ROBERTS WHIFFS ON A-ROD AND ‘ROIDS

By Murray Chass

May 7, 2009

Will Rogers, it is said, never met a man he didn’t like. Selena Roberts never met an anonymous source she didn’t quote.

Roberts has written a book about Alex Rodriguez, and it is a journalistic abomination. That phrase probably won’t appear in any advertisement for the book, but it should to alert prospective readers what they would be getting.

I use the word journalistic rather than literary for two reasons: 1, the book grew out of a Sports Illustrated project; 2, Roberts has been a newspaper and magazine reporter and columnist and as such has practiced the craft of journalism. Based on the book, however, she needs a lot more practice.

In general, Roberts makes far too many serious allegations about Rodriguez to hide them behind anonymous quotes. Rodriguez deserves more, but more importantly readers deserve more. There is far too much in this attack book for Roberts to expect readers to take it on faith that her anonymous sources are real and they can be trusted.

The use of anonymous sources has come under increasing criticism from readers of all types of publications. Having used them frequently in my decades as a reporter and columnist, I am aware of the problems they pose. Reporters have to establish their credibility with their use of unidentified sources for readers to accept them.

Roberts and I were once colleagues at The New York Times, and I can’t say she established that credibility. She also didn’t strike me as being a top-flight reporter. As a result, I don’t feel I can trust her book full of anonymous sources. Even if every single A-Rod transgression she reports is accurate, it’s too easy for her to write one former teammate said this and another player said that.

Had she written these same reports for the Times, very little would have made it into the paper. I’m not familiar with Sports Illustrated’s standards, but I hope they’re higher than the Roberts book offers. Actually, if you remove the quotes and other information that Roberts attributes to anonymous sources in the 246-page book, it might be left with 46 pages.

In a recent column about Mike Piazza’s possible use of steroids, I quoted a passage from a book about Roger Clemens by Jeff Pearlman. What I quoted was a comment from Reggie Jefferson, a former major leaguer, that Piazza used steroids “and everybody knows it.” What I didn’t quote were comments from others who were not identified.

Using that rule of thumb, I could quote nothing about Rodriguez’s alleged use of steroids from the Roberts book. She alleges that Rodriguez used performance-enhancing drugs in high school and after he joined the Yankees in 2004, but she does not support her accusations with comments from people she identifies.

I initially had no intention of reading the book, but I already knew from news reports what Roberts was alleging, and I decided to see what her sourcing was. It was as bad as I expected it to be.

I should also disclose that after Roberts became a columnist for the Times I found her baseball columns to be shallow and superficial, and she demonstrates her lack of baseball knowledge in the book.

Writing about Rodriguez’s $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers, which he signed in December 2000, Roberts writes that the contract “compelled owners to adopt a luxury tax that would help small-market teams compete in the otherwise lopsided free-agent market.”

One problem with that statement. The owners already had their luxury tax and had had it for four years. They negotiated it with the union in the bargaining that followed the 1994-95 strike, and the agreement took effect Jan. 1, 1997.

Roberts belies her understanding of baseball with an observation she makes in trying to offer an example of A-Rod on steroids. Citing the game in August 2002 in which he hit three home runs, she writes that his “performance set off the steroid alarms,” explaining, “In the dog days of the season, when players are wilting, A-Rod had fresh legs and a fresher bat.”

And she quotes an unnamed “Ranger teammate” as saying, “It’s that stuff that makes you say no (bleeping) way.”

No way? Both Roberts and the teammate should consult The Elias Book of Baseball Records,” pages 359 through 362. The list of players who hit three or more home runs shows that 76 players other than Rodriguez hit three or more home runs in August.

Gil Hodges slugged four for the Brooklyn Dodgers Aug. 31, 1950. Hall of Famer Jim Rice hit three in a game twice, both games being played Aug. 29. Other Hall of Famers who hit three in an August game were Ralph Kiner, Larry Doby, Ernie Banks, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson and Eddie Murray (twice).

It has never been suggested that any of those players used steroids.

Roberts sees steroids wherever Rodriguez turns, and she doesn’t fail to find a player or other person she can quote without identifying him. In the infrequent instances in which she does name someone she quotes, the subject is not steroids. For example, she quotes Chad Curtis, a former teammate, on Rodriguez’s style of living. Or Bill Haselman, another former teammate, on what motivates Rodriguez.

The book is big on innuendo. In fact, her use of it should earn Roberts the title of Queen of Innuendo.

