FORT MYERS, FLA. – Cyclist Lance Armstrong was stripped of his record seven Tour de France victories on Oct. 22, 2012. Three-time MVP Alex Rodriguez was suspended by Major League Baseball for a record 211 games on Aug. 5, 2013.
At that point, Armstrong and Rodriguez were in competition to be the most vilified user of performance-enhancing drugs in American sports.
On Monday, there was a brief media session at Hammond Stadium, where shortstop Jorge Polanco vaguely answered several questions about the 80-game suspension that he had been handed a day earlier by MLB for the use of the steroid stanozolol.
Miguel Sano, who shares the same hometown in the Dominican Republic with Polanco, said his years-long friend was crying in a phone conversation on Sunday night.
Polanco is 24, a new father with Jorge Jr., not yet making significant money, and surely wondering if there is a path to redemption and regained respect after becoming the biggest name so far to be identified as a new drug cheat entering the 2018 season.
This young man has those large, sad eyes by nature, and doesn’t come across as filled with self-confidence, and I was wondering the same about Polanco’s future when walking into a condo near the ballpark on Monday night.
My wife was watching TV in the main room and I heard the voice of Alex Rodriguez. Turns out, it was the first episode on CNBC of “Back in the Game,’’ a planned series in which A-Rod will try to use his employees, other contacts and financial wherewithal to help high-profile athletes out of the money messes they have created for themselves.
The featured athlete in Episode 1 was Joe Smith, best known in Minnesota as the player on whom the Timberwolves blew what wound up being three first-round draft choices with an under-the-table deal. He also was the No. 1 overall selection for Golden State in 1995, who last played in the NBA in 2011, made salaries totaling $61 million, and six years later was deeply in debt.
As an hour of TV watching, this was a vast improvement on the “Housewives’’ from various locations that are often being watched by the bride, and it also offered this assurance:
There is redemption for Jorge Polanco. Yes, he did offer the traditional “I thought it was a dose of B-12’’ angle that is popular when ballplayers are caught, but as long as there is no indignation over being treated unfairly, he will be fine.
As for the Big Two of drug cheats in this decade, Armstrong always carried himself with over-the-top arrogance, with such belittlement toward everyone in his path, it left many of us pleased to see him disgraced.
A-Rod was smooth from his debut with Seattle as an 18-year-old for 17 games in 1994. His connection to steroids was revealed by Selena Roberts in Sports Illustrated in 2009. And then he was busted for keeps in the Biogenesis scandal that broke in 2013.
If our last memory of A-Rod and steroids was his initial condescension toward Roberts’ revelations, the public might look at him today in the same way it does Armstrong.
Rodriguez’s admissions that followed Biogenesis and the 211-game suspension got him off the hook with many people, and the ability to draw on that lifelong smoothness has given him an astounding level of redemption.
He started as an extra wheel on the Fox postseason telecasts; now, he has a show on CNBC, he is a member of ESPN’s Sunday night baseball crew (replacing new Yankees manager Aaron Boone), and when he goes out on a date with JLo, his latest girlfriend, TMZ and other celebrity outlets are in a dither.
The only thing A-Rod, with his millions and his sharpness in handling people, and Polanco have in common is the stain of steroids. Rodriguez’s connection was more a Jackson Pollock painting than a stain, while Polanco’s is a threat to a career not yet established, but it’s still about redemption with the sporting public and within baseball.
There was a night exhibition on Wednesday. Polanco was in uniform in the big-league clubhouse, in order to address his teammates, before being banished to the minor league facility for the next three months.
Rodriguez was also at Hammond Stadium, in his new uniform — a very expensive suit — for an ESPN telecast run-through with his new broadcast partners, Matt Vasgersian and Jessica Mendoza.
A-Rod was looking very confident and fully redeemed. It can happen.