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A-Rod must step to plate, take the hit

ARLINGTON, Texas -- A month after his general manager publicly advised him to "shut the f--- up," the time has come for Alex Rodriguez to speak up.

Ryan Braun, one of the two big fish in Major League Baseball's investigation of Biogenesis (the suspected drug den disguised as an "anti-aging clinic"), has been hooked, reeled in and filleted.

A-Rod, the other big fish, is next, floundering before the bait while baseball's investigators prepare to set the hook.

This is not the time to hide behind spokespeople or lawyers, to issue "no comments" or simply to run and hide. The big fish cannot afford to clam up.

Alex Rodriguez needs to do what Andy Pettitte did six years ago: Man up. Open up. And tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but.

It seems as if baseball wasn't bluffing when it leaked, through various lieutenants in and out of the media, that its case against Braun and Rodriguez was virtually airtight, and that even without a positive drug test, it would bury the two, along with something like 20 others, in a blizzard of incriminating paper and hours of unshakeable testimony.

There must be a whole lot of truth in it, or else there's no way Ryan Braun, cocksure to the point of arrogance when he overturned his 2011 steroid suspension on a legal technicality, would so meekly accept a 65-game suspension, without appeal, and issue a mealy-mouthed "apology" of sorts in which, Nixon-like, he accepted the responsibility, but not the blame.

"As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect," Braun said in a statement. "I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions."

Braun went on to mention "the toll it has taken on his family," and "the distraction" it has been to his teammates, without acknowledging that he was the cause of that toll and those distractions. But nowhere does he acknowledge his PED usage; nowhere in the statement does the word "steroids" appear. That kind of thing might play in Milwaukee (although I doubt it), but it will never play in New York.

Alex Rodriguez needs to finally and completely bare his soul on what he did and why he did it. No glib lines about popping tic-tacs, no evasive double talk, no blaming his "mistakes" on a doctor or a personal trainer or an adviser or a cousin.

He should do what Pettitte did back in 2007, two days after his name popped up in the Mitchell Report: speak with honesty and sincerity, and without the smugness and arrogance that often inhabits the public personas of our most privileged celebrities.

He needs to do this not for me or you (really, it doesn't affect my life one iota if Alex Rodriguez or any athlete did or did not use steroids, nor should it affect yours), but for himself, his self-respect and whatever he can salvage of his legacy. And in the process, he might win back some public sympathy, as Pettitte did six years ago, simply by being candid.

Pettitte was speaking about Ryan Braun on Monday when he said, "There's no doubt he made a mistake, but you move forward. The biggest thing is to mean what you say and move forward with it."

It certainly worked for Pettitte, who has suffered none of the recriminations that other players who took a different path had to endure.

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro denied. Mark McGwire obfuscated. Sammy Sosa pretended he didn't understand the question. In the court of public perception, all will carry the stigma of steroid cheat the rest of their lives, and all of them will hear about it, wherever they go.

Not so for Pettitte, who even if you don't quite buy his justifications for using HGH -- to recover quickly from an elbow injury in order "to help the team" -- you couldn't help but be moved by the way he dealt with each and every question in an honest and forthright manner, without hostility to his questioners and with real remorse for what he had done.

Six years later, Pettitte was being asked to answer many of the same questions again, by many of the same questioners. He gave many of the same answers, in the same manner.

"I know what I did," Pettitte said. "I don't even want to get back on that, but it's been in my rearview mirror ever since I've come back and played. For me it hasn't been an issue. I know there's been an awful, awful lot of people probably trying to go out and try to prove or think I was trying to lie about something when I said I wasn't doing anything to try to cheat, but it's been in my rearview mirror. I don't know how it will affect these other people."

Asked if something as stigmatizing as steroids could ever truly be in a player's "rearview mirror," Pettitte said, "It is for me. Never hear a word. When I came back I never heard about it."

Pettitte, a man of deep religious faith, put it down to the hand of God leading him through the jungle of public opinion. But when asked if simply dealing with the issue directly and honestly could have had an effect, he conceded, "Maybe. I'm not sure. But I still wonder how in the world it's turned out like it has for me."

Nothing to wonder about. We as a people have always been suckers for a confession, an apology, a public baring of the soul, and too often, our celebrities and athletes have taken us as such, feeding us rehearsed, insincere pap and passing it off as genuine remorse.

A-Rod did it himself in 2009, when at his preseason mea culpa about his earlier steroid use, he paused for a full 38 seconds, staring down at the floor in a simulation of true emotion when asked to describe how it felt to have his teammates present at his news conference.

There wasn't a moist eye in the house, least of all either of his.

He needs a do-over on that one, once more with feeling, and not just to make us believe he is telling the truth, but to actually try telling it.

It will take a huge dose of humility and probably require a distasteful public admission of some deep insecurities -- why else would a player as talented as A-Rod feel the need to juice up as a 25-year-old, and again after having narrowly escaped punishment the first time? -- but in the long run, it will pay a lot more dividends than continuing to protect a carefully constructed self-image that is already in ruins.

It is the approach Pettitte said he would recommend, not just for A-Rod, but for any player who finds himself in the position he was in six years ago, a mess of his own making that only he could extricate himself from.

"I wouldn't really know what else to say," he said. "I stood in front of all you guys. I told you guys everything I could possibly tell you."

And it worked. Because of it, Pettitte will never get into the Hall of Fame, but years from now it is unlikely anyone will yell "cheater!" or "phony!" at him from behind the protection of the crowd.

If nothing else, Alex Rodriguez should afford himself the same opportunity.

The all-time home run record and the plaque in Cooperstown are already out in the trash. So (right now) is A-Rod's image.

This is probably his only chance to pull it out of the junk heap, dust it off, polish it up and take it home with him, one of the last remaining mementoes of a baseball career that should have been so much more.