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The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez (and Selena Roberts)

A-Rod-deep look

Have you read the new Selena Roberts book yet? You know, the one which is supposed to be on par with the likes of Jose Canseco’s, “Juiced” and Jim Bowden’s, “Ball Four”.

No?

It’s a fair assumption seeing as her credibility has been taken behind the woodshed by columnists and talking heads this past week. None more so than Kansas City Star columnist, Jason Whitlock, who has made it his personal vendetta to remind potential book buyers of Roberts’ past journalistic errors.

You do remember her Duke lacrosse fiasco don’t you?

Whitlock does raise a good question though; if Roberts was so quick to condemn those students to the electric chair without all the facts correct and never admitted she was premature and incorrect in her assertions, shouldn’t we at the very least question her as she hides behind anonymity in her new book on Alex Rodriguez?

Before I rushed to a precipitate an opinion for which side of the coin I landed on, I decided to do something unthinkable. I actually read the book. I then did some additional research on Roberts. What I found was a bit shocking.

(For example, did you know Roberts was once detained by police for hiding in a former Texas Rangers player’s home? I can’t quote him, or the police, because they didn’t return my e-mails. But I was able to find information which showed she entered the home on Saturday, March 2, 2001, changed into something that can be best described as ,”scantly clad” and awaited the player’s arrival in his bedroom closet. Roberts had no comment, when asked about the incident. The player did not want her arrested, for fear it might hurt her reputation.)

First let’s address some of the book’s hot topics, namely A-Rod’s alleged steroid usage (as a high school student, with the Mariners and Yankees), pitch tipping and his personal life (his ex-wife/ Madonna love triangle).

We already knew A-Rod was on some sort of juice in Texas. He admitted as much to Peter Gammons. So what ground shattering new story is Roberts trying to break? That Rodriguez used in high school for one. In Chapter Two, “The Phenom of Westminster” Roberts has this to say:

A former Westminster player says Alex used steroids in high school and that Coach Hofman knew about it. Another Westminster graduate says Hofman’s son, David, who played on the football team with Alex, told him that he witnessed Alex’s use of steroids.

Rich Hofman says he is surprised by these accounts and denies any knowledge of Alex’s steroid use in high school. “Whatever he was doing, he was doing it somewhere else,” he says. His son David Hofman, did not respond to messages asking for his recollections.

So let’s make sure we hear Roberts correctly. The only refutable source she uses, A-Rod’s coach, adamantly states he has no knowledge of any steroid use, but her “a friend of a friend told me” information was good enough for her to base an accusation against Rodriguez?

“I have no stable, factual information, but hey, my best friend’s girlfriend’s friend who wipes the sweat off the bench press at Gold’s Gym tells me he’s pretty sure he saw A-Rod with a bottle of pills once. Good enough for me.”

The most troubling part is that Roberts went to press with the high school steroids accusation, without confirmation and a quote from David Hofman, the one person who would make the assertion legitimate. This isn’t an on-deadline column or news piece we are talking. It’s a book. Sure, Roberts likely had to deal with a deadline, but book deadlines are much more flexible than a newspaper’s or magazine’s. Especially when the book is to be marketed as a scandal breaking phenomenon.

You need that source. It’s non-negotiable. And don’t feed us the, “did not respond to messages” bit, when you obviously had no trouble tracking down A-Rod in the gym, or at his public, yet gated, home community. Roberts is a reporter who is smart enough, and persistent enough to do the leg work necessary to get a quote, if she really wants that source.

But she didn’t get it. And if that hearsay wasn’t clear enough for you, Roberts took the steroids implications a bit further, courtesy of Jose Canseco:

“Was he on steroids in high school? I think probably so,” says Canseco. “I worked out with him when he was 18. He could lift almost as much as I could.”

