A-Ron

By

Leonard Zwelling

            By
the time you read this, Alex Rodriguez’s career as a New York Yankee will
functionally be over. He may play through his appeal, but the New York media
have him gone and he is. Why?

            First,
if he used banned substances to enhance his performance, as he has been accused
of doing, he will be punished accordingly as was Ryan Braun, Lance Armstrong
and the remainder of those who knowingly cheated and were caught. But in this
case, there’s a bit more. A-Rod has been paid an exorbitant amount of money,
has performed in a lack luster fashion in the post season, and has made a
spectacle of himself with his various high profile girlfriends. And, of course,
as is always the case, he lied.

            On
the team the world loves to hate, he has become the player everyone hated the most.
His home runs were prodigious, and when he was good, he was very good, but an
ounce of humility goes a long way once your star begins to fall. A-Rod has
shown none. Rather he has taken a page out of Tiger Woods’ playbook with his
arrogance. Empathy among baseball fans and Hall of Fame voters may be hard for
him to find now.

            Although
not of A-Rod level star-like heights, the lunar orbit of Ron DePinho may also
be crashing to Earth. His trajectory bears an uncanny resemblance to one
erstwhile shortstop from Seattle now ensconced in previously unfamiliar
territory at third base for the Yankees. There is also a resemblance to another
New York embarrassment, Anthony Weiner, whose behavior can only be
characterized as immature in his need for exhibitionism and sophomoric in his
inability to own up to his shortcomings. Can none of these guys take a hint?

            Dr.
DePinho entered our collective consciousness in May of 2011 when he was named
to succeed Dr. Mendelsohn as MD Anderson’s fourth president. There were early concerns
even before his selection in that the three final candidates all lacked what
most faculty members had hoped for in a new president. After the Mendelsohn
years of high profile scandal, financial exigencies and a group of executives
around the president that was less than stellar since 2007, most faculty
members were looking forward to a clean slate. And they got it—only worse than
ever. Or did they? The executives surrounding DePinho were largely the same
people who gave us Mendelsohn III (after Enron [JM I} and ImClone [JM II]), the
disaster of 2008, and who were then overpaid for driving the clinical faculty
to pull them out of trouble. Why didn’t A-Ron bring in a new team when one was
so clearly needed? Answer: he had no idea how or worse. He didn’t even
recognize that one was so desperately needed.

            Instead,
the new MD Anderson leader poured resources into the basic sciences as the
clinical enterprise was driven harder than ever to generate revenue.
Information systems languished as needed upgrades were largely deferred. Major
figures in the faculty were discharged or rendered impotent and the Division
Heads (at least the ones remaining) elected not to challenge their new leader
for fear of their jobs. And with good reason.

            Meanwhile,
the new president established a private research institute/drug company within
the walls of MD Anderson with a higher pay structure than in the institution
at-large, spent a fortune on hiring new “talent” and generally ignored the
needs of the clinicians, the very people who create the wealth on which the president must depend to invest in the future. When the new president’s ethics came under
scrutiny, he seemed to make people long for John Mendelsohn’s relatively minor
infractions. At least John didn’t found Enron.

            A-Rod
will probably go down in history as a disgraced baseball player along with
Sammy Sosa, Mark McGuire, and Barry Bonds. What we all saw when they were
putting up those incredible numbers was shear fabrication manufactured from a
cloud of advanced pharmaceutical wizardry. I never saw a baseball hit any
harder than the one I saw A-Rod pummel into the left field seats in Cleveland.
As Kevin Costner said in Bull Durham, “anything traveling that far ought to
have a damned stewardess on it”. But what did I actually see? A-Rod or his
pharmacologist?

            Likewise,
we did finally see an MD Anderson president who was both a member of the
Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences. I cannot judge Dr.
DePinho’s basic science efforts as they are beyond my understanding. His tenure
as president has been nothing short of a total disaster. In retrospect, I wish
there was a steroid that he could have taken to enhance his performance.
Unfortunately, unlike anabolic steroids, humility does not come in pill form.

            A-Ron,
like his fellow New Yorkers, really needs a time out to sit in the corner and
think about what he has done and how it might be undone in a way to save what
is good about Anderson and stop narcissistically thinking it’s all about him.
Rodriguez will not be the Yankees third baseman next year. Anthony Weiner will
not be New York City mayor. If A-Ron wants to stay MD Anderson President, he
needs to convince the MD Anderson community that he recognizes that
narcissistic leadership is not leadership at all. The moon may revolve around
him, but the real world doesn’t.

Leonard Zwelling