Column: Helling wonders what A-Rod was thinkingWhy, A-Rod? Why? He wasn’t a borderline big-leaguer schlepping along looking for a big contract. He had the big contract — $252 million over 10 years from the Texas Rangers. He was already one of the best in the game. He had it all.
By: Mike McFeely, The Forum
Why, A-Rod? Why? He wasn’t a borderline big-leaguer schlepping along looking for a big contract. He had the big contract — $252 million over 10 years from the Texas Rangers. He was already one of the best in the game. He had it all.
So why was Alex Rodriguez a juicer?
“That’s a good question. I can’t tell you what those guys were thinking,” Rick Helling said.
Helling is the Fargo Shanley graduate and a former big-league pitcher for a dozen years. He was a teammate of Rodriguez in 2001, when both played for the Texas Rangers. Rodriguez admitted Monday to using a banned substance from 2001-03.
“The thing you hear a lot is that it was the culture of the game,” Helling said. “The talk around the clubhouse was that it was almost like peer pressure — ‘Well, this guy’s doing it, I need to keep up.’ That wouldn’t be Alex’s reason, but that was the culture of the game.
“As we’ve come to find out, there were plenty of superstar guys doing it. If it makes you go from a 35-home run guy to a 50-home run guy, that’s a big difference. That’s a lot of money and a lot of fame and it kind of guarantees your place in history as, if not the best, one of the best players ever. I’m sure that’s attractive to some guys.”
The news that Rodriguez, the celebrity mega-star currently playing for the New York Yankees, admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs can’t be viewed as a shocker. Those days are long gone. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have been implicated, for goodness sake. It’s a certainty more big names will be dribbled with muck fairly soon. A-Rod was just one name on a list of 104 who tested positive for banned substances.
But, frankly, Rodriguez didn’t seem the type. We didn’t see the drastic change in body shape (Bonds) or the ageless wonder on the mound still throwing heat (Clemens). A-Rod was an all-round talent, maybe even viewed as a guy who didn’t need the boost.
Did Helling suspect A-Rod was a juicer when they were with the Rangers, a franchise that’s had its share of steroid cheats?
“There were plenty of guys around the league that you looked at, especially when they were putting up some of the numbers they were putting up. It’s like, ‘Is this for real?’” Helling said. “The argument a lot of people go back to with guys like A-Rod, Bonds and Clemens is that they’ve been great forever. They came into the league and they were great from day one and they put up numbers from day one. Alex was great out of high school. You give guys like that the benefit of the doubt. … Alex was one of those guys.”
Helling was very active in the players’ union during his career, which ended in 2006. He was known for standing up in union meetings in the late 1990s and urging that something be done about steroids. Helling advocated drug testing when it wasn’t the vogue thing for baseball players to advocate.
So a listener can detect a definite lack of sympathy when the subject of Rodriguez’s legacy — and the possibility of his exclusion from the Hall of Fame — is broached.
Rodriguez already has 553 career home runs and he’s only 33. There is no sign of slowing. It’s accepted that Rodriguez will shatter Bonds’ all-time homer record of 762 (if you recognize Bonds as the record-holder).
“It’s definitely going to taint it and bring in questions about the numbers he put up,” Helling said. “The argument is that Bonds and Clemens and these other guys who’ve been implicated is that they were great players already. Well, that might be the case. But who knows how great? Who knows what their numbers would have been had they not gotten some help pharmaceutically? People are going to question that now and that’s what you have to deal with when you choose to do something like this.”
McFeely is a sports columnist for The Forum, which along with The Dickinson Press, is owned by Forum Communications Co. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at www.areavoices.com/mcfeely.