On the plus side Roberts actually uses a quote regarding A-Rod’s alleged high school juicing from a fairly reputable source. (It is sickening that Canseco is a “reputable source”, but what can you do? The world is a crazy place.) On the down side, normally Canseco is a man who has given clearly detailed accounts of athletes he has seen, or helped use in the past. This time the best he can give is, “I think probably so.”

Canseco isn’t one of the “protect the locker room code” good ol’ boys. He is a guy who will tell you anything you want to know, and usually truthfully, for the right price. Either Roberts and S.I. didn’t pay Canseco, or he had no facts to give.

“I think probably so” isn’t good enough to convict. Not for me anyway.

(What makes Canseco’s thoughts somewhat humorous, is something I was able to dig up from Roberts’ past. A woman, very familiar with Roberts’ work, said she thinks the writer “enhanced” while climbing the ladder to the top of the New York Times. She requested if quoted, to remain nameless, for fear of the repercussions of her statement.

“Do I think Selena Roberts isn’t who she claims to be? I am pretty sure she isn’t,” she said. “I’ve seen Roberts in the gym, she’s older than I am, but on TV, she sticks out as much as I do. And I’m 25 years her junior. She’s gotta be stuffing.”)

Fortunately for the author, the interested public doesn’t seem to be up-in-arms over her steroids-as-a-prep claims. They are going bonkers over what she wrote about A-Rod tipping pitches to opponents in Texas. In Chapter Six, “Mr. Two-Fifty-Two”, Roberts put brush strokes to the painting:

… Alex would occasionally violate a sacred clubhouse code: From his shortstop vantage point, he would tip pitches to the supposed opposition at the plate in a quid pro quo. It would always be a middle infielder who could reciprocate.

“It was a friend of his… a buddy who maybe had gone 0 for 3 and needed a hit,” says one former player. “Alex would see the catcher’s signs. He’d signal the pitch to the hitter, do him a favor for him. And down the line, Alex would expect the same in return.”

So once again, Roberts declines to divulge her source. This time it isn’t even an anonymous teammate she bases her claim on, it’s a “former player.”

Alex Rodriguez, the highest paid player in MLB history, isn’t known to have players in good favor, lining up around the corner to support him. Knowing his reputation as being a disliked, and somewhat despised player, wouldn’t it be reasonable to believe any number of players might be chomping at the bit to take a shot at the validity of A-Rod’s career? Regardless of the facts?

Not to say that Rodriguez didn’t tip pitches, but not naming names isn’t lending Roberts’ claim a sense of authenticity. For all we know the quote came from a jealous opponent with an axe to grind. Or maybe it came from someone who could have been a recipient of the pitch tips, like Miguel Tejada (who played shortstop for the division rival Oakland A’s at the time). The fact is, we don’t know who it came from, so there is no way any reader can be reasonably expected to take this as the truth.

Roberts then went on to describe exactly how A-Rod went about tipping pitches. You’ve heard it all before so I won’t quote the book. He’d check the sign Pudge Rodriguez would send to the mound, relay it to the opposition with an open glove, move to the left, move to the right, yada yada yada. Once again, she didn’t name a source. It’s a shame too, because the process she described was certainly feasible, but one any student of the game could have concocted.

(I was interviewing a friend of a friend of one former Sports Illustrated editor — who was unavailable for comment — and we began discussing Roberts’ rise to fame. He seemed shocked I hadn’t heard the story of how the writer staged a meeting with the S.I. editor. Apparently she met with the editor, who thought he was to be interviewed, only to discover Roberts practicing lewd behavior upon his arrival, propositioning herself for a job. He was so appalled, he promised her the next big collegiate sports scandal story to hit his desk, just to stop her from acting so repulsively offensive.)

Our attentive author claims most players who were aware of the alleged pitch tipping didn’t come forward for fear Rodriguez would use his close relationship with Rangers owner, Tom Hicks, against their claims.

However, Roberts does quote one Texas player (on pages 120-121 of Chapter Six) who supposedly approached A-Rod on the subject, recalling the conversation as he remembered it.

