By Murray Chass

December 9, 2012

A series of not-so-funny things happened to Alex Rodriguez on his way to becoming baseball’s all-time leader in runs batted in and home runs.

First, just as he was being recognized as the great clean hope to eclipse Barry Bonds, the all-time steroids cheat, as the all-time home king, he was unmasked in 2009 as a steroids cheat himself.Alex Rodriguez Grand Slam 225

Only weeks later, in spring training, Rodriguez suffered a physical blow; he was diagnosed with a torn labrum in his right hip and required surgery that cost him the first 28 games of the season.

Not to be outdone or eclipsed, the third baseman’s left hip is his newest problem. It was found recently to have the same problem as the right hip had nearly four years ago and will undergo surgery next month. In addition, the left hip was also found to have an impingement in the joint and a cyst that has to be drained.

When Rodriguez returns, if as expected, in June or July at the age of 37 going on 38 (July 27), he will be in the same position in his career statistics as he was when he completed last season:

No. 6 in runs batted in with 1,950 behind Henry Aaron 2,297; Babe Ruth 2,213; Bonds 1,996; Lou Gehrig 1,995 and Stan Musial 1,951.

No. 5 in home runs with 647 behind Bonds 762, Aaron 755, Ruth 714 and Willie Mays 660.

With five years (and $114 million) left in his New York Yankees’ contract, Rodriguez could surpass Aaron by averaging 70 r.b.i. per season and Bonds by averaging 24 home runs.

Skeptics, however, don’t believe Rodriguez will last those five years or won’t achieve those averages if he does make it. They may turn out to be right, but we won’t know for several years. What I think we know now, though, is there is no basis for the suspicion of Rodriguez critics – and he has plenty of critics in the news media as well as among fans – that Rodriguez’s hip injuries are the result of his admitted use of steroids.

“There’s talk,” a reader wrote, “that the Yankees may plead that this was due to PED’s and they might try to get out of the contract.”

That will not happen. A baseball executive familiar with the Yankees’ thinking said Friday they have no intention of challenging the validity of the contract and trying to have it voided.

“They don’t think there’s any way to void the contract,” the executive said.

Although Rodriguez’s name reportedly was on the list of about 100 players who tested positive in the anonymous testing year of 2003, he was never caught using steroids after the Yankees acquired him in 2004, and in his public admission of steroids use in 2009 he admitted to using only before he joined the Yankees.

Believe that or not, the Yankees would be hard pressed to prove that steroids were the cause of Rodriguez’s hip ailments.

“It’s a little bit of a stretch to say his hip injuries are related to steroids,” said Dr. Dennis Cardone of New York’s Hospital for Joint Diseases.

Added Dr. Jordan Metzl of the city’s Hospital for Special Surgery, “Everyone wants to blame everything on steroids. It would be a reach to connect his hip injuries to steroids.”

Dr. Metzl’s Special Surgery colleague, Dr. Bryan Kelly, is scheduled to operate on Rodriguez’s left hip. Dr. Kelly did not return a call seeking comment.

However, doctors who discussed the hip injury were unanimous in the view that steroids could not be considered the culprit in Rodriguez’s hip problems, even though reporters tried hard to make it seem otherwise.

A reporter for The New York Times, for example, quoted an orthopedist as saying, “This is an issue determined by certain genetics and anatomical issues that makes him predisposed to this condition.” The reporter, though, went on to write, “But the wear and tear that can come from years of swinging a bat could also have contributed to the two hip injuries, and in that sense, performance enhancers could conceivably have been a factor.”

Athletes’ hip injuries have become more prominent and more frequent in recent years. Baseball players have not been spared.

At least a baker’s dozen of players have had hip operations since Rodriguez’s first operation. One player, Justin Duchscherer, a now retired pitcher, had four hip operations. Carlos Delgado, a retired first baseman, had two.

Dr. Kelly, who will fix Rodriguez’s left hip, performed hip surgery on Chase Utley and Mike Lowell a few months before Rodriguez’s first hip was fixed. Todd Helton, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Brian Bruney had hip surgery in the last six weeks of the past season.

