So I wasn’t terribly surprised when my Sports Illustrated colleague Selena Roberts and I learned from sources in 2009 that Rodriguez had tested positive for steroids six years earlier. And I certainly wasn’t surprised to hear in April that he had ties to the anti-aging clinic Biogensis.
In his vanity, Rodriguez is like the vast majority of people who use performance-enhancing drugs: gym-goers who want to be bigger, faster, stronger — and younger. He plays a game in which aging is unusually rapid, even by sports standards. And he’s a star in an era when steroids have created an unrealistic picture of the 30-something slugger — a picture that some players, and the executives who sign them, have trouble letting go.
When Yale economist Ray C. Fair mathematically modeled how hitters age, using the stats of every batter who played at least 10 full seasons between 1921 and 2004, he found that the typical peak is around age 28. By 29, as a group, hitters are in decline. (Pitchers tend to peak even earlier, around age 26.)
Rodriguez certainly seemed to be at the height of his game when he was 28: He won the MVP and Gold Glove awards in 2003 (and failed that drug test). He was still going strong four years later, when the Yankees gave him a new contract for 10 years and $275 million. But the idea that he would still be worth $20 million a year a decade hence, at age 42, defies logic and most of baseball history.
Indeed, A-Rod returned to the Yankees this past week after his second hip surgery. Even players who are assiduous in caring for their bodies, such as Derek Jeter, eventually become injury-prone. And as I learned while reporting my new book on the genetics of sports, aging in baseball is much more than creaky joints and threadbare cartilage.