“I think you’re signaling a little too soon out there,” he said.

“What are you talking about,” Alex replied.

“The batters, they see you.”

The conversation continued, and on the surface, Alex accepted the critique. Behind the scenes he was enraged at being scrutinized by anyone in his clubhouse. He didn’t change his ways.

For the massive shock waves those handful of paragraphs on pages 119-121 have sent throughout baseball, Roberts does not further elaborate on the subject until tossing this tidbit into the pot in Chapter Seven, “The ‘B-12’ Code”:

He would do anything to get out of Texas. He’d give up shortstop and the glamorous notoriety and power that came with the position. He’d also give up the ability to tip buddies. Third base was the hot corner – too tight of an angle to relay a catcher’s sign.

The was the last time Roberts so much as mentioned the matter.

To recap – instead of going to guys like Tejada, David Eckstein (Anaheim Angels shortstop in from 2001-2003), Carlos Guillen (Seattle Mariners shortstop from 2001-2003) among many others outside of the AL West, to ask and verify her pitch tipping thesis, Roberts decides the hit-and-run tactic of making a baseless claim, quickly moving onto other points and never so much as peering in the rear-view mirror on the subject, is a more effective journalistic tool.

The only quote she retrieved, was anonymous – yet again – and its almost painstakingly basic. “The conversation continued” – now that’s what should have been quoted. “The batters, they see you” isn’t enough for me to believe the altercation legitimately took place.

Near the end of the book, Roberts once again quotes Jose Canseco, this time saying he believe A-Rod is using both HGH and steroids.

Once again, it’s just a bit odd that a guy who has historically provided recounts of steroid usage in an almost unbelievable details — and they often haven’t been believed — but regarding A-Rod, the best he can give, is the opinion that based on his bench press, A-Rod couldn’t have been clean.

We’ve covered A-Rod possibly juicing in high school (Roberts also makes assertions he used with the Yankees, but reliving more passages from her book, without any sources doesn’t seem worthy of my time, or yours) and his pitch tipping accusation, all that’s left to talk about is Madonna.

But I’m not going to quote the book regarding his fling with the pop star, because I don’t think it is significant. Immoral, yes. Shocking, no. Newsworthy, no.

Some athletes are unfaithful to their spouses. Some people are unfaithful to their spouses. It is unfortunate, but it has nothing to do with how fans and writers should remember Rodriguez as an athlete.

(Speaking of which, one must find it ironic that Roberts is so quick to swing the stick of judgment, at A-Rod and Madonna, when she was very recently involved in a fling with the 60-year-old Erik Estrada, with whom friends of hers have said was the subject of a deep, and possibly unnatural infatuation prior to their brief relationship.

“She has always been a huge CHiPs fan, and looks up to older, pudgy men,” said one friend of Roberts. “We all knew the relationship wouldn’t last, I mean the guy is 60 years old, but I suppose at least she got what she came to the party for, so to speak.”)

So there you have it. I read the book, so you won’t have to.

If you do, you’re wasting your time. At least if you are expecting to discover anything worthwhile.

Not that it’s a bad book. It was a fairly entertaining read, and would be informative as well; if it were true.

But that’s the problem, the book neither proves nor refutes anything A-Rod is presumed to have done, illegal, against gamesmanship or otherwise.

Were my “quotes” tearing down Selena Roberts’ reputation legitimate? Not at all. Nor were they presented in nearly as serious a light, but in the right context, without having the resources to properly check the facts, I might have been able to persuade you the writer did indeed attempt to seduce a potential employer, to gain employment, or that she has “stuffed” to work her way up the ladder.

That’s the thing about anonymous quotes, one can’t verify the legitimacy of such claims. Thus the reader is left with one of two choices:

Either utterly buying into the assertions without the support of factual evidence, or more astutely, absolutely dismissing them.

In this case, Roberts’ readers have no choice. It’s been made for them.

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