A-ROD is tabloid shorthand now, but the formulaic nickname was part of his marketing plan, trademarked back in 1996 as a branding tool under the umbrella of A-Rod Corp. And he liked being called A-Rod. Let's call him Alex.
When Alex found out that the news of his positive test for Primobolan and testosterone in 2003 was about to break (SI.com, Feb. 7), he flew to the Bahamas, presumably to consider his options, and wound up in the VIP area of the Aura Nightclub at the Atlantis Resort, where he was tagged by paparazzi hugging a brunette on his lap with "a blonde on deck," according to the caption in the New York Post. You had to wonder what he was thinking, what kind of advice he was getting.
Alex gets a lot of advice, and not just from his cousins and trainers and old buds like Gui Socarras (real estate, financial planning, swing pointers) and Pepe Gomez (real estate, helping Alex stretch, bringing the car around). The most visible is Alex's famously cold-blooded agent, Scott Boras, with his more than 70 employees in Newport Beach, Calif. Alex's manager is Guy Oseary, who also manages Madonna; he engineered Alex's signing with the William Morris Agency last summer "to extend his brand beyond baseball" and brokered the Katie Couric 60 Minutes piece that showed Alex, stone faced, saying he never needed to enhance his performance. His lawyers are now Jay Reisinger and James E. Sharp, who advised Andy Pettitte and Sammy Sosa when they testified before Congress. And finally there is the consulting firm Outside Eyes (also based in Newport Beach), which specializes in "media strategy, brand development and crisis management." It was cofounded in 2005 by Reed Dickens, who worked on the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign and went on to the White House as assistant press secretary. His partner Ben Porritt was the national spokesperson for McCain-Palin after doing battle as press secretary for Texas congressman Tom DeLay when the then House majority leader was indicted on criminal charges of conspiring to violate campaign finance laws. According to their company website, Outside Eyes maintains a "War Room" for monitoring news and formulating rapid responses. We're talking Baghdad-level crisis-management experience here.
So what was the plan? It was clear that Alex was going to have to make a statement, come clean, in order to move on. His advisers decided to offer him up exclusively to ESPN's Peter Gammons on the following Monday. Great idea. But then it didn't go all that well because Alex didn't seem to know anything except that when he was with the Rangers he had been dumb and young and it had been a different time. And then, answering a question about being tested during the World Baseball Classic in 2006, Alex wandered into an angry non sequitur: "... what makes me upset is that SPORTS ILLUSTRATED pays this lady, Selena Roberts, to stalk me. This lady has been thrown out of my apartment in New York City. This lady has five days ago just been thrown out of the University of Miami [by] police for trespassing. And four days ago she tried to break into my house where my girls are up there sleeping, and got cited by the Miami Beach police...."
March 2, 2009
None of this was true, but Gammons, the classy Hall of Fame baseball writer, suddenly turned softball king and followed up by asking, "How do you go about making people believe you?"
SI immediately issued a statement saying that the allegations were absurd.
Two days later Alex called Roberts. Helping him was Ben Porritt of Outside Eyes, who you had to figure was up to the job because of his experience explaining what Sarah Palin meant when she said the First Amendment should protect her from reporters.
"You're on speakerphone," Porritt announced when he reached Roberts on her cell. "I'm here with Alex."
It had been a bad week for Alex but he had been getting some serious coaching, and the idea was to hijack the situation and spin an apology in his own interest. That's why Porritt insisted it was off-the-record. Alex was not going to correct the record publicly, even after acknowledging privately that his allegations against her were false, and therefore he was not going to repair the damage to Roberts's integrity—her most valuable asset as a journalist. But Alex could say he had said he was sorry.
That same day, SI asked Porritt for a public apology from Alex. Ha, ha.
Alex went public again at the University of Miami (to which he had contributed $3.9 million) for the renaming of the baseball diamond as Alex Rodriguez Park. He told the crowd it was "really nice to get out on a Friday night." He got out on Saturday night too, sharing a Valentine's dinner at the Fontainebleau with model Melissa Britos, and again got tagged by paparazzi. But maybe it was good to stay visible, keep showing his stuff, but suddenly there were questions everywhere and in a rare sports cover, The New Yorker ran a beefed-up Alex signing autographs for tiny beefed-up children.
Reporting to spring training in Tampa the following Tuesday, Alex answered questions for 30 minutes at a Yankees press conference with Porritt in attendance. Again, it did not go well. The more questions Alex answered, the more questions he raised. And he made himself out to be the victim again. He had been young. Check. He had been dumb. Check. It had been a different time. Check. But the compelling silence when Alex choked up thanking other Yankees for their support got blown out when the next day's New York Post had a photo of Alex with an inset of his teammates at the press conference and the headline WE'RE WITH STUPID.
By Alex's estimation it will take 18 to 24 months for the story to blow over. It won't take that long. Fans forgive the player who performs on the field, and they are generally unsympathetic to the media that chews on a story too long. And Alex's steroid period was a different time. He was young. And he was stupid. Let's hope he can still hit.
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Alex listens to advisers who have BAGHDAD-LEVEL crisis-management experience.