How low will A-Rod go?

BOB ELLIOTT, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

Reports of steroid use while in high school by Alex Rodriguez did not set off news alarm bells for this columnist.

Not like the teletype machine when breaking news would move and three bells would ring in a newsroom in the 1970s.

Yet, news of Rodriguez, who admitted steroid use during the 2001-03 season, tipping opposing hitters takes the New York Yankees third baseman to a newer, lower level.

Author Selena Roberts' book A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez details his days with the Texas Rangers. As a shortstop he would tip opposing hitters as to what pitch was coming next. Only to opposing infielders (so the favour could be returned) and only in blowouts.

With every pitch covered by broadcast TV or the in-stadium feeds, this will take time to check out, but it is a charge which should be investigated by the commissioner's office.

How would you like to be on the mound with the Rangers down 11-2, give up a three-run homer to someone who knew what was coming and wind up in triple-A the next day?

If true, Rodriguez not only can be mentioned in the same breath as Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens, but now he can hang with Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson, both banned from baseball for betting on the game. While he didn't bet, he certainly helped alter the outcome with his treacherous act.

"Helping the other team? I like Alex and I'm not about to crucify Alex," said former Texas and Blue Jays outfielder Frank Catalanotto. "But if that's the case, I'm very disappointed.

"If it happened, it would surprise me. I hope it's not true."

Catalanotto said opportunities were there -- "we had a lot of blowouts" -- but he didn't see any evidence of Rodriguez acting any differently from his position at shortstop in 2001-02.

"(Tipping opposing hitters) has to be one of the biggest no-no's in the game. I've heard of catchers helping hitters they were friends with by telling them a fastball was coming. I think that was totally wrong."

In 1981, the Pittsburgh Pirates suspended minor-league catcher Angel Rodriguez from the single-A Carolina League affiliate for telling opposing Hispanic hitters what pitch was coming.

And in 1999, the Milwaukee Brewers did the same with minor-league catcher Jeff Alfano. Cecil Cooper, then the player-development director, gave Alfano a 30-day suspension.

"I don't know anything about the accusation, but if anyone did that it is absolutely despicable," said Paul Quantrill, who pitched 14 years in the majors. "I hope it isn't true."

The only way to find out if it's true is to look at replays and see if anything can be detected.

Roberts told Sports Illustrated that people with the Rangers detected a pattern whereby Rodriguez appeared to be giving away both type and location to hitters. It always was middle infielders so they could repay him back.

According to Roberts' sources: "If it was a change, he'd twist his glove, a slider, he'd sweep the dirt in front of him and he'd bend in the direction of where the pitch was going to be, inside or outside."

The outcomes of games were not affected.

We talked to two former major-league all-star shortstops.

One said: "Telling the other team what's coming is worse than steroids. With steroids a player hurts himself, but helping the other team hurts the livelihood of the pitcher."

The other shortstop didn't think that there would be enough time to pick up the signal and have the hitter re-focus on the pitcher, although he admitted runners on second routinely flash location to their teammates who are hitting.

"I had catchers tell me what was coming," said the retired shortstop. "It would be 'here comes a fastball big boy.' And they would throw me a curve. I don't believe any of it."

Rodriguez had three hits, including two homers yesterday playing for the Yankees' extended spring team in Tampa.


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