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No one knows what to expect from A-Rod, but an apology would be a good start, experts say

Alex Rodriguez follows through on his seventh-inning grand

Alex Rodriguez follows through on his seventh-inning grand slam against the San Francisco Giants at Yankee Stadium. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Alex Rodriguez's return to the Yankees is less than five weeks away.

Officially, he's already back from serving his one-year suspension, but next month, he will appear at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa to face the fans -- and the media.

Many believe Rodriguez, 39, has some explaining to do after a protracted battle with Major League Baseball over his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs in connection with the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic investigation. It led to 13 suspensions, including 211 games for Rodriguez, reduced to one season through a contentious arbitration process.

For some, the bottom line may be Rodriguez's performance at the plate.

"For me, if he can still hit, he will be forgiven,'' longtime Yankees fan Ian Isanberg of Rye Brook said. "All I know is the last time he apologized, the Yankees won the World Series.''

Rodriguez, however, comes to spring training as a marginalized player with $61 million remaining on his contract. He appears to have lost his third base job to Chase Headley and likely will look for at-bats as a designated hitter.

General manager Brian Cashman has said he doesn't know what the team can expect from Rodriguez, who turns 40 in July and has had surgery on both hips. He played only 44 games in 2013, hitting .244, a significant drop from his previous .300 career batting average.

While his skills are sure to come into question, a longer shadow has been cast on his character.

During Rodriguez's appeal of his suspension after MLB's investigation into performance-enhancing drugs supplied by the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic, he and his representatives denied any connection to PEDs.

Then, two months ago, the Miami Herald reported that Rodriguez, in return for immunity from prosecution, admitted under oath to federal agents and prosecutors in January 2014 that he used performance-enhancing drugs provided to him by Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch from 2010 to 2012.

If there is a strategy being planned for his return, it has been tightly held. Ron Berkowitz, Rodriguez's public-relations consultant, has not commented. Published reports have Rodriguez working out in Florida.

"A-Rod's going to be in a difficult situation to now turn around and say that was all a lie,'' Manhattan attorney Todd Spodek said, noting that in his opinion, an apology could help. "People respect remorse.''

Attorney Alan Ripka, who represented Rodriguez in an action against Yankees team doctor Christopher Ahmad, said: "Alex will go to his team and he will have the discussions that he thinks are appropriate with people on the team individually or cumulatively. He's a human being. He's got issues in his life like anyone else. He'll address each and every one of them with his teammates. I'm certain everybody will get over them and focus on the issue at hand.

"Like all other human beings, when you make an error and you pay your penalty to have the opportunity to come back and move forward with your life. My advice would be lingering in the past and trying to discuss the details of each and every issue, which there are claimed to be many, does not help this. Reliving it, retelling or retrying it is not the answer, in my opinion.''

Some in crisis management firms employed to help high-profile individuals repair their public images believe Rodriguez must address the matter.

He did just that in 2009 when, on the heels of a Sports Illustrated story linking him to PEDs, he admitted using PEDs during a three-year period beginning in 2001 when he played for the Texas Rangers. At that time, in an interview with ESPN and then with reporters at spring training, Rodriguez tried to strike a note of contrition.

Rodriguez appeared to have plenty of equity from the Yankees at that time. "This is an asset that's currently in crisis, so we will do everything we can to protect that asset,'' Cashman said then.

Even if Rodriguez does apologize again, will it resonate?

"Contrition, the apology, that's strictly a tactic,'' said Ernest DelBuono of Levick's Crisis Practice in Washington. "Those are tactics, and if the person doesn't know what it is they want to be and how they want to be perceived, there's no point in going out and giving an apology if the apology isn't going to either ring true or people aren't going to accept the apology . . . He's going to have his own narrative, but the narrative is going to have to be backed up by facts.

"He really has two choices: He says nothing, which is going to be difficult, or he says, 'The facts speak for themselves. I've paid my penalty; now I just want to play baseball and be the best I can for the New York Yankees.' That's another sort of a no-statement statement.

"In order for it to work, an apology has to be 'I did it, it was wrong, here's who I hurt.' It could be the fans, his teammates, any players whose records basically have been tarnished, the records he created that he didn't get fairly. 'Here's who I harmed. I'm taking my punishment. Here's what I'm going to do to prevent it from happening again,' and then he has to have actions that firmly display that.''

Jonathan Bernstein, a crisis manager in Monrovia, California, said: "I think he should be absolutely honest at this point. To whatever extent he has already admitted for the record anyway, he should not hesitate to say that again more publicly and to acknowledge that he made a mistake. And then to say I hope my fans will give me a chance to move on from here and prove that I'm committed to be an ethically, morally upright player.

"There's always going to be three segments of the audience he is talking to: fans who are behind him no matter what; people who are going to think if his lips are moving, he's lying; but the vast majority are fence-sitters. Really, it's a battle for the hearts and minds of the fence-sitters. That's who he has to focus on, the people who are undecided and willing to listen.

"As Lance Armstrong understands, as Tiger Woods understands the hard way, denying simply does not work. The court of public opinion will rip you to shreds.''

Sergio Rodriguez of Hispanics Across America, the group that supported Rodriguez by appearing outside the office of MLB during his hearing, continues to stand behind him.

"From Day 1, I was very clear that Alex never said to me or anyone, 'I didn't do anything,' '' he said. "We were not there to defend Alex in terms of where we agreed or disagreed whether he did anything or not. If he used steroids or didn't, that was totally up to Alex . . . Does he have to fix some type of an image with us? No.''

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