On Jose Bautista, Damien Cox, and Double Standards

Except for a few tweets yesterday, I was planning on staying away from this story. Not because it isn’t wildly intriguing to me, but moreso because I’d like to be known as more than just the “poor kid” who “raised the question” about Raul Ibanez and steroids last season (as Keith Law described it).

But this morning a couple of thoughts occurred to me.

First, my good buddy @WorldofIsaac sent me a link to the following tweet from Greg Wyshynski (aka Puck Daddy):

Has Jerod Morris opined on Damien Cox not getting same “Outside The Lines” treatment he got for steroid speculation? Would love to hear it.

As Isaac reminded me, few individuals in the sports blogosphere are as revered as Greg Wyshynski. I’m not even a hockey fan and I know that. Thus, I immediately thought that it would be wise for me to pay attention to such a call for opinion.

The second thought that occurred to me was, what exactly is so wrong with being recognized for the Raul Ibanez story from last year? Sure, if I was ashamed of the story I’d hide in the shadows and hope it faded from memory. But I’m not ashamed of it, not by a longshot.

I was neither malicious nor cunning, I held firm where I felt I should and admitted fault where I felt I should, I learned a tremendous amount, and was able to be a part of volcanic debate about bloggers and the mainstream media that was influential and a long time coming. It was an unlikely series of events that brought the debate to my doorstep, but as the great philosopher Rashed Wallace once said during a post game interview: it is what it is and it do what it do.

So, for those interested, I will now weigh in on this season’s steroid speculation story, which involves the red hot Jose Bautista, a hockey blogger named Damien Cox, and a pretty obvious double standard in how it’s being covered.

jose-bautista-steroidsFirst, the background (quickly), in case you missed the story.

As any fantasy baseball player knows, Jose Bautista is hitting out of his mind this year. We are not even in September yet and Bautista has 40 HRs, 95 RBIs, and an OPS of .973. His previous full season career highs for these three stats are: 16, 63, and .757 (all of which occurred in different seasons).

To say that Bautista’s power surge has come out of nowhere this year would be a tremendous understatement.

Well, this past Sunday Damien Cox, a hockey columnist and associate sports editor for The Toronto Star, decided to put his spin on the story. Cox is described on his blog as someone who “takes turns stirring up trouble and chuckling at the foibles of the sporting world.” Thus, he decided to stir up some trouble:

For the following unpopular question, blame Major League baseball and all the nonsense it has spewed over the past decade.

Don’t blame me.

When it comes to Jose Bautista, how is it exactly that at the age of 29 he’s suddenly become the most dangerous power hitter in baseball?

Chance? Healthy living? Diet? New contact lenses? Comfortable batting gloves?

Anyone reading about the Roger Clemens perjury case this week, which of course brings up all of baseball’s tawdry steroid history, should at least be willing to wonder about Bautista’s sudden transformation into the dinger king.

He continues on for another half page or so, essentially reiterating these thoughts in different words.

For comparison’s sake, here is what I said about Raul Ibanez last year:

Thirdly, it’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 ballpark’s hitter-friendliness, it would be foolish to dismiss the possibility that “other” performance enhancers could be part of the equation.

Sorry Raul Ibanez and Major League Baseball, that’s just the era that we are in — testing or no testing.

If you just read that excerpt from my post and compare it to what Cox says about Bautista, you might conclude that we essentially said the exact same thing; and, at least in part, we did.

  • Cox’s main idea: Jose Bautista is performing well above his established norms; he’s a baseball player; we have been conditioned to wonder if he is using a PED and it’s reasonable to pose the thought.
  • My main idea: Raul Ibanez is performing well above his established norms; he’s