would have come out of their paychecks.
If Rodriguez wants to become a broadcaster or a team consultant, he will need the support of his peers, not just his bosses. All sports fundamentally are clubs -- very tolerant of a wide range of quirks and flaws, but clubs nonetheless. Not long ago, the core of the MLB club was ready to toss him, even though labor law precludes his ejection from the union. His fellow players won't be calling with the kind of sweet offers he'll receive from media outlets. No limo to pick him up and take him to a studio, no makeup artist to cover his flaws. Getting back on good terms with this club will be grunt work, as will resisting the temptation to explain everything away to a national audience. That restraint would defy every impulse he has demonstrated in the past. Rodriguez is used to being able to regain an exasperated audience with big swings of the bat. That won't work now. It's time to play small ball.