This morning in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jim Salisbury reports about an “angry” Raul Ibanez who is apparently a little peeved at “cowardly” comments made by a “42-year old blogger typing in his mother’s basement” regarding the possibility that Ibanez’s fast start in 2009 could be chemically enhanced.
Though not cited by name, I have to assume that the cowardly idiot in question is Midwest Sports Fans’ very own…me.
A quick recap of the events of the last 48 hours:
A couple of days ago my buddy posted on our fantasy baseball message board and strongly implied that Raul Ibanez must be on something to be playing so great, and that any objective analysis would come to this conclusion.
The next morning, I decided that my blog post for the day will be to prove my buddy wrong by finding as many objective objective statistics (park factors, lineup effects, etc.) as possible to explain Ibanez’s start and debunk the steroid speculation in a perfectly reasonable and objective way.
While researching and typing the article I realized that no matter how much I wanted to completely remove steroid and PED suspicion from my mind, it was impossible for me to do so. Whereas the discussion of Citizens Bank Park and Safeco Field offered specific statistical evidence to draw conclusions from, there was nothing similar for me to draw such a conclusion from regarding steroid or PED use, save for the fact that Ibanez has not failed a test. And while this fact is certainly a strong testament to my personal opinion that he is clean (remember, all I said was that the speculation itself was justified, not that I personally thought he was using) many people would have said the same thing about Manny Ramirez during his ridiculous run last season: that he’d never failed a test. And speculation about him would have been (and perhaps was) shot down as unfair and “cowardly.”
Yet, look what happened at the start of this season to Ramirez.
Among other speculative statements in my article about Raul Ibanez, I wrote the following:
Thirdly, itâ€™s time for me to begrudgingly acknowledge the elephant in the room: any aging hitter who puts up numbers this much better than his career averages is going to immediately generate suspicion that the numbers are not natural, that perhaps he is under the influence of some sort of performance enhancer. And since I was not able to draw any absolute parallels between his prodigously improved HR rate and his new ballparkâ€™s hitter-friendliness, it would be foolish to dismiss the possibility that â€œotherâ€ performance enhancers could be part of the equation.
Sorry Raul Ibanez and Major League Baseball, thatâ€™s just the era that we are in â€” testing or no testing.
The next morning, yesterday, I woke up to find that John Gonzalez of the Philadelphia Inquirer has taken me to task for the article with his own rebuttal titled “A cheap shot at Ibanez.” You can view Gonzalez’s article here.
In all, somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-15 other sites linked to the Ibanez article here at MSF and at least one podcast discussed it for 5-10 minutes. I also began receiving hate mail from Philly fans calling me a “scumbag” and using the f-word like it’s a conjunction. (This does not really bother me though. I appreciate their passion and willingness to defend their guy. If someone had written a similar article about Jermaine Dye, though I like to think I would have used more tact, I would have argued with them too simply because he’s “my guy”.)
After exchanging a few pleasant emails with John Gonzalez about both of our articles, I contacted the Philadelphia Phillies to let them know about the article I’d written and to provide Midwest Sports Fans as a forum if Raul Ibanez or anyone from their organization had something to say in response. I was not sure if they choose to use Midwest Sports Fans as a forum for such a rebuttal, but I had not been trying to make nameless or faceless accusations completely out of reach from the one speculated against.
(And for the record, I’m a 27-year old professional writer and sports fanatic who contributes to Midwest Sports Fans, not a middle-aged guy banging away at a computer in my mother’s basement as was speculated in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer. But, since I speculated about Raul Ibanez, I don’t begrudge him for speculating about my existence. And like I hope to be about my steroid speculation, he was wrong about me. There is a lesson there somewhere I’m sure…)
Then this morning, upon arriving at the office and thinking the whole Ibanez thing was over, I opened up TweetDeck and noticed a decent amount of @JerodMSF messages from Philly fans such as this one: “The idiot who started it all was @JerodMSF. There was no “speculation” until he caused it with the stroke of a key.” The fan who tweeted that then sent me a link to today’s article in the Philadelphia Inquirer in which Raul Ibanez responds to my article.
Here are a few of the highlights:
“I’ll come after people who defame or slander me,” he said before last night’s game against the New York Mets. “It’s pathetic and disgusting. There should be some accountability for people who put that out there.”
“Unfortunately, I understand the environment we’re in and the events that have led us to this era of speculation,” he said. “At the same time, you can’t just walk down the street and accuse somebody of being a thief because they didn’t have a nice car yesterday and they do today. You can’t say that guy is a thief.”
“You can have my urine, my hair, my blood, my stool – anything you can test,” Ibanez said. “I’ll give you back every dime I’ve ever made” if the test is positive.
