Alex Rodriguez and the invisible depths of steroid abuse.

By William Saletan – Slate Magazine

I’m a regular reader of Slate, which features smart often contrarian writing about politics, culture and lifestyle. One regular column is called Human Nature, by William Saletan, a writer who specializes in parsing semantics and finding new or clearer meaning. Human Nature is about science, which allows him range broadly over a variety of topics.

I used to be a fan of his, but I stopped reading him after he wrote an explosive series about race and intelligence, quoting eugenics theorists who say there is racial difference without revealing that they often had ties to racialist groups. Saletan was trying to get at the truth about evolution, race, intelligence, and discuss how we should deal with legal, social and moral issues that come with knowing that there are racial differences in intelligence. That’s perhaps a brave and worthy topic, if you’re being speculative, but Saletan wrote it up as if the issue had been settled scientifically. It certainly has not been, and to assert that it is was a horrible blunder that destroyed the trust I had him as a writer.

Today he writes a piece, a horribly naive series of questions about ARod and baseball’s steroids testing, that purportedly points out that PED use is inevitably broader than the number of people caught (doh!), but also uses a broad brush to make all sorts of implications that just a little work would have taught him were false. 

The 2003 secret tests weren’t secret. They were part of a deal between MLB and the union. Everyone knew about them, and I’m pretty sure we can say there were no other agreed upon testing programs before 2003. To suggest that there were is just dumb.

If there were no other tests then the government didn’t seize any other results and the Union didn’t suppress them. If those things didn’t happen, and again, there is a nearly zero chance they did, to assert that they might have is just bogus and exploitative.

Saletan does talk about the allegations that Gene Orza, of the player’s union, warned A-Rod and others of the impending 2004 tests, as the basis for the union perhaps warning other players about other tests. Could have happened, I’ll give him that one. 

But a time line in the NY Times today shows that the 2004 testing didn’t begin until July of 2004, and the 104 players who tested positive in 2003 weren’t tested until they had been informed they’d tested positive–in September! With just a few weeks of testing to go between being told of their 2003 positive tests and the end of the season, those players were in effect told when the tests would happen, without actually being told. It becomes unclear how explosive the charge against Orza could be in this instance, but we’ll have to see what develops.

The reason the 2004 testing started late was because the union and the owners disagreed about technical issues involving the tests and the definition of a positive test, according to the Times. No one knows why it took the union months to inform the players who tested positive in 2003 about that after federal investigators seized the urine samples in April 2004. And no one knows why the union didn’t destroy the samples, as it was legally allowed to do, once the results had been certified in November 2003, which would have ensured the player’s anonymity, which had been a crucial component of the 2003 testing.

(I have a question. I assume that no one knew which players tested positive until the federal investigators seized the samples, at which point it became necessary to find out who they were in order to inform them that the government had their names and their positive tests. But I don’t know that. I’ve never seen the point addressed directly. Or maybe I should go back and reread the Mitchell report. But unless that was the case then the results weren’t really anonymous anyway.)

But I’m getting off track here. The point is that Saletan ignores the facts and just makes stuff up, and while that doesn’t invalidate his overall point (that more players used than tested positive in 2003) and while he points out that what he’s suggesting isn’t necessarily true, it is really bad form that most of his questions almost certainly aren’t true. That’s just shoddy.

Pat Jordan on the trouble with sports journalism.

By Pat Jordan – Slate Magazine What isn’t clear to me is how we could ever return to those halcyon days when athletes were too dumb and powerless to protect their interests? I also question whether the change Jordan describes is because things have really changed, or is it that when Jordan met Catfish Hunter by the pool he had far more status and represented the preeminent sports magazine of the day (that would be Sports Illustrated). When Jordan called Beckett recently he represented the NY Times Magazine, not really a sports magazine, and he himself is now an older freelance sportswriter, not from Mr. Luce’s empire. In other words, if Rick Reilly (who recently jumped from SI to the ESPN family of sports outlets, as Brent Mussberger described him today during the Belmont Stakes show) wanted to profile Beckett would Josh be as reticent? And might he go through with it anyway, even if he was? Nonetheless, a fun story from a thoughtful baseball writer. Maybe the only former baseball player who is a better writer than Doug Glanville, but I’m being glib.

[This post was rewritten some on June 7th, because I had some better ideas and because the initial presentation was crap. Sorry about that. I hope this helps.]

