Without Steroids, Would Alex Rodriguez Still Shine?

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Alex Rodriguez stands on the verge of joining the exclusive 600 home run club. Is that a juicy accomplishment, or a juiced one? Will drug testing in minor league baseball cure major league headaches? Host Scott Simon talks to Weekend Edition sports commentator Howard Bryant of and ESPN the Magazine about whether the Yankee slugger's achievement will be tainted by his admission of steroid use.


Scandal, drug testing, cries of cheating - must be time for sports.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: Alex Rodriguez stands on the verge of joining the exclusive, 600 home-run club. Is that a juicy accomplishment, or a juiced one? And will drug testing in Minor League Baseball cure major league headaches?

Howard Bryant, of and ESPN the Magazine, joins us.

Morning, Howard.

Mr. HOWARD BRYANT ( Good morning. How are you?

SIMON: Fine. Thank you. I think somebody else is trying to reach you on your other line. Tell them to hold on, okay, if they're listening.

Listen, A-Rod has 599 home runs. When he hits 600, is he going to stand with the likes of Aaron, Ruth, Mays and Junior Griffey - or with Bonds and Sosa?

Mr. BRYANT: Well, its obviously going to be with Bonds and Sosa because he's already admitted using performance-enhancing drugs and the numbers dont have any value anymore anyway. I think that weve all known that after what weve gone through for the last five years, that the numbers are going to be tainted. They dont have the same value. I very much doubt that most people can even name the top 10 home-run hitters in order, like we once were able...

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. BRYANT: ...or even what the all-time record is, held by Barry Bonds. It's a very different time. And I think that's one of the reasons why there's not a great deal of pageantry for this home-run chase. I think for the most part, it's all going to be pretty joyless from here on in - numbers-wise, at least.

SIMON: And this plan, announced this week, for Minor League Baseball to start testing for human growth hormone - forgive the analogy - but is that closing the barn door after the horses are out?

Mr. BRYANT: Well, I think it is. I mean, I think baseball is doing essentially what it felt the public and what the outcry wanted. And I think that the hard part for me, actually, is that this is something that has to be done. I think it's an extraordinary step.

I think that it's a little late in the game. But if you're moving forward -which is what baseball has always said it wanted to do - then this is the next, most obvious step, because this is the area where you're using drugs that cannot be detected by urine tests.

The privacy questions, however, if you're a citizen, are a little daunting, considering I don't think I'd want my employer taking blood samples from me. But it's a different industry, and these are very important questions, I think, from a civil liberties standpoint.

SIMON: And let me ask about USC, because the athletic director there, Mike Garrett, retired this week after this scandal that found Reggie Bush and others had been compensated - that means paid - or compensated, gifts and stuff, for playing college football. Pat Cayden - Hayden, forgive me, is going to come in to replace Mike Garrett.

What does USC do now? I mean, they used to be one of the great programs.

Mr. BRYANT: Sure. And now they're as scandal-ridden as the rest in that dirty game that we call college sports. But I think that one thing USC certainly could do is they could give - donate a little bit of the money that Reggie Bush earned for them and that they made off of him, instead of giving back the Heisman.

Everyone got away, just like they all do, when it comes to these sports scandals. Reggie Bush is a millionaire many times over, and he's with the Saints. Pete Carroll, the coach, he got his millions, and he left before the scandal hit by going to coach. The university got to keep its money. And Reggie Bush is the focal point, and you give back a piece of hardware. But the bottom line is, is that the university made a lot of money from Reggie Bush and all that was going on. You can't tell me they didn't know anything during.

SIMON: Let me ask you about Sweet Lou. Lou Piniella announced he is departing at the end of this season as manager of the Chicago Cubs. Now, since Sammy Sosa left the team, there hasn't been a hint of steroid scandal on the Cubs -because, as my wife points out, it would be a real scandal if they were taking steroids and losing as much as they do.

Mr. BRYANT: Which has been happening.

SIMON: So is Lou Piniella retiring from baseball, or do you think someone's going to try and bring him back next year?

Mr. BRYANT: I think Lou's a lifer. But I think he's had enough. He's had that weary look in his eye for about seven or eight years now. And I was surprised that he's lasted this long. It's an end of an era in baseball.

Remember when we were all growing up, the manager was the public face of the front office. You had the Lou Piniellas of the world, and the Billy Martins and those guys. And now, it's very different. And not only that, but Joe Torre turned 70 last weekend. And Bobby Cox of the Braves, he's retiring.

So outside of Tony La Russa and maybe, you know, and Dusty Baker, it's a new day. That old-school manager, with the chaw in his mouth arguing with the umpire, is a thing of the past. And now, the general manager is now the public face of pretty much every organization.

SIMON: Well, some of us still watch Ozzie Guillen, but...

Mr. BRYANT: Ozzie - exactly. But Ozzie shares power. Ozzie, you know, that's pretty much Kenny Williams and Jerry Reinsdorf's team as well. It's a very different game. And I'm going to miss Lou. He's one of my all-time favorites. Every time you see him, you never knew what you were going to get, but it was certainly going to be interesting.

SIMON: Howard, thanks so much.

Mr. BRYANT: My pleasure.

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