“I’ll put that up against the jobs of anyone who writes this stuff,” he said. “Make them accountable. There should be more credibility than some 42-year-old blogger typing in his mother’s basement. It demeans everything you’ve done with one stroke of the pen.
“Nobody is above the testing policy. We’ve seen that.”
“It’s unfair because this story should be about how hard work, determination, and desire trumps chemicals and shortcuts,” he said. “That should be the message: desire, character, work ethic. But some guy who doesn’t know me – one idiot – says something like this. They should be held accountable. It’s cowardly.”
And now I would like to offer up a response of my own.
Here is what I feel bad about: that my post became a lightning rod for speculation about a guy who very well could be totally clean, about a player who I like and admire, and about a player who by all accounts is a high character, hard working, team first player. And I do agree that such speculation is unfair as it relates specifically to Raul Ibanez, who has said in the past that he has never used PEDs and who has never once been implicated in any investigation or failed any test (which I acknowledged in my post).
If someone wants to call me cowardly or idiotic for bringing the question up and adding another public forum to an in-progress debate that may have no basis beyond speculation, I’m fine with that. When you publish content for public consumption about public figures who are real people, there are potential consequences. I’ll be honest and say that I did not consider the potential fallout from the article. I had a hypothesis to start from (that objective analysis would show no reason to suspect Ibanez) and did not find enough statistical evidence to support my hypothesis. So I wrote what I felt. And I feel bad that it’s cast a negative light on one specific individual who most likely does not deserve it.
Plus, I’ve found more statistical evidence since I wrote my article that further explains why Ibanez might be off to such a great start. This article shows how much better Ibanez is hitting with men on base, a situation he finds himself in more often with Philly than he did with Seattle. And the podcast I mentioned above that discussed the story, On the DL, brought up another good point: a lot of guys who were implicated for steroid use in the past did so in a contract year. Raul Ibanez already got his contract, which means there is ostensibly one less reason for him to feel incentive to use PEDs.
Had I considered these two facts when writing my article, its speculative nature probably would have been a bit less…although, admittedly, not completely removed.
So I’ll accept some level of accountability and offer a sincere apology to Raul Ibanez for advancing a public debate that, in his specific case, is very likely unfair and perhaps even unnecessary.
However, I’m not accepting complete blame and accountability for being the person who started this. I just tried to do my homework and write a cogent response to speculation I had heard from other sources, and to comment on what I considered to be a thought-provoking and engaging topic that was already being discussed publicly and privately. The post did not even receive much pub or traffic until it was mentioned in the Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday, but based on the response and the comments the post has received, it seems to me to have proven to be both thought-provoking and engaging.
And that, to me, is what the blogosphere is about.
Midwest Sports Fans is obviously not part of the mainstream media, but rather is a public forum for grassroots discussion of topics that are of interest to sports fans in general, and topics that are not typically discussed by the MSM. As one of the main contributors of MSF, it is my job to direct the discussion to topics that are interesting and compelling and that are not always simple regurgitations of what readers could find elsewhere. In addition to our regular schedule posts that are aimed at simply providing useful information, I try to open up discussions that I might have with my buddies sitting around the table at BW3s.
That is where blogs and MSM sites differ, in my opinion: blogs are, by their nature, more interactive and more open — and oftentimes more controversial — and are more reflective of the sensibilities of real sports fans; whereas the MSM is usually more geared towards reflecting the sensibilities of reporters and informing sports fans of the facts by which we develop our thoughts and opinions. The best MSM sites have learned how to incorporate the interactive, fan-centric qualities of blogs and vice versa, but clear distinctions still exist.
When you look at the post about Raul Ibanez in particular, what it was was not, I suppose, was “safe”. It is not the type of story you would expect to read in the Philadelphia Inquirer. But much of it was based on facts and was an attempt to research and be objective about a subject, PEDs in baseball, for which emotion and subjectivity so often frame the discussion. And as you will see if you read the comment thread, I am clearly open to opinions that differ from my own, and to arguments that attempt to further debunk the Ibanez steroid speculation (my original aim in the first place).
Whether or not I accomplished my goal of being objective, thought-provoking, and compelling is up to the individual people who read it. From my standpoint, minus the anger that Raul Ibanez clearly feels towards the post, which I regret, I think it was a success.
I will stand firm by the statement I made yesterday in my own post’s comment thread and in the comment sections of other posts that discussed the Ibanez story: if Raul Ibanez, or any other player who is speculated about for putting up great numbers, is upset at the speculation, the majority of their anger and venom in my opinion should be directed towards their past and present peers who used steroids and PEDs.
I’m not coming out of the blue by speculating that an guy in his upper-30s who is putting up numbers that are outrageous by his own career standards might have used PEDs. In fact, there are so many examples of this happening over the past decade that it’s mind-boggling. This is not Raul Ibanez’s fault, which is why I even described my own post as potentially unfair in its title.
