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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Bryan Curtis (Grantland): What the Baseball Writers Were Doing During the Steroid Era

Lots of fascinating stuff in this one: Ray Ratto talks about Thomas Boswell’s swinging ####; Richard Justice on Bagwell; Jose Canseco lying in bed talking about steroid users; TJ Quinn on overhearing Bonds’ testimony. RTFA.

Baseball writers knew, right? They knew and they didn’t tell us. Well, by the mid-‘90s, they knew something. But it was hard to square what they knew with what they could get past their editors.

Back then, before McGwire and Braun and Melky Cabrera, a scout would lean against the cage and nod at certain ballplayers. “See that guy?” he’d say. “He’s making my job hard.” Players like Frank Thomas and Tony Gwynn would complain loudly; Ken Griffey Jr. did the same, but usually off the record. But the players would hesitate to name their colleagues, and they had little evidence.

“It was truth without portfolio,” said Ratto. “It was quote marks, truth, close quote marks.”

Howling John Shade Posted: January 08, 2014 at 05:26 PM | 45 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: bbwaa, steroids

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   1. Howling John Shade Posted: January 08, 2014 at 06:43 PM (#4634055)
One more quote from near the end:
"We're all jackasses," said Dan Shaughnessy, the Boston Globe columnist. "You can't be consistent. I get it."

"Would you rather have somebody vote who cares or who doesn't give a ####?" said Bob Ryan.

It depends on what the writer means by "cares." The Steroid Era baseball writers have thought deeply about PED users and have come to wildly different conclusions.

Bob Nightengale is convinced that the journalistic scrutiny of '90s ballplayers was uneven. He figures you shouldn't vote for Bagwell — and against Bonds — just because the Chronicle I-Team never made it to Houston. Nightengale votes for everyone.

Tom Verducci still thinks about the clean players he talked to in 2001. He thinks of those players as victims. He says he'll never vote for a known PED user.

Steve Wilstein won't vote for his old quarry, McGwire. He does vote for Bonds. He says he shows care by not punishing the latter for following the path of the former.

T.J. Quinn shows he cares by tossing his ballot in the trash.

Everyone cares — that's the scary part. It doesn't require much of a leap to see that what the writers care about isn't just the final judgment of an era's worth of baseball stars. It's the final judgment of an era's worth of journalism.
   2. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 08, 2014 at 06:44 PM (#4634056)
Really terrific eye-opening stuff. Great piece.
   3. madvillain Posted: January 08, 2014 at 07:14 PM (#4634084)
I just RTFA and someone is lying as you can't square this:

Back then, before McGwire and Braun and Melky Cabrera, a scout would lean against the cage and nod at certain ballplayers. "See that guy?" he'd say. "He's making my job hard." Players like Frank Thomas and Tony Gwynn would complain loudly; Ken Griffey Jr. did the same, but usually off the record. But the players would hesitate to name their colleagues, and they had little evidence.


with this:

Everybody says, 'You knew. You knew,'" said Richard Justice, who was the national baseball writer at the Washington Post. "I didn't even know what there was to know." Indeed, unless a baseball writer had covered the NFL or Ben Johnson in Seoul, he had little medical knowledge of steroids. Major League Baseball encouraged such ignorance. The league had no steroid testing policy.


My opinion is that Justice was either willfully ignorant (see no evil type) or is lying now to protect his reputation, or something.

Good article not really eye opening in the sense that you had to have a child's sense of naivete to believe nobody was aware of steroid use in baseball during the "steroid era".
   4. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: January 08, 2014 at 07:28 PM (#4634087)
It's all the writers' fault.

Snore.
   5. tfbg9 Posted: January 08, 2014 at 07:41 PM (#4634096)
Good article not really eye opening in the sense that you had to have a child's sense of naivete to believe nobody was aware of steroid use in baseball during the "steroid era".


Myself? I just thought an ever-increasing number of players were getting serious about lifting weights, and were using modern Nautilus machines that delivered better results; that weight training had gained widespread acceptance as a wise way for a ballplayers to train, after being frowned upon for decades beforehand by "baseball people".

   6. madvillain Posted: January 08, 2014 at 07:48 PM (#4634100)
Myself? I just thought an ever-increasing number of players were getting serious about lifting weights, and were using modern Nautilus machines that delivered better results; that weight training had gained widespread acceptance as a wise way for a ballplayers to train, after being frowned upon for decades beforehand by "baseball people".


