Opinion: A-Rod tries to explain

Bob Klapisch, The Record

TAMPA, Fla. — So here’s the indictment that Alex Rodriguez dodged during his 33-minute stroll down Spin Control Lane, where follow-up questions were conveniently banned:

Why are you so afraid of the truth ? the un-lawyered, bedrock account of your life with steroids?

Why not say what was really on your mind between 2001-2003: that you knowingly took steroids because, like hundreds of other players in the era, you believed it would help your performance?

A-Rod could’ve set himself free from his jail cell of lies, spins and alibis.

It could’ve been so easy, not to mention liberating. Instead, he chose yet another set of absurd explanations for his positive steroid test in 2003.

After telling ESPN last week that he juiced because of the “loosey-goosey” nature of steroid-use in the Rangers’ clubhouse, A-Rod now says it was an unnamed (and untraceable) cousin from the Dominican Republic who brought him to the dark side.

Rodriguez said he experimented for three years, injected himself as many as 36 times, yet never knew exactly what was being pumped into his system. A world-class athlete, having just signed a $252 million contract, taking risks with a substance that was imported from another country that, for all he knew, could’ve been poison.

And we’re supposed to believe that? Really?

A-Rod, clearly stumped, finally admitted, “I knew it wasn’t Tic Tacs.” But he went no further in this confession; in fact, he never used the word “steroids” in his 33-minute news conference. Instead, Rodriguez repeatedly swept all his transgressions under the same tent: He was young and naive.

That might be good enough for his teammates, who are sick of this fiasco, and for his sycophants. But more discerning listeners would’ve found two more problems with A-Rod’s mea culpa:

First, he already was 25 when he’d arrived in Texas ? hardly a newcomer by industry standards. And he was hardly innocent, either. In fact, Rodriguez was aware enough of his nasty little habit, syringes and all, to keep it a secret from his fellow Rangers.

If Tuesday’s news conference proved anything, it’s that Rodriguez cannot be rescued from his own scheming nature. There will be no rehabilitating this man. The Yankees are stuck with his pathology for the next nine years, a fact that general manager Brian Cashman finally has come to grips with.

“It is what it is,” the general manager said wearily. “A lot of people know Alex is going to struggle with this. But he’s our player and he’s going to be our player for a long time.”

Cashman surely knows repairing A-Rod’s reputation is a lost cause, at least for now. Instead, the Yankees will let Jeter and Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia represent what’s clean about their brand. A-Rod will be left alone with his phalanx of lawyers and crisis specialists in the pursuit of a 40-HR, 125-RBI season.

Those are attainable numbers, of course, but forget about the power and the glory of those 400-foot monsters. Every time A-Rod hits another one over the wall, he’ll be covered with a thick layer of doubt: was that him or some still-undetected chemical surging through his veins?

A-Rod says he’s been clean as a Yankee, and that he hasn’t tried HGH. But it’s impossible to believe anything Rodriguez does or says anymore. He lied to Katie Couric on “60 Minutes” in 2006 and now, it’s apparent that he pulled a fast one on Peter Gammons, the reporter of his choosing, in an interview that he arranged on Feb. 9.

He never told Gammons about the cousin from the Dominican Republic. It was only nine days later, Rodriguez said, that he “remembered” where the juice came from. How convenient that Rodriguez imported the substance ? Primobolan, nicknamed Boli ? from outside the country, thus sparing him any legal difficulties.

How easy it was for A-Rod to say he made a mistake and to keep telling everyone he was sorry. But not once did he admit he cheated. So it’s fair to wonder: what was A-Rod actually sorry for, other than getting caught by Sports Illustrated’s Selena Roberts?

He wasn’t even big enough to issue a public apology to Roberts, whom he’d previously called a stalker and trespasser. Rodriguez instead said he regretted the misunderstanding, after learning there were no police reports filed against her.

Even when A-Rod contacted Roberts on the phone the other day, he fell short of saying he was sorry. With a PR person also on the line, Rodriguez only said he wanted to put the mistake behind him.

“I guess Alex just wasn’t able to say it,” Roberts said of the apology. To do so would’ve required a humility that is alien to A-Rod. That’s no shock, considering he’s spent his entire career propping himself up as a model of honesty and integrity.

Now we know it’s been a con all along. Undeterred, Rodriguez will soon chase down Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and, ultimately, Barry Bonds on the all-time HR list.

A-Rod will have his record, and with it, his place in history. But the journey to 800 home runs will cost him his good name. Someday, if he’s ever honest with himself, Rodriguez will have an answer for the most searing question of all:

Was it worth it?

(c) 2009, North Jersey Media Group Inc. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.