02/08/2009 5:37 PM ET
Salfino: A-Rod shouldering the load
At the expense of our entertainment, a star falls from grace
By Michael Salfino / SNY.tv
Alex Rodriguez, left, as a Ranger in 2003 when he allegedly failed a drug test, and as a Yankee last season. (AP)

The press jackals -- having weakened and wounded the magnificent Alex Rodriguez -- are now going in for the kill, hell bent on ripping him limb from limb.

We sports fans are child-like in our desire to seek superhuman greatness between the lines, but so cynically adult-like in our cruelty and pettiness in stripping these men of their powers once they are found.

Howard Cosell famously said that, "Sports is the toy department of human life." We need a toy department now more than ever. So why are we so seriously determined to build a case against their greatness, which really is a case against the innocent pleasure we instinctively derive from witnessing it?

It's an old saw in evolutionary psychology that the reason we seek to trumpet past heroes above current ones is because we compete with the living and not the dead. So it's heresy to herald Player X above the heroes of our youth, or, in the case of the absurdly self-righteous Bill Madden, the heroes of the youth of our fathers and grandfathers. But don't take my word for it. Let's let Madden speak for himself:

"Even if the Sports Illustrated report is not further substantiated and denied by all the parties involved in baseball, A-Rod -- who already had enough character and sincerity issues -- has been irrevocably tarnished for life. He can continue to amass Hall of Fame caliber numbers, but he's not going there any more than McGwire, Bonds, Clemens and the rest of the cheats who stained the game are going there. And baseball and its fans are the poorer for it."

How credible is the SI report that Madden says does not need any further substantiation? Well, Bob Costas on the MLB Network unintentionally buried its co-writer Selena Roberts when he asked, "Did any of these four [sources] have an ax to grind with Alex Rodriguez? Did [anyone] go out of their way; they might of known five or six other players, but, 'Here. I have the big guy [Rodriguez]. I have the juicy tidbit. Here it is with pleasure.'"

Roberts's response: "I did not sense that someone had an agenda. I sensed that people were trying to help us understand the truth. If there was an agenda, I was not aware of any."

But previously in the interview, Roberts says that she ignored the other 103 names cited by Costas in his question on the broader leak of the names uncovered in the federal investigation because, "With A-Rod, because we were doing a profile, a feature on him and it was related to him, we were focused on him."

Sorry, but that's the very definition of having an agenda. But it gets worse for Roberts, who again with Costas refused to identify her sources. A casual Internet search reveals that Roberts is 2 1/2 months away from publishing an expose on A-Rod titled, Hit and Run: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez. Few people knew who Selena Roberts was a week ago, and now she's sitting on a best-seller. She did offer advice to A-Rod that he and Boras hold a press conference where they come clean. Her book must need an epilogue.

If SI wanted to do a serious piece truly in the public interest, perhaps it could have questioned why the federal government was compiling such evidence about baseball players in 2003 instead of regulating the financial industry, keeping tabs on Bernie Madoff, reasonably assessing the cost and benefit of a war in Iraq, listening to a vast number of observers who were warning of the growing housing bubble or any other more serious problem.

Nah, these glorified gossip columnists would rather keep acting as if they're serving the public like modern-day Upton Sinclairs breaking the lid off the meat industry in The Jungle. Except the public is suffering no harm through whatever athletes may be doing to give us the entertainment bang we want for the many bucks those box seats and satellite season passes now cost.

I'm so tired of old sportswriters like Madden lording over baseball with their precious Hall of Fame votes. The accountants will soon figure out that people only go to Cooperstown to show their kids the great players they saw before their kids were born.

After blacklisting every single one of our generation of stars, maybe Madden and other great-grandfathers will try to pick up some slack regaling their bored third generations on the greatness of Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford -- but that's not going to generate enough revenue for the Hall of Fame to pay its utilities.

Right around when Madden was breaking into the profession, Jim Bouton wrote Ball Four. And for the first time ever, really, the curtain was pulled back on what happened inside the clubhouse and elsewhere. All of this was in stark contrast to how the game was portrayed in the press. Included were first-hand accounts of rampant use of "greenies," stimulants that could reasonably be considered performance enhancing (especially after nights of drunken debauchery). Leading sportswriters of the day, including Madden's predecessor at the Daily News, Dick Young, castigated Bouton for being a "social leper."

Now, those who cover the game can't stop sniffing around for scandal. But baseball is just a game, a harmless distraction from the challenges and travails of every day life in bad times and a respite from life's mundaneness during good times. We're such a mess of contradiction: wanting breathtaking spectacle and then acting shocked when literal spoil-sports uncover that some Industrial Light & Magic was involved.

Michael Salfino is a nationally syndicated columnist and a regular contributor to SNY.tv.
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