Deep in the Glute of Texas
How did A-Rod's Rangers become ground zero for baseball's steroids scandal?
Flashback: It's circa 2001, and Alex Rodriguez sleeps in his North Texas mansion on Lakeside Drive. He lives among the most prosperous plutocrats and petro-sexuals in the state, just around the corner from the swell crib Dick Cheney occupied during his Lone Star tenure. A-Rod is having a nightmare.
In the dream, Rodriguez stands in the batter's box. Bottom of the ninth, World Series on the line. He hears a play-by-play voice. "A-Rod hits a drive to deep center! It's going … going … but it's not gone! The outfielder catches the ball for the final out because A-Rod is too weak to hit it into the cheap seats. What a c—! And little Johnny, the hospitalized youth who A-Rod had promised a home run, will never walk again because he just died."
Now baseball's quarter-billion-dollar baby wakes up with the shakes. The pressure from all that dough has transformed A-Rod's central nervous system into Silly Putty. He stares out across the front lawn that he's had landscaped to resemble a tropical rain forest. Then the superstar is struck with the reassuring voice of reality. Remember where you are, boy! This isn't the major leagues. … This is Texas, the foreign legion of sports. This franchise has produced enough notorious characters to fill a wax museum and has a training room stocked with enough performance enhancers for a Russian woman shot-putter. You know the Rangers' slogan: If God hadn't wanted man to shoot juice, He wouldn't have given him a butt. Come on, kid. Get with the program.
And that's about when Rodriguez made the decision to desecrate his temple of a body.
OK, maybe that's not exactly how it went down. But that was the impression that I got from watching his wrenching confessional on ESPN with Peter Gammons. During that uncomfortable session, the word that came out of A-Rod's mouth most often wasn't baseball or steroids or sorry or stupid. It was Texas. He said it 16 times, and his implication was clear: His steroid usage started in Arlington and ended there, a pre-Yankees fad. In his press conference on Tuesday, A-Rod tried to backtrack a bit, saying that his "mistake [had] nothing to do with where I played." Rather, he pinned his habit on youth and curiosity, the stupid innocence of some eighth-grader trying to get high on his little sister's asthma inhaler. He should have stuck with the blame it on Texas explanation. I could sympathize with that idea, as could most Rangers fans: What choice did he have but to do drugs, considering that he was exiled with the most bizarre team in organized sports?
I covered the Rangers for a newspaper when the team arrived from Washington as a major-league foster child. Right from the outset, it was evident that the vessel was cracked. From Billy Martin in the dugout to Jimmy Piersall in the broadcast booth to Willie Davis on the field, the team had an unquenchable capacity to recruit personalities from the fringe. That characteristic endured. Always will, I am now convinced.
While I wouldn't wish a stint with the Rangers on any man, my patience with A-Rod vanishes when he drags the weatherman into the equation. "You know, it was hot in Texas every day," Rodriguez said to Gammons by way of explanation for his doping. "It was over 100 degrees. You know, you felt like—without trying to over-investigate what you're taking—can I have an edge, just to get out there and play every day?"
If A-Rod had bothered to ask around, he would have learned a local folk remedy to defeat the heat. It's called a Fort Worth Air Conditioner, and it consists of a large plastic cup filled with tequila on the rocks, colored by a couple of tablespoons of orange juice. Rangers players had relied on that concoction for three decades, and nobody ever heard a single one of them carp about life within the world's largest sauna. That was the old Arlington Stadium, with its shadeless metal stands configured like a gravel pit, where the scoreboard thermometer once hit 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the first inning of a night game.