That makes sense.

I've argued this point before but in my personal experience as someone involved in fairly high hs athletics and low level college athletics during the late 90's and early aughts -- is that its (supplements) a huge part of lifting culture and sports culture. Half the guys on my DIII baseball team were openly on T supplements and creatine (not to equate the two) it's just part of "better, faster, stronger...through science".

I guess the stereotypically pencil necked geek sportswriter never got much past JV sports so they weren't a part of many locker rooms or weight rooms, but once you get into low level college athletics you have guys that are serious about it, serious enough to know what can give them an edge.

There was another poster that echoched my thoughts in this in another steroids thread, he too played DIII sports and found much the same. If it's happening in DIII, well, it's happening in pro ball.
   7. Howling John Shade Posted: January 08, 2014 at 07:48 PM (#4634101)
It's all the writers' fault.

Snore.
I don't think that was the point of the piece at all. It does a pretty good job of pointing out the difficulties reporters faced in actually getting any steroid story into print.
But reporters still couldn't fashion a story from pure pluck. As it happened, almost every PED user outed in the press came as a result of reporting on official documents (the federal investigations, the 2003 "confidential" test) or by eliciting a confession. "If you tried to report a story in '98 on McGwire and Sosa with three anonymous sources, my sense is you would never have gotten that story in the paper," said Mark Fainaru-Wada, who reported on the BALCO scandal for the San Francisco Chronicle. "If you did, it wouldn't have resonated. It would have been totally different."
   8. jdennis Posted: January 08, 2014 at 08:58 PM (#4634152)
#6

I graduated HS in 2004. Went to a typical 2k student HS in a city. You talk of T supplements and creatine as if it were controversial. That stuff was used by everyone and seen as something you took by middle school. People took it in Little League. Girls took it. People who didn't play sports took it. Basically every rich kid took it just to look cool. Any kid not using it (for instance me) was automatically assumed to be someone who would obviously be cut because they were clearly ignorant of how sports even worked. It turned me off because it was like, nothing is even about skill, it's all how much can you bench and what's your 40 time and how much money are you willing to spend. It was just a bunch of rich meatheads, not even the people who were the most talented at the younger ages.

   9. For the Turnstiles (andeux) Posted: January 08, 2014 at 09:00 PM (#4634156)
Dan Shaughnessy wrote in the Boston Globe, "No wonder players loathe the media."
   10. madvillain Posted: January 08, 2014 at 09:36 PM (#4634180)
It turned me off because it was like, nothing is even about skill, it's all how much can you bench and what's your 40 time and how much money are you willing to spend. It was just a bunch of rich meatheads, not even the people who were the most talented at the younger ages.


I agree that it wasn't controversial, however PEDs won't turn Ozzie Guillen into Frank Thomas, they can however turn a AAA player into a bench bat and a bench bat into a starter and a starter into an All Star and an All Star to an MVP and an MVP into the GOAT.
   11. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 08, 2014 at 10:14 PM (#4634195)
I meant eye opening as to what reporters knew and when they knew it.
   12. AROM Posted: January 08, 2014 at 10:19 PM (#4634200)
If that's true, then steroid discounting should be easy. Following that scale, just subtract 2 WAR for every year you think a guy juiced.

Bonds/Clemens are way over the line any way you cut it. McGwire has about 10 season equivalents of roiding, which puts him around 45. Palmeiro? No idea when he was supposed to have started, but Canseco's arrival is a possible point. That brings him down to 50 or so. In other words Palmeiro's career = Will Clark + steroids. I'm not taking this simple suggestion seriously, but so far it passes the smell test.
   13. valuearbitrageur Posted: January 08, 2014 at 11:38 PM (#4634240)
Steve Wilstein won't vote for his old quarry, McGwire. He does vote for Bonds. He says he shows care by not punishing the latter for following the path of the former.

T.J. Quinn shows he cares by tossing his ballot in the trash.


Wilstein won't vote for the guy who confessed, but will vote for the guy who was proven to have used Balco's best while denying he knew what it was. LOL for logical consistency.

