This is not about vague unwritten rules or peculiar unspoken codes. In the world of sports, there can be no vagaries when it comes to this:
You play to win the game.
There are no gray areas with this, no clever skirting around baseball’s timeless rules of engagement. That’s why in some baseball circles the latest episode in the ever-expanding celebrity misadventures of Alex Rodriguez is being viewed as a greater crime against the game than any of his admitted chemistry experiments.
In Selena Roberts’ consistently unflattering biography, “A-Rod: The Many Faces of Alex Rodriguez,” the author accuses the New York Yankees third baseman of doing something almost unheard of in baseball circles:
He would intentionally signal to selected opponents the pitches of his own teammate in return for the same favor to pad his own statistics. Roberts said A-Rod did this while playing shortstop for the Texas Rangers, and he usually did it in the late innings of blowout contests.
Reportedly most of the accusations were done anonymously by former teammates and opponents. From Watergate to BALCO, journalists long have used anonymous sources to uncover indiscretions of public figures.
That doesn’t mean it’s unreasonable to question the author’s motivations or agendas. Feel free to read the book, observe her radio and television interviews and draw your own conclusions. But in the end, it likely won’t be her reputation that will suffer most from the fallout of this controversial book.
If true, what A-Rod allegedly did simply would add to the already mile-high pile of dirty laundry that is threatening to obscure a career that seemed destined for upper-tier Hall of Fame legend. His admitted use of performance-enhancing drugs was already a dark stain. But at least he could justify that by saying he was caught up in baseball’s overwhelming drug culture and just trying to do whatever he could to help his team win games.
This alleged indiscretion could be an indelible stain to his colleagues, a violation of the ultimate athletic code.
Earlier this week when I asked Cardinals manager Tony La Russa if he’d ever heard of a player intentionally tipping pitches to the opposition, he said he did see it on occasion in the minor leagues, but never in the majors. When I asked him how he might react if he had a player on his own squad whom he suspected of doing it, the manager’s answer was brief and to the point. “I’d be punting him through the end zone,” La Russa said. “I wouldn’t be trying to kill it on the two-yard line.”
The message La Russa was attempting to deliver was clear: If anyone who wears a Cardinals uniform were ever found guilty of such an intolerably selfish act, the punishment would be swift and pitiless. “I don’t think any pitcher appreciates it,” La Russa said. “I don’t think any teammate appreciates it.”
Roberts’ sources accused him of a self-serving act whose main purpose was not just aiding the opposition but in fact was an act designed purely for reciprocity. He was willing to give up his own teammate to embellish his own statistics.
In the court of public opinion and plain old common sense, that might prove to be an unforgivable capital offense.