Even with Major League Baseball’s increasing efforts to eliminate performance-enhancing drug usage among players, there are still cracks in the system. Those were most recently exposed by the Miami New Times in an explosive investigative report that details the operations of Miami anti-aging clinic Biogenesis that indicates its owner, Anthony Bosch, supplied PEDs to numerous professional athletes.
Having been linked to Manny Ramirez when the slugger tested positive, and was subsequently suspended for 50 games, in 2009, Bosch is now accused of providing illegal substances to at least nine players and one coach. Among the notable players listed in the documents acquired by the New Times are Washington Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez, Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, and Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Melky Cabrera. The most glaring name in this report, however, is New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez.
Rodriguez is certainly no stranger to this type of controversy. In February of 2009, Sports Illustrated reported that he was one of 104 Major Leaguers who failed a drug test in 2003. He later admitted he did, in fact, take banned substances from 2001-2003 when he was with the Texas Rangers, stating the immense pressure put on him to perform. In 2010, the New York Times reported Rodriguez had been receiving treatment from Canadian doctor Anthony Galea who had been accused of providing professional athletes with PEDs, including human growth hormone.
Now, he is finding himself at the center of another drug scandal. Like other instances in the past, Rodriguez has denied these recent claims. A spokesman for Rodriguez told the New York Post that he was never Bosch’s patient and he has not taken any PEDs during the time frame indicated in the story. This move is not a new one to Rodriguez. In 2007, he told Katie Couric during an interview that he had never used any illegal drugs. Two years later, he admitted he had lied.
Bosch’s records indicate he personally treated Rodriguez from 2009 through 2012. Those years are, coincidentally or not, the ones during which he suffered a deep decline in his production. Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman has said the team discovered Rodriguez had irregularities in his hip in May of 2008. Since then, it’s been a reoccurring issue.
It’s hard not to argue that PEDs helped Rodriguez’s performance from 2001-2003, when he admitted he had been using them. He led the American League in home runs each season, which represent three of his best five single-season totals, and finished in the top-6 of MVP voting each year, which included him winning it in 2003. Is it not possible the aging slugger knew his body was breaking down and that he’d need something extra to keep him productive for the latter stages of his career?
Regardless of whether or not Rodriguez did use illegal PEDs over the last few years, he hasn’t been the player the Yankees have expected nor is he the one they are paying for. From his first full season in 1996 through 2008, he hit .308/.392/.584 and averaged 152 games, 42 home runs, and 130 RBI per year. In the four years since then, he hit just .276/.364/.483 and averaged 120 games, 24 home runs, and 86 RBI.
It is a terrible departure from the Rodriguez who was one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball for more than a decade. What’s more is the fact that he has become such a non-factor that he was left out of the starting lineup three times in 2012 playoffs and pulled from games three other times. He hasn’t hit a playoff home run since the 2009 World Series and has had only two multi-hit games in the 24 games since.
In attempting to determine what has caused this significant drop off in production, one must consider several factors. There is of course the PED issue. Was he using illegal substances for most of his career which caused inflated numbers? There are also the hip problems with which he has been dealing. And there is the fact that he is entering his late 30s and nearing the twenty-year mark of his career.
Those first two may not be mutually exclusive. While the doctor who operated on Rodriguez’s hip said his condition is a developmental problem, not all medical experts agree. Some say it is impossible to disprove the idea that PED usage had absolutely nothing to do with his injury. If those substances did, indeed, contribute, they are, ironically, hurting him as much now as they may have helped him then.
It’s also impossible to ignore the fact that Rodriguez is now 37-years-old. He’s at the point at which nearly all players are in the twilights of their careers. It’s only natural that players his age see a decline in their production. On top of that, he has much more Major League service time than most others who get to that point in their careers. He made his debut with the Seattle Mariners in 1994 when he was just 18. He’s already in the top-50 on the all-time list of games played and he’s still under contract for five more seasons.
In New York, that can be an eternity, especially for a former all-star making more than $20-million a year and failing to produce at an acceptable level. If Rodriguez was getting outside-the-lines help from Bosch over the last few years, it may have been because he knew his body couldn’t handle the grind anymore and he needed whatever help he could get. Whatever the case, he’d better hope he can come back and be an offensive presence again because, if the Yankees aren’t able to void his contract, they’ll be stuck with each other. And that would make life very difficult for both parties in the years to come.