Double LOL for TJ Quinn's punishment of Biggio, Trammel, Mussina, Schilling, etc for no good reason at all. Why do they even count this self centered cocksuckers ballot at all?
   14. valuearbitrageur Posted: January 08, 2014 at 11:43 PM (#4634243)
they can however turn a AAA player into a bench bat and a bench bat into a starter and a starter into an All Star and an All Star to an MVP and an MVP into the GOAT.


Nice theory, except McGwire destroyed the rookie HR mark in only a 150 games and GOAT was well on his way to becoming GOAT when both were still playing clean and looking like relative stick figures.

Add in that baseball HR rates stayed at historic levels for nearly a decade after testing started, and the theory dies for lack of supporting facts.
   15. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: January 08, 2014 at 11:46 PM (#4634246)
Every single player in MLB is taking supplements and vitamins up the wazoo. The "PED" line is a fuzzy one at best.

You gotta either vote for everyone, or give up.

   16. The Duke Posted: January 09, 2014 at 12:13 AM (#4634261)
I take this article to mean that Bagwell was definitely a PED guy?
   17. JE (Jason) Posted: January 09, 2014 at 12:20 AM (#4634263)
I found this exerpt pretty interesting:
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. This is an unfortunate tic of sportswriting — when a writer becomes so deadened by the code of silence that he begins to demand it himself. (This frequently occurs when writers blame players for "throwing teammates under the bus.") A Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist called Wilstein "rude." Dan Shaughnessy wrote in the Boston Globe, "No wonder players loathe the media."

I spoke to Shaughnessy recently about the steroid issue. "I've never been an investigative reporter," he said. "I'm not really interested in that. It's not what I got into this for."

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.
   18. shoelesjoe Posted: January 09, 2014 at 02:23 AM (#4634309)
"It did not register that something nefarious was going on," said Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan. "People say, 'You overlooked it!' No, I was stupid. … I'll take naive and stupid over willfully evil."


Willfully evil? Of course not. Willfully ignorant? Absolutely.

I remember Ryan going on The Sports Reporters during the late '90s and pontificating that the explosion in HRs was simply due to all those new smaller ballparks (never mind that balls were also sailing out of the older/bigger parks at an unprecedented rate), and pitching staffs being thinned out by expansion (never mind that even the best pitchers were giving up more HRs than they had in years past). The fact that a third of the players had become big as houses had apparently escaped the eagle eye of the intrepid columnist.
   19. base ball chick Posted: January 09, 2014 at 02:29 AM (#4634313)
i still do not understand why so many people are hysterical about creatine and androstenedione, both things that any CHILD could buy offn the GNC shelf. (i mean, when it was legal)

it was no different than taking anything else you could buy LEGALLY without a prescription

i do NOT get how anyone can say this is cheating

richard justice turning on bagwell like that is surprising. he has never done that before. and bagwell was not a bag of bones when he first came to the astros. where does this shtt COME from? justice wasn't even in houston
   20. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: January 09, 2014 at 03:43 AM (#4634319)
It's all the writers' fault.

Snore.


Was that second sentence your impression of the baseball media, from the late 1980s through the early 2000s?

If Wilstein deserves credit for the andro story, and if Verducci deserves credit for the Caminiti story, and if Williams and Fainaru-Wada get credit for the BALCO story, then perhaps we should skip the fainting couch whenever the concept of "discredit" is raised. (Especially when "it's all the writers' fault" wasn't the premise of the Grantland piece.)
   21. shoewizard Posted: January 09, 2014 at 04:28 AM (#4634322)
I still blame Selig.
   22. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: January 09, 2014 at 04:39 AM (#4634324)
Selig is the one true hero in this. He testified to Congress that he had taken the lead in fighting steroids in baseball a few years before the year he'd previously claimed to have first learned of their existence. Which isn't a lie because he didn't point at anybody when he said it.

Listen: Buddy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.
   23. Tripon Posted: January 09, 2014 at 04:57 AM (#4634325)

Wilstein won't vote for the guy who confessed, but will vote for the guy who was proven to have used Balco's best while denying he knew what it was. LOL for logical consistency.

Double LOL for TJ Quinn's punishment of Biggio, Trammel, Mussina, Schilling, etc for no good reason at all. Why do they even count this self centered cocksuckers ballot at all?


