January 20, 2014

#MLB & #roiding — are writers who say 'we didn't know' in willful denial?

My answer to that is yes, and I'll get there in just a minute.

Following this year's Baseball Hall of Fame election, Grantland's Bryan Curtis came out with a great piece titled, simply, "The Steroid Hunt."

It's chock full of links to stories from sportswriters going back 20 or more years. Its ground zero is Thomas Boswell, sports columnist for the Washington Post, commenter on Ken Burns' "Baseball" documentary, and for purposes of this blog post, inventor of the phrase "Canseco Milkshake," part ot the colorful contribution to the steroid mess by Jose Canseco when with the Oakland A's.

Boswell knew. But, as a columnist and not a beat writer, especially in a city that didn't have an MLB franchise at that time, there was not a lot he could do, especially when his sports editor whouldn't pick up the cudgels.

And, that's half the problem right there.

Keith Olbermann, at least, in one of the linked pieces, is totally honest about it, when he says "We all knew." He then regrets he didn't tell the story earlier and better.

And, then he talks about the clubhouse culture of all those beat writers and their editors. And, team-focused columnists, too; perhaps Boswell was lucky that the Nationals weren't yet in Washington and nobody from the Baltimore Orioles, well, nobody outside of Brady Anderson, if only for one season, was raising eyebrows.

Like, sadly, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Bernie Miklasz, identified in Curtis' piece as running some pretty willing interference for Mark McGwire.
The first of Wilstein's McGwire stories was pure Chevy commercial Americana. ("'Americans love power,' McGwire says. 'Big cars. Big trucks. Big people.'") The second was a preview of the doping journalism that would characterize the next 15 years of baseball writing. It's worth noting that from Wilstein's original question — how'd you get so big? — he was only able to put together a partial answer. But he got further than anyone else.

"I thought it was rock-solid reporting," said T.J. Quinn, who was covering the Mets for the Bergen County Record, "and that [Wilstein] was a victim of a clubhouse mentality that oozed up to the press box." The clubhouse code says that all secrets of the locker room must remain there. La Russa — again coming to his player's defense — tried to ban the AP from the clubhouse.

In an odd twist, several writers joined La Russa's crusade. ...

But the harshest blowback came from the St. Louis media. When the New York Post asked a local photographer to take a picture of McGwire's locker, the Post found that the photographer had ratted out the paper to the Cardinals. Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz, also working with the permission of the team, attempted to re-create Wilstein spotting the andro. Miklasz stood several feet from McGwire's locker. With Grassy Knoll precision, he announced in his August 24 column that he had to "intentionally look, and look hard" to read the label.

Wilstein dryly suggested that this was because Miklasz was too short.
I wasn't as skeptically minded about life in general then as today. And McGwire had been big enough when he first started with the A's, long before his Cardinals days. I only regret that Curtis doesn't have a link to the Miklasz column embedded. The Post-Dispatch's website, with the paper owned by a penny-stock company cheap enough to use Town News as its website host, returns zip on searches between Aug. 23 and Aug. 26, 1998.

So, when you see a sportswriter accusing "the rest of us" about being holier than thou over roiding? It's most likely defensiveness.

So, they can bite me.

Buster Olney had better never again bust Murray Chass over "bacne" when he wrote about it himself in 2002.

And Bud Selig needs to stop being self-righteously silent when players were openly talking about juicing, that same year.

And, players and GMs were going on background about it way back in 1995.

If there's a failure, it's of columnist types like Miklasz, who claimed andro was legal in 1998 (yes in baseball, no in football and in the NCAA, which he didn't say), to educate the public. And, maybe in 1995, the Internet was slim pickings, but it wasn't by 1998.

There's also a failure by columnists when they say, "It's no different than greenies," the amphetamine pills of an earlier age.

Olbermann calls bullshit on that, with the help of a man at Ground Zero of that era — Jim Bouton:
And then the bottle of “andro” showed up in McGwire’s locker. I can remember that week hearing the late baseball writer Leonard Koppett tell me on my show that nobody cared, that it wasn’t cheating, that it was nothing worse than vitamins or maybe, maybe, “greenies.” To his eternal credit, the author and former pitcher Jim Bouton not only disagreed, but got it exactly right. Some day, he says in the interview, baseball will have to reckon with years and years of records that will be artificially inflated, distorted beyond all measure, by the effects of a drug that lets you keep working out when the guys next to you – or before you, chronologically – have to drop the barbell.

And Bob Costas, whose judgment I will always respect, says, via Ken Rosenthal, that it's an issue of "authenticity." For those who claim this is just like "greenies," like Jeff Passan and others, again, no. Bob and Ken are, I think, coming from where Bouton is: it's not a cheating issue, it's an issue of how much it made some players inauthentic. And amphetamines, while they may have taken the edge off jet lag (or hangovers) didn't actually increase performance from a baseline level.

There's one related issue, not touched on by Fangraphs' Dave Cameron in a 2014 vote wrap-up piece, where he says that Hall of Fame voting, and possible changes to the system like expanding the ballot, is all about logic. Nope. The old "big Hall" vs "small Hall," which is definitely a matter of opinion, drives a lot of this debate. The issue of not voting for some alleged or actual roiders, and the worries about the "gridlock" it causes, are of less concern for we small Hallers. They're still of some concern, but certainly not the same degree.

So, to big Hallers getting hot under the collar for that reason? Sorry.Especially as I suspect that with some writers, it's not willful denial, it's just an other attempt to get a Big Hall nose under the tent flap.

As for Deadspin? It's opening a HOF vote to fans was pretty good. It's NSFW take on the Cubs mascot was, well, OK; the mascot could have been mocked in other ways, too. Its claim that Anthony Bosch could have, theoretically, been injecting A-Rod with nothing but distilled water? Laughably lame if satire, incredibly stupid if true. I don't buy into everything about how this was handled, but that's .... crap and nothing but. And, yeah, Deadspin has a large posse of contributors, but, I lost respect for it, as far as a repository of serious sports news.

And, as for big Hall writers who worry about the Murray Chass types and what they might be doing with potentially unfounded accusations? Well, a good lawsuit can address that. After Jack Clark ran off his mouth about Albert Pujols, El Hombre sued him. And, judging by his latest response, The Ripper is running scared.

On the plus side? Jon Paul Morosi notes that all the discussion over baseball's hall, and the lack of it for other sports, is a good thing. I generally agree. I'll add that, in the NFL's case, it reflects how unserious Roger Goodell is, and Paul Tagliabue before him, about addressing steroids in that league. It also addresses how unserious NFL-first fans are about that issue. Finally, it addresses problems with the NFL's voting process, where a mandatory minimum number of candidates MUST be elected each year.

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