Buzz Bissinger Will Abuse You Into Civility

Serious Business: Gawker reefers a Bob Costas joint. Will “Deadspin” Leitch does a great job of explaining why the blogosphere is different than the mainstream media, and why both need to exist, but Bob and Buzz and (to a lesser extent) Braylon aren’t really listening. Will is brilliant, we all know, but the issue here is really about what’s news and why it matters. And he makes the far better argument than the workaday Buzz and the hyperprivileged Bob. That they seem to see him as some sort of sports journalism Al Queda is entrancing. Which is why I ended up watching all of the 18:00 minute clip, despite the curse words by the mainstream guys. That’s not newspaper talk.

Life After Barry Is a Strikeout At the Ballpark

WSJ.comThe economic impact of Barry Bonds turns out to be a survey of the craziness of fandom.  

In Baseball, Fear Bats at the Top of the Order –

Doug Glanville – New York Times

Yes, the former centerfielder, not only says what’s in the minds of ballplayers as their careers progress, but writes it beautifully.

The man making the case for steroids

Norman Fost is a scientist who makes many of the same arguments I have at various times against steroid hysteria (and in some sense in support of steroid use). He seems to go a step further, actually promoting steroid use, though I think that’s something of a rhetorical device. He wouldn’t get the attention he covets if he was less extreme.

The question for debate is really where we draw the line between enhancement and innovation. Ben Johnson using Winstrol may be comparable to a swimmer with a technologically better bathing suit, but I think we can decide to say it is not. Similarly, our belief in equal rights for those with physical handicaps (like no legs, let’s say) doesn’t necessarily mean that we should allow those with prostheses to compete in the same events as those with natural legs.

But how about having those with prostheses competing with those who take steroids?

Just wondering.

Further review on Tejada

Yesterday Miguel Tejada’s brother died in a traffic accident in the D.R., which turned a bad day for Tejada into a nightmare. A potential investigation into his alleged perjury before Congress was announced early in the day at the Congressional hearings. Last time, Tejada testified that he’d never taken steroids, while the Mitchell report includes cancelled checks made out to Adam Piatt, who said he sold Tejada drugs in 2003.

An item of interest in all this is that Rafael Palmeiro said he tested positive shortly after also testifying in front of Congress that he’s never used steroids because, perhaps, he’d used a contaminated needle when being injected with Vitamin B12 by Tejada. Since this is the same defense Roger Clemens is using, there is some question how pervasive the practice of players shooting up other players with B12 is?

The more common the practice the more likely Clemens’ big defense will hold up, absent documentary proof.

Peter Gammons: The Mitchell Report Song –

Exhibitionist –

I was hoping for a video link, which would have been more entertaining, but instead got comments filled with vitriol for Gammons because he didn’t break the steroids story back in the day. I’m not sure that’s fair, to single Gammons out anyway. Is it credible that he sat on actual evidence players were using?

What’s certainly true is that the press didn’t shrink from the story in general. Remember the uproar when the report found McGwire’s andro on the shelf in his locker?

Too bad the lyrics aren’t better.

Joe Torre Haiku

City Room – Metro – New York Times Blog

I have a hard time resisting the invitation to write bad poetry. Reading through the submissions for a Joe Torre haiku you can’t help (I don’t think) be struck by the nuance and twists the language makes available for a wide swath of ideas. I

I have to admit that my haiku in the comments is based more on my love of the pun than an expression of my feelings about Torre’s departure. For that, I’ll post exclusively here:

Morning’s easy stillness
A clubhouse full of calm
The runner is out at home.

For Rodriguez and Yankees, It’s All but Over

New York Times

“We have put it in writing and sent it to the Yankees,” Rodriguez’s agent, Scott Boras, said in a telephone interview.

That quote makes it seem that A-Rod’s departure from the Yankees is inevitable, and there is certainly no rush in NY today to get the lukewarm superstar to reconsider, but unless I misunderstand the Yankees and A-Rod have 10 days to figure things out. And, maybe, that letter lets Boras talk to other teams while also talking to the Yankees without forcing the Yankees to renounce the $20M the Rangers would owe them if A-Rod stayed under contract.

I haven’t see the mechanics of this addressed so far, but the “All but Over” construction in the hed seems to support this. Boras is a master of finding leverage and his problem here is that unless the Red Sox jump in right away it’s hard to generate much leverage to get the Yankees to bump up their offer.

On the other hand, the booming baseball economy could lead to a perennial also ran making an offer the maritally challenged A-Rod (Selena Roberts suggests elsewhere in today’s Times that Cynthia Rodriguez is behind the whole thing) can’t turn down.

I think the Texas money in the Yankees’ pocket makes it highly unlikely that A-Rod is going to find a good reason to go elsewhere, but the economics in the game are so crazy maybe he will. It certainly didn’t seem possible when the Rangers paid to dump him, did it?