If TJ Quinn really is throwing his ballot into the trash and not sending his ballot, then his vote isn't counted.
   24. Andy McGeady Posted: January 09, 2014 at 06:56 AM (#4634331)
It's an excellent piece - a journey through the reporting of the time for the benefit of younger fans who might not have been "active" digesters of the media time, those of us who appreciate the reminder, and those who seem to wilfully suspend their own memories lest it interfere with their crying out from atop their moral soapbox.
   25. JE (Jason) Posted: January 09, 2014 at 09:21 AM (#4634351)
Wrong thread.
   26. TDF, situational idiot Posted: January 09, 2014 at 10:12 AM (#4634379)
I dunno. I think the piece glosses over the sportswriters' real fault in all of this: They're reporters.
I spoke to Shaughnessy recently about the steroid issue. "I've never been an investigative reporter," he said. "I'm not really interested in that. It's not what I got into this for."
I know that Shaugnessy is a favorite whipping boy around here, but he should be fired for this quote alone. Even as a beat reporter, if he has a tip or a hunch or whatever about a huge story, it's his job to find out what's going on.
"It did not register that something nefarious was going on," said Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan. "People say, 'You overlooked it!' No, I was stupid. … I'll take naive and stupid over willfully evil."
This is a guy who writes in the home town of the famous "STER-oids" chants.

There are people all over the country who, despite being horrible at their jobs still get to keep working. This piece seems to justify those horrible workers in one particular industry.
   27. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: January 09, 2014 at 10:13 AM (#4634380)
Selig is the one true hero in this. He testified to Congress that he had taken the lead in fighting steroids in baseball a few years before the year he'd previously claimed to have first learned of their existence. Which isn't a lie because he didn't point at anybody when he said it.


Bud had greater threats to baseball's integrity to deal with during this period - Mr. Steinbrenner had too much money and wasn't giving any to Bud's daughter Wendy.
   28. Davo's Favorite Tacos Are Moose Tacos Posted: January 09, 2014 at 10:20 AM (#4634395)
Excellent link--this was a great story. Thanks.
   29. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 09, 2014 at 10:21 AM (#4634396)
I spoke to Shaughnessy recently about the steroid issue. "I've never been an investigative reporter,"


This is the problem with modern sports reporting (and perhaps much of modern journalism). Too many writers think their job is PR man instead of investigator. They worry about "access."

Myself? I just thought an ever-increasing number of players were getting serious about lifting weights, and were using modern Nautilus machines that delivered better results; that weight training had gained widespread acceptance as a wise way for a ballplayers to train, after being frowned upon for decades beforehand by "baseball people".


I thought this for awhile too. I knew guys that were taking creatine and thought maybe that and some other stuff like andro was helping guys get bigger. My college roommate was a Cards fan and a big McGwire supporter, and we'd give him gruff about Mac taking andro, but I didn't think it was illegal or out of bounds. It wasn't til Caminiti's admission that I thought "oh yea, these guys are probably juicing."
   30. The kids disappeared, now Der-K has too much candy Posted: January 09, 2014 at 10:27 AM (#4634402)
I still don't think creatine and andro were out of bounds.
   31. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 09, 2014 at 10:35 AM (#4634406)
Nor do I. But it sounds like that may not have been all they were taking.
   32. The kids disappeared, now Der-K has too much candy Posted: January 09, 2014 at 10:52 AM (#4634419)
What? This is the first I've heard of this...
   33. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: January 09, 2014 at 10:58 AM (#4634427)
I remember Ryan going on The Sports Reporters during the late '90s and pontificating that the explosion in HRs was simply due to all those new smaller ballparks (never mind that balls were also sailing out of the older/bigger parks at an unprecedented rate), and pitching staffs being thinned out by expansion (never mind that even the best pitchers were giving up more HRs than they had in years past). The fact that a third of the players had become big as houses had apparently escaped the eagle eye of the intrepid columnist.

Is it clear that he's wrong? There was a huge increase in offense in 1993. That couldn't have been because a large group of player suddenly started juicing. I have no doubt that steroids had a big impact on runs per game, but I think there were a number of factors involved.
   34. cseadog Posted: January 09, 2014 at 11:02 AM (#4634433)
I spoke to Shaughnessy recently about the steroid issue. "I've never been an investigative reporter,"

This is the problem with modern sports reporting (and perhaps much of modern journalism). Too many writers think their job is PR man instead of investigator. They worry about "access."


