Who’s ‘This Lady’? Meet Selena Roberts, A-Rod’s Worst Nightmare

otrselena roberts Whos This Lady? Meet Selena Roberts, A Rods Worst Nightmare“This lady is coming out with all these allegations, all these lies, because she’s writing an article for Sports Illustrated and she’s coming out with a book in May. And really respectable journalists are following this lady off the cliff. And following her lead. And that to me is unfortunate.”

So spoke Mr. Rodriguez in an interview on the ESPN network on Feb. 9, but his misfortune, in the works for months, actually came to a head at 10:12 a.m. on the previous Saturday, when si.com reported that Alex Rodriguez had “tested positive for two anabolic steroids,” according to four independent sources.

“This lady is coming out with all these allegations, all these lies, because she’s writing an article for Sports Illustrated and she’s coming out with a book in May. And really respectable journalists are following this lady off the cliff. And following her lead. And that to me is unfortunate.”

So spoke Mr. Rodriguez in an interview on the ESPN network on Feb. 9, but his misfortune, in the works for months, actually came to a head at 10:12 a.m. on the previous Saturday, when si.com reported that Alex Rodriguez had “tested positive for two anabolic steroids,” according to four independent sources. It was arguably Sports Illustrated’s biggest story since it told the world that Pete Rose had a gambling problem.

Since the piece was published, Mr. Rodriguez has admitted its central news break: He has, indeed, taken steroids.

So what did this lady, Selena Roberts, have to say about Mr. Rodriguez’s allegations?

“I think I was saying to myself, ‘That’s a really interesting take on what just happened!’” Ms. Roberts told Off the Record in a phone interview. “It’s not at all close to what happened. I wrote it off: It’s a diversionary tactic to throw blame on the messenger. … He’s probably upset with me and maybe he wants to divert the attention to the credibility of the article, which is not in dispute.”

“This is the biggest news break since I arrived in 2002,” Sports Illustrated editor Terry McDonnell said on the phone.

The piece he assigned was not in fact this one: It was to revisit whether he actually fit in as a Yankee, and go over the last two seasons in which Mr. Rodriguez has been romantically linked to a stripper, subsequently divorced, and then linked, romantically again, to super-cougar Madonna.

More recently have been Hollywood efforts on his behalf by William Morris, and a very public feud with his former manager, Joe Torre.

There was plenty of material for a write-around. But as Ms. Roberts dug deeper into the story, she started hearing more and more credible information about Mr. Rodriguez’s use of steroids. And so a magazine piece that anyone could have written became, because of careful reporting, a nice, sharp, clean news break.

It was not a fast bit of work. David Hirshey, the executive editor at Harper, an imprint at HarperCollins, remembers the call he got from Ms. Roberts’ agent, Mark Reiter.

“Mark told me about four months ago that Selena was deep in an investigative piece on A-Rod and she would probably need three issues of Sports Illustrated to tell it all,” said Mr. Hirshey. “And that there’d be a lot of great stuff left over.”

But after more rumors about A-Rod and steroids floated in connection with Kirk Radomski’s book, Bases Loaded, the field of reporters looking to link Mr. Rodriguez with performance-enhancing drugs was starting to thicken.

Ms. Roberts, along with her colleague David Epstein, followed up on the rumors they were hearing. Slowly, stories they were hearing proved credible. Stories started to match up. They took a few weeks in January and the earliest part of last week to nail it down. 

Last Wednesday, Feb. 4, they were ready to go, and Ms. Roberts took a flight to Miami so she could confront Alex Rodriguez with the facts directly. There were no phone calls beforehand; no warnings to A-Rod’s super-agent, Scott Boras.

Ms. Roberts showed up to the ghastly, man-made fantasy land in Miami called Star Island, where A-Rod hangs his cap, on the morning of Feb. 5. She was stopped at a gate, and Ms. Roberts identified herself and wondered why she was being stopped—Star Island, she thought, had public access. The woman at the gate wouldn’t let her in. There was a dispute. Ms. Roberts asked the woman if she could call someone to prove that it was a public island. The woman said she could call the police. Ms. Roberts said sure, go right ahead.

The police came and confirmed that Ms. Roberts had the right to be there. The police, she said, wrote up a report on this because that’s common procedure. In any event, she drove on in, drove by A-Rod’s house, and it didn’t look, from the outside, that anyone was home. No dice.

Off to Plan B. She had heard about his morning workout routines at the University of Miami gym.

So she went there and identified herself to the guy at the front desk. He told her Mr. Rodriguez was working out in the back. The gym’s a big place–would there be too many people around for her to feel comfortable telling the slugger she was going ahead with a story about his steroid use? But it was quiet–just a couple guys on bikes and that was it.

A-Rod wasn’t cooperating with the book, but he knew her going back to her Times days. She knew he would recognize her immediately.

He had just finished lifting some weights, and he was doing some stretching, with a friend and a trainer. The music was loud. How possible would it be to speak to him without anyone overhearing? But when he saw her out of the corner of his eye, he wasn’t happy. Ms. Roberts presented the facts to him. Big story. Several sources. She heard he tested positive for steroids in 2003. Care to comment?  “You’ll have to talk to the union,” he said.

She left the gym and got on a conference call with her editors back in New York, setting up 48 hours of due diligence—reporters called the baseball union, went to speak to Gene Orza, an executive with the union, and waited for call-backs.

Then, they broke it.

“We reported this story aggressively and carefully,” said Mr. McDonnell.

Meanwhile, across town on Eighth Avenue, the loss was especially painful.

The Times had been chasing the A-Rod story. “We were working on it for many weeks,” said Tom Jolly, the paper’s sports editor. “It’s a story whenever there’s smoke around A-Rod for a period of time, and we were chasing that smoke.”

“She did a great job,” said Mr. Jolly of his former colleague’s scoop. “I don’t think there’s any solace with who we get beat by, though.”

“They’re still my good friends,” said Ms. Roberts. “I didn’t think, ‘Oh, I’m beating the place where I used to work!’ I respect the heck out of the other people. I respect [Times sports reporter] Mike Schmidt’s work a ton. He’s had more than his share of big stories. On this one, it went our way. I’m sure next time, it’ll go his way.”

But not, of course, if she can help it.

“I am going to continue to work on this book,” said Ms. Roberts when asked if she’s got more news coming. “And that’s where I’m going to leave it.”

“The book is still a work in progress,” said her book editor, Mr. Hirshey. “I assure you she has more drug revelations as well as other news. Not everything that Selena has on A-Rod’s steroid participation has come out yet.”

jkoblin@observer.com