He went on, of course, to become the first quarter-of-a-billion dollar player with the help of the savviest agent in baseball, if not all of sports, Scott Boras.
In short, A-Rod was never the country bumpkin he's tried to portray himself as over the past week after fessing up to a report that he used steroids. The ultimate proof: the publication-relations strategy he and his PR team successfully pulled off the past few days without most of us even realizing it.
I'm talking about the "cousin." It is, to quote those two Guinness brainiacs, "brilliant." Genius, really. Mensa-level stuff. A-Rod flipped the script. It is sports' version of the Twinkie defense.
For 24 hours, I thought A-Rod should demand back whatever he paid his long-time personal PR man, Richard Rubenstein, and the Newport Beach, Calif.-based PR agency, Outside Eyes, to handle his crisis. Not anymore.
The key moment from his spring training apology to the world that was once his oyster wasn't when he detailed how, and how often, he used steroids. It wasn't when he suffered that 37-second pause with lip quivering, apparently fighting back tears.
Instead, it was when he revealed that it was some cousin he wasn't going to name who started and facilitated his three-year long drug habit and concluded his mea culpa, part two, with a plea: "The only thing I can ask of the American people is to judge me from this day forward."
That was the set up to throw us all for a loop. We just didn't know it.
After all, A-Rod and his PR team figured correctly that most of us had become so cynical and suspicious about his whole steroids affair that we weren't likely to believe anything of what A-Rod had to say, save that he used steroids for some period of time. He'd already told 60 Minutes a few years ago that he was clean as a fresh needle when, we know now, he wasn't.
Why would we believe what he said now about only using steroids for a three-season period with one guy none of us ever heard of? Why should we believe that he wasn't, as Jose Canseco suggested, using drugs way back in the late '90s? Why should we believe that from here on out A-Rod wouldn't dare dabble with some rogue substance out there that is beyond detection methods that are available?
The answer to it all is "the cousin," identified on Thursday by ESPN as Yuri Sucart, a Miami man.
We haven't seen him. We haven't heard from him. But we know from a woman identified as his wife, and from several other people in A-Rod's personal baseball circle, that he exists.
The cousin has been A-Rod's Man Friday for a number of years. Now he is A-Rod's savior.
Chris Carlson, AP
Ezra Shaw, Getty Images
Kena Betancur, AP
Jim Rogash, Getty Images
Nick Laham, Getty Images
Jim McIsaac, Getty Images
New York Post
Tony Gutierrez, AP
Morry Gash, AP
Amy Sancetta, AP
He is A-Rod's savior because A-Rod needs for two things to happen right now. He needs us to believe he didn't use drugs before 2001, and he needs us to believe he can be trusted from this season on. He needs us to grant him enough credibility to, at best, be considered what he was -- arguably the best baseball player of his generation -- and save his induction to the Hall of Fame.
So he and his PR team decided to volunteer a cousin who we all figured was like "the friend" Michael Irvin said owned the drug pipe found in Irvin's car that Irvin said he possessed only with the intent of disposing to help his friend beat a habit. Irvin produced the friend under agreement that his identity not be revealed. Or maybe A-Rod's cousin was like "the friend" Chris Webber said left drugs on his person once that wound up getting him busted.
We've heard these defenses enough on COPS to know they don't stand up. Unidentified cousins and friends are like a fire alarm on the wall for the suddenly compromised -- break glass in emergency.
But A-Rod's cousin, it turns out, does exist. And his existence gets A-Rod not more steroids this time, but some old credibility back.
A-Rod said all he wanted from the public was their trust in him from here on. He produced the co-conspirator for his fraudulent years in the game. He does exist. There is reason, therefore, to believe in A-Rod for this season and beyond, if not the 2000 season on back.
A-Rod the A-Rube he is not.