The lyrics of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” mingle with the deafening rumblings of a northbound 4 train that is visible just beyond Yankee Stadium’s right field limits.
“Don’t stop believin’, hold on to that fe-ee-eelin’.”
This tune wasn’t chosen by the stadium sound operator attempting in vain to relive the ’80s, but by Alex Rodriguez, the most infamous player in the game.
This was the scene on Thursday before Rodriguez blasted his 661st home run over the fence in left-center, passing Willie Mays to secure fourth place on the all-time home run list. For a moment, he was transported back to the early years of his career, when success on the baseball field came almost naturally to him.
The Rodriguez of that past era serves as a stark contrast to the player he has been recently. How did Rodriguez go from a fresh-faced teenager making his MLB debut to a desperate man, having associates inject him with steroids in the bathroom of a Miami nightclub? Surely this was not his plan, to have to rely on artificial enhancements just to get by?
“Payin’ anything to roll the dice, just one more time.”
Rodriguez’s violations of the league’s performance-enhancing drugs (PED) policy are well-known by now; he was caught using testosterone and human growth hormone and suspended for the entirety of the 2014 season.
In my opinion, PEDs are a detriment to the game of baseball. They provide players who take them with unfair advantages over those who choose not to. We must strive to understand why so many naturally gifted athletes choose to take PEDs. The rampant use of steroids across multiple sports requires us to delve deeper into the motives of the numerous athletes who make this decision.
Our society is one that puts athletes on a pedestal. They are idolized — perceived as larger-than-life. These perceptions lead to unreal expectations of athletes’ performances. The choice of many athletes to use steroids directly challenges our interpretation of them as, for the most part, flawless. The fact that athletes seek out PEDs to maintain or improve their performances reveals their desire to continue living up to these often unrealistic standards.
Rodriguez’s story is a prime example of this. Since adolescence, baseball is all that he has known. Touted as a prodigy and revered for his natural talent, he devoted his life to the sport. At age 25, he signed a contract worth $252 million — at the time the biggest in the history of the game. Rodriguez started playing baseball because it was what he loved — the favorite sport of his Dominican people. His purpose in the game, however, quickly turned from a personal one to one that was focused on pleasing others — the industry of baseball, the Yankee organization, the fans. He was no longer Alex Rodriguez, the talent from Florida, but “A-Rod,” the young hotshot whose every at-bat meant so much to so many.
The decision to take PEDs is never a simple one and cannot be explained with just a brief history of a player’s background. A player’s life before fame, though, coupled with his response to the pressure of performing well consistently, can be telling regarding his consideration of PEDs.
At this point, A-Rod has served his suspension and his reputation is forever tarnished, but he at least should be given the courtesy of having his misdeeds considered in the context of his entire life rather than as split-second decisions. Very few people have had the experience of competing as professional athletes, and we will never be able to fully comprehend the pitfalls of such positions. We should, however, be aware of the way that our society relates to athletes and of athletes’ attempts to reform themselves after steroid use. During his season-long suspension, A-Rod, for example, read self-help books, attended therapy sessions and even took a business class at the University of Miami. I’m not saying that all should be forgiven just because A-Rod’s behavior has resembled that of a Boy Scout as of late, but these attempts at self-improvement should not go unnoticed.
The baseball community should not forget A-Rod’s numerous transgressions, but instead try to understand what leads athletes to seek out these drugs. If the culture of sports was changed into one in which athletes are praised for their charitable contributions and positive behavior off the court or field at anywhere near the level they are for their athletic performances, the incidence of PED use would likely be lower.
“Oh the movie never ends, it goes on and on and on. Don’t stop believin’.”
A-Rod hasn’t stopped believing in himself, just as we shouldn’t stop believing in the ability of athletes to make the right choices. It is easy to demonize a player who has made so many blatant mistakes, but I think we should challenge ourselves to forgive, or at least somewhat understand, A-Rod and his past decisions.