On page 103 she quotes Joseph Dion, a trainer who worked with Rodriguez, as saying “he never saw Alex buy steroids” in the Dominican Republic “but admits, ‘Alex and I, we led two different lives there.’”

Later she mentions another trainer and writes, “Dodd Romero says Alex never took steroids around him, but no one could vouch for what he did in the Dominican Republic during his visits there in the off-season.”

And to make it a troika of trainers, Roberts links Rodriguez to Greg Anderson, Barry Bonds’ trainer, who went to prison rather than answer questions about Bonds and steroids. “All [three] of them were close,’ says one relative of Anderson’s.”

On page 174, she notes the number of Yankees who were named in the Mitchell report – Rodriguez was not – and writes, “Alex had always had trouble resisting peer pressure.”

Page 175: “In late 2004, one player says, Alex was seen with HGH in the company of” Kevin Brown. Roberts doesn’t say the player himself saw them, but she writes, “It was possible, the player says, that Alex was interested in using growth hormone as a way to help him perform at a high level during the upcoming playoffs.”

On page 202, she writes, “Alex never tested positive for steroids in 2007, but one baseball source says it’s possible Presinal administered a low-dose cycle of steroids with HGH to jump-start his regular season.” That would be Angel Presinal, a Dominican trainer, who is banned from Major League Baseball but has worked with many of the best Dominican players.

More unsubstantiated supposition: “Two players close to A-Rod say he has used HGH while with the Yankees based on side effects they’ve seen and that he likely procured it the same way many major leaguers do – through doctors who have ties to anti-aging clinics.”

From earlier in his career, when he played for his first team, the Seattle Mariners, Roberts writes, “Alex’s Mariners teammates had their doubts about Alex’s power, but, as one player says, ‘No one that I know of actually saw him shoot up, but he did take greenies.’”

Greenies, or amphetamines, had been around baseball since long before Rodriguez was born. They were popular with players generally, were a daily staple for many and became illegal in baseball only in the last few years. To single out Rodriguez for using amphetamines is ludicrous.

Roberts does some of her best anonymous work in her efforts to show that Rodriguez used steroids when he was in high school. Maybe he did, but you can’t believe it from listening to Roberts’ anonymous sources. Not surprisingly, none of them witnessed his use.

Roberts quotes a trainer, Fernando Montes as commenting on Rodriguez’s ability to bench press 300 pounds in high school: “It’s so out of the ordinary. It’s not physically possible without some type of steroid enhancement.”

She makes a lot out of a man named Steve Caruso, who coached baseball, owned a kennel and raced greyhounds. She quotes a former business associate of Caruso, Steve Ludt, as saying Caruso had steroids, used them for his dogs and supplied teammates on his softball team.

“Everyone was using it back then,” she quotes a former teammate as saying. “I was.”

Of what relevance is Caruso to Roberts? “Baseball sources in Miami,” she writes, “believe Caruso also gave steroids to up-and-coming ballplayers – including Alex Rodriguez.”

“They knew each other, for sure,” Ludt told Roberts. “I was at Caruso’s house one night when Alex called. He offered to fly Caruso up to Seattle for his first pro game. Alex was going to pay for the plane ticket and everything.”

Except Rodriguez’s played his first professional game for Appleton, Wis.

Getting closer to Rodriguez’s high school team, Roberts writes, “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.”

So let’s see if we have this sourcing right. The baseball coach’s son, who played football with Alex, told another graduate of their high school that Rodriguez used steroids. However, the one person Roberts quotes by name in this part of her tale, Rich Hofman, A-Rod’s high school baseball coach, “denies any knowledge of Alex’s use of steroids in high school.”

Another accusation Roberts makes is sourced equally questionably. From his shortstop position, she writes, Rodriguez tipped pitches to players on other teams in lopsided games in return for equal treatment when he was at bat. She attributes the information to former Rangers teammates and quotes five, identifying none of them, of course.

Rodriguez, it should be remembered, admitted using steroids from 2001 to 2003. Maybe he used them before and/or after, but Roberts doesn’t offer a compelling case to prove her allegations.

As bad as the book is, by working on it Roberts scored a coup by getting the exclusive on Rodriguez’s positive test for steroids in 2003. Oddly, she doesn’t write about how that happened.

Had she told how she secured the information – I suspect it came from a Federal agent of some sort – that part of the story would have been the most significant part of her book with an identified source. Who would that be? Roberts, of course.

 

 

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