Shaughnessy (aka "Shank" and "CHB") can be criticized for many things. Thinking of himself as a PR man is not one of them.
   35. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: January 09, 2014 at 11:08 AM (#4634443)
If you add an ICK, Shaughnessy is clearly a PR man.
   36. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 09, 2014 at 11:11 AM (#4634446)
Is it clear that he's wrong? There was a huge increase in offense in 1993. That couldn't have been because a large group of player suddenly started juicing.


Why not? Or at the very least, why could that not be at least a contributing factor?
   37. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: January 09, 2014 at 11:15 AM (#4634451)
I guess it's possible, but why would a large group of players start using between 1992 and 1993? Canseco had been in the league for a while at that point.
   38. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 09, 2014 at 11:30 AM (#4634464)
I guess it's possible, but why would a large group of players start using between 1992 and 1993?


Seems like these guys tend to go in packs to different trainers/workout facilities. If one or two of those facilities started pushing PEDs, it would reach a large number of players pretty quickly. And players tend to spread word of mouth on what works.

I don't think that was the only factor - you had games played in Denver for the first time, expansion diluting the league, newer smaller parks - but I think its naive to think PEDs or at the very least new legal supplements like creatine and andro weren't at least a contributing factor.
   39. Chip Posted: January 09, 2014 at 11:36 AM (#4634475)
I don't think that was the only factor - you had games played in Denver for the first time, expansion diluting the league, newer smaller parks - but I think its naive to think PEDs or at the very least new legal supplements like creatine and andro weren't at least a contributing factor.


The ball. Always start with the ball. When you look at what happened in '87 in conjunction with what happened from '93 forward, Occam's razor points to the ball as the largest factor by far.
   40. The kids disappeared, now Der-K has too much candy Posted: January 09, 2014 at 11:40 AM (#4634478)
I think the ball is the #1 reason as well, but there are many...

I don't know how to balance the benefits from expanded PED use on hitters v. pitchers in terms of net outcomes.
   41. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: January 09, 2014 at 11:48 AM (#4634491)
I don't think that was the only factor - you had games played in Denver for the first time, expansion diluting the league, newer smaller parks - but I think its naive to think PEDs or at the very least new legal supplements like creatine and andro weren't at least a contributing factor.

Absolutely. I think supplements and steroids played a big role. I just think there were a number of factors that led to the increase in offense, and it's not even clear that steroids were more important than the ball, the parks, etc.
   42. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 09, 2014 at 12:08 PM (#4634521)
I agree the ball was probably juiced, but its hard to look at how big some guys were in that era - Ken Caminiti, Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds - and not conclude that had a big effect.

The juiced ball probably better explains Jay Bell who never really got that big but went from 2 HR to 38 HR, or just a general increase from guys going from 5 HR to 15 HR.
   43. rudygamble Posted: January 09, 2014 at 12:41 PM (#4634563)
I would think another factor is that when a hitter's HR/FB increases due to changes in power and environment (parks, ball), the risk/reward increases for hitting fly balls so they may change their batting approach. There always seems to be well-rounded hitters that at some point in their career (usually when their speed is gone), start selling out to hit more HRs. Biggio and Knoblauch are two that come to mind.

Then again, looking at the BABIPs of guys like Caminiti and Bonds, the fact those BABIPs start rising during their suspected 'roid' years might indicate that they were just hitting the ball harder overall (no LD rates on FanGraphs before 2002).

Absolutely. I think supplements and steroids played a big role. I just think there were a number of factors that led to the increase in offense, and it's not even clear that steroids were more important than the ball, the parks, etc.


Agreed. While it's impossible to quantify the impact of PEDS or the ball on HRs, it should be possible to model the impact of parks. Has that ever been done?

The juiced ball probably better explains Jay Bell who never really got that big but went from 2 HR to 38 HR, or just a general increase from guys going from 5 HR to 15 HR.


Good point.
   44. Mike Webber Posted: January 09, 2014 at 01:19 PM (#4634622)
I guess it's possible, but why would a large group of players start using between 1992 and 1993


Who could organize such a thing... well an agent with a large stable of athletes?

So maybe an agent or a couple of agents started facilitating meetings with chemist/trainers.
   45. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 09, 2014 at 01:42 PM (#4634653)
Who could organize such a thing... well an agent with a large stable of athletes?


We've seen through the Biogenesis scandal that a group of athletes can all train together/use the same facility. And like I said, baseball can be very copycat.

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