I used a purple pen to mark up my copy of Selena Roberts’ A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez. It seemed fitting, given all the purple prose in the book.
And if I had marked every unsourced “fact,” anonymous quote, author’s attempts to read A-Rod’s mind, omission of facts that don’t fit her thesis, twisting around of good things Alex did, and times Roberts quoted her own previous work while pretending it was merely what some reporter from “New York Times” or “Sports Illustrated” observed, there would have been, at best, maybe 2 unmarked pages – her “thank you” list at the end.
The book’s sourcing is a mess. Instead of footnotes or endnotes, Roberts has a list of the people she interviewed as well as names of those who refused to talk to her (she also notes that 19 people spoke on the condition of anonymity.) There’s also a list of the books, newspapers, and websites she read. But none of those materials are tied to specific quotes or allegations.
Maybe it wouldn’t matter so much, if this book’s revelations weren’t nearly all based on anonymous sources. But it’s hard to judge her “reservoir of credibility,” as she described her work to Bob Costas, when we don’t know what sources that reservoir is drawing from.
What we do know is that Roberts does not attempt to interview some of the sources who would paint a more positive portrait of Alex, like Doug Mientkiewicz, Michael Young, and Lou Piniella. Instead, Roberts’ work in the book is not just one-sided; it has a breathtaking lack of perspective. Alex’s three MVP awards get about the same amount of space in the book as his oral hygiene habits. There are two pages about how A-Rod treated waitresses at Hooters, but not one word about how he let utility player Nick Green live with him and his family for two months in the summer of 2006.
Roberts also has a real taste for hyperbole. It’s hard to take Roberts’ work seriously when she compares Alex to the sociopathic “Talented Mr. Ripley” and the evil Mr. Potter of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” A-Rod may be a selfish narcissist – and a cheater – but he’s not a monster.
Here are a few examples of the most problematic parts of “A-Rod”:
* Unlike her Sports Illustrated report on A-Rod’s steroid use, her allegation that A-Rod juiced up in high school is based on shaky ground. Roberts doesn’t say what he thinks she took. She seems confused over whether A-Rod gained 25 pounds, or 25 pounds of muscle, from sophomore to junior year. While she talks about photos showing how he looked dramatically different, she doesn’t actually show that photo evidence of body changes.
Her “case,” such as it is, is based on A-Rod once saying he bench-pressed 300 pounds to earn a letter sweater (Roberts doesn’t research as to whether the school really gave that award for the goal), an anonymous source claiming Alex knew a dog kennel owner who allegedly juiced up greyhounds, and an anonymous source – a high school teammate – saying that A-Rod juiced.
While it’s entirely possible A-Rod used steroids in high school, the actual evidence Roberts uses to prove her allegation makes that whole “Ferris Bueller passed out at 31 Flavors” thing look well-sourced.
* If Roberts’ pitch-tipping allegation were true, it could be a huge scandal, with implications throughout the majors. But she treats it as just an example of how Alex was desperate to compile meaningless statistics (given how bad the Rangers were, those stats were pretty much all meaningless, but I digress).
Roberts does not give her serious allegation serious treatment. Not only are the sources of this rumor anonymous, but so are the co-conspirators! In the book, there’s not a shred of photo evidence of her charge, or statistical evidence that A-Rod compiled stats in blowouts (in fact, his numbers were actually worse then) or even evidence showing how other middle infielders did against the Rangers. And most egregiously, she never asks any of her Rangers on-the-record interview sources, like Buck Showalter, Tom Hicks, and Chad Curtis, what they think about the allegations.
Here’s my guess as to what happened. I suspect that players told Roberts that A-Rod was calling pitches, as Cal Ripken Jr. once did, and as Showalter, Michael Young, and others have confirmed that A-Rod did with Einer Diaz. Roberts may have confused that revelation – where he made gestures to tell the catcher what the pitcher should throw – with tipping pitches. And there’s your “scandal.” Sheesh.
* While A-Rod’s post-season foibles have been well-chronicled, Roberts takes it a step further. She never mentions Alex going to the playoffs with Seattle (and hitting over .400 against the Yankees.) Nor does she note how he pretty much singlehandedly won the 2004 ALDS for the Yanks.
Instead, the first time she mentions A-Rod’s specific performance in the postseason, she starts with, “Alex had done nothing against Boston, going 1 for 5 in game four and 0 for four in game five.” Besides the fact that the “nothing” against Boston in game four was a homer that drove in the first two of the the team’s four runs, Roberts also neglects to mention him going 6 for 14 with three homers in the first three games of the series. Oops!
* Roberts writes about how A-Rod could never match up to Derek Jeter:
“He had put his body through everything to best Jeter. Yet he was consumed by one gnawing, galling, undeniable difference between them: Jeter was clean.”
1. How the heck does she know what A-Rod is thinking?
2. Insinuating that A-Rod took steroids to match up to Jeter kind of undercuts her own argument that Alex took steroids in high school.
3. Throughout the book, Roberts writes about A-Rod as if he is Jan to Jeter’s Marcia. But she doesn’t really acknowledge how close their friendship was – and for how long. There’s not even a mention of how they giggled together after that Mariners-Yankees brawl. Is it because this doesn’t fit her profile of Big Man on Campus Jeter and pathetic wanna-be A-Rod?
* She blames A-Rod for Jeter’s slump at the beginning of the 2004 season: “What was it about Alex that produced such bad karma for others,” Roberts writes. “What pinstripe pandemic had Alex wrought? Jeter was flailing wildly in the midst of an 0-f0r-32 slump.” And no, she’s not kidding about the karma thing.
* Roberts even extends her whole A-Rod/Jeter competition to charity work, writing “there was Jeter again, always besting him, even as the humble do-gooder. It never ended.” But Roberts does her own part to extend that competition.
Here she describes why he made the decision to admit to seeing therapists. “It seems even Alex knew he was moving too fast, doing too much, and he thought therapy for his conflicted soul. For most people, this would be a private pursuit, but Alex was a product of the Dr. Phil generation – he went public.” Roberts goes on to describe his speech at a 2005 Children’s Aid Society event, where he encouraged kids to not be afraid to ask for help, but she never mentions that he gave $200,000 to the organization to fund teenage mental health programs, which was the real point of his confession.
* She makes a point of saying A-Rod’s Kabbalah bracelet is “actually white wool dyed red.” And here I thought it came from a red sheep.
* And finally, even A-Rod’s generosity to his parents gets subject to Roberts’ scrutiny. While she concedes that Alex did buy his mother a nice house and a Mercedes when he started making money, she disparagingly compares him to other teenagers who “withdraw from their parents in order to establish their independence and identity.”
Even her revelation that A-Rod financially supports the father who abandoned him gets criticized; she complains that the $2200-a-month retirement facility is in the same neighborhood as a trailer park and a strip mall, and that it is “20 miles and at least several tax brackets away” from A-Rod’s Star Island. But the assisted living facility looks pretty good to me – click here to see what the place looks like. Incidentally, Alex since has moved his father to an even nicer place, although Roberts didn’t appear to get to check if there were trailer parks in that neighborhood.
Here’s the thing about “A-Rod.” If Roberts had toned down the pettiness, sourced her accusations better, and been willing to write a more balanced tome, this would have been a much more devastating book, one that would be hard to dismiss.
As it is, A-Rod doesn’t have to worry about anything in “A-Rod.” The book is so one-sided and unfair, it ends up making you feel sorry for him.
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