Since Rodriguez, the hip-surgery roster has included Duchsherer, Jerome Moore, Charlie Morton, David Aardsma, Darren O’Day, Jesse Litsch, Ross Detwiler, Alex Gordon, Brett Myers and Matt Treanor. Put them in the misery-loves-company category.

According to injury records maintained by the commissioner’s office, these have been the numbers of players on the disabled list with hip injuries, whether or not they required surgery, for each season starting with 2007: 4, 12, 11, 13, 8, 8.

“There are two separate types of steroids,” Dr. Cordone said, “anabolic that athletes use for performance enhancing and corticosteroids,” which include cortisone, hydrocortisone and prednisone, all of which are used for treating a variety of medical conditions.

“There have been cases reported in the past where they’ve looked at athletes who have had necrosis of the hip,” he added, referring to the death of cells or tissue as the result of injury to a localized area of the body.

“There may be a relationship between anabolic steroids and hip necrosis, but there are only a few cases that suggest a possible relationship. It’s a little bit of a stretch to say Rodriguez’s hip injuries are related to steroids. It’s not unusual for athletes to have avascular necrosis. Bo Jackson had avascular necrosis from injury.”

Earlier this year, Dr. Metzl authored a book with Mike Zimmerman, “The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies: 1,001 Doctor-Approved Health Fixes and Injury-Prevention Secrets for a Leaner, Fitter, More Athletic Body!”

“If you’re going to ask your body to do these things,” Dr. Metzl said, “you have to build it so it is capable of doing what you want it to do.”

When Rodriguez returned from the 2009 operation, he hit 30 home runs and drove in 100 runs in 124 games, a creditable performance for a 34-year-old third baseman coming off hip surgery. Can he reprise that type of performance in the second half of next season at age 38?

No one knows, but I wouldn’t bet against Rodriguez. My fellow New York writers would think me naïve, but I am at least willing to give him a chance.

Meanwhile, there is Aaron:

  • 23 years
  • 755 home runs
  • 2,297 runs batted in
  • .305 batting average
  • .374 on-base percentage
  • .555 slugging percentage
  • 0 hip operations


The Mets aren’t spending money because they don’t have any to spend. The Yankees aren’t spending money because they don’t want to. Instead they aren’t spending so they can reduce their payroll enough by the 2014 season so that they won’t have to pay the luxury tax that has perennially been their contribution to Major League Baseball.

Hal Steinbrenner 225The Yankees haven’t exactly adopted an austerity program, but they haven’t run around this off-season waving their checkbook in free agents’ faces. Some free agents have signed with other teams when in other off-seasons they very likely would have signed with the Yankees if the Yankees wanted them.

The Yankees have declared their intention to reduce their 2014 payroll to a maximum of $189 million, which will be the 2014 luxury tax threshold.

The Yankees’ desire to reduce their payroll to get under the threshold is not simply to avoid paying the tax. The Yankees have never minded paying the tax.
However, if they can get under the threshold and not pay the tax for a year, they will greatly reduce their tax rate in the future. If they exceed the threshold in 2014, they will pay tax at a 50 percent rate. If they stay under the threshold in 2014, their tax rate in 2015, if they exceed the threshold at that time, will revert to 17 ½ percent.
On a $221 million payroll in 2015, that would represent a difference of $10.5 million in tax charge. The year off from luxury tax payment would also lower the rate for subsequent seasons.

The commissioner’s office has not completed its calculation of 2012 payrolls, but a preliminary figure had the Yankees at $221 million and the Players Association last week put the Yankees’ average salary at $6,882,195.

With 35 players on the Aug. 31 roster and disabled list, that average computes to a $241 million payroll. The final number from the commissioner’s offices figures to fall between $221 million and $241 million, neither of which is close to $189 million.

Nevertheless the Yankees are confident they can get there.

The 2012 season, though, was not the way to get to $189 million. The team’s average salary had fallen from $7.66 million in 2009 to $7.60 million in 2010 to $6.54 million in 2011. This year the average rose.

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.