However, in the immortal words of Rasheed Wallace, it is what it is and it do what it do.
If you’re an aging baseball player and you explode out of the gate with a HR rate more than double your career average, a great many baseball fans are going to wonder whether everything is on the up and up. The testing policy recently instituted by Major League Baseball has helped to mitigate that somewhat, but the mental and emotional conditioning to suspect steroids that baseball fans underwent took 10-15 years to develop. It’s not going away in 2 or 3.
And there is another place where Raul Ibanez and other players like him who are caught in the steroids crossfire can direct their anger and frustration: at their own union and Major League Baseball. Those two entities allowed steroids and PEDs to consume baseball and sully the reputation of all players, even the clean ones, by not agreeing to a testing policy sooner. I certainly blame both of them for my guarded and suspicious mindset when I see numbers like what Raul Ibanez is putting up this year. And honestly it pisses me off a little bit, and it should piss of Raul Ibanez and other such players who vehemently claim their innocence and who value their reputations and obviously are forthright in defending themselves.
I also will not apologize for my article in totality because I did not write it simply to drum up speculation or to attract attention. In no way was I trying to be sensational for the sake of being sensational. I was just trying to write an objective, well-researched article. I was being completely honest in how I felt about a very nuanced and complicated situation.
Over the past two decades we have repeatedly seen the media come under fire for falling in love with, for instance, the Big Mac-Sammy story back in the day and not asking more questions. Now, when those questions are asked, they are “cowardly” and “idiotic”? I understand why Raul Ibanez would specifically consider me to be these things, and perhaps I picked a terrible example to speculate about, but in the grand scheme of things isn’t this what baseball fans and even players were clamoring for?
Maybe I’m falsely lumping my own post into an altruistic bucket in which it does not belong, but I thought we had all agreed that there was a new responsibility on the part of the media and fans to not just blindly sit back and allow Major League Baseball to pull the wool over our eyes.
(A quick aside: Look, for the record, I don’t consider myself part of the mainstream media by any means. I’m a blogger, and while the lines are becoming more blurred, I believe the distinction still very much exists – but that bloggers do have a responsibility to be accountable even when, like me, they are just creating second hand reports for a grass roots audience, and opinions that are based on the work of others and statistics in the public domain, and publish them for public consumption.)
In an effort to be more vigilant and suspicious, won’t our speculation sometimes produce false positives? If Raul Ibanez really is clean, then my post included speculation — which, I remind you, did not originate on Midwest Sports Fans — that will turn out to have no basis. But in many, many other past and perhaps even future cases, taking a player of the same age with similar statistics, the speculation would have proven true. So I may have erred in the player I chose to analyze and speculate about, but — and here was one of the main points of my article — is such speculation really that unjustified?
In the specific case of Raul Ibanez, perhaps it is. But for baseball players in general, sadly I think that it is justified. I’m sorry, but the way I see it the burden is on the players and league to regain the trust of the fans; it is not the burden of the fans to once again place blind faith in the players and a league that for all intents and purposes gave its implied approval for steroid and PED use to run rampant.
I would have defended Manny Ramirez against anyone. He was one of those guys that I honestly thought never took steroids. Well, that rug got pulled right out from under me (and, granted, also proved that the new testing system is starting to work). If Raul Ibanez never fails a test, my trust in him will grow. But I’m not just giving it blindly anymore. Perhaps I should have been more careful in publicly expressing such thoughts about a specific individual — I’ll grant you that — but in general, I am not going to offer a comprehensive apology for discussing speculation that did originate on Midwest Sports Fans (look here, here, and here), especially when my initial goal was to objectively explain away the speculation in the first place.
So, in summation, I offer my apology to Raul Ibanez for upsetting him with the words I published two days ago. As I’ve said numerous times since posting it, I am a big fan of Raul Ibanez as a person and a player, I considered him a huge sleeper coming into this season and expected better numbers from him this year, and he is one of the primary reasons that my fantasy baseball team is at the top of my league’s standings. I certainly have nor had no vendetta against him.
But to the larger issue of simply saying that I believe the curious ongoing speculation about the reason for his torrid start is justified, I will not apologize; and though not all baseball fans will agree with me, especially Philly fans in this specific case, I do think that the majority of baseball fans will be on my side. We’ll see I guess.
It is my sincere hope, however, that as more time passes we as baseball fans we can find ourselves placing more trust in Major League Baseball’s testing system and, in turn, more trust in numbers like what we are seeing from Raul Ibanez thus far in 2009. Though I specifically discussed Raul Ibanez in my post, it is this more general conclusion that I came to: that sadly, we are simply not a place where such trust has been reestablished…yet.
I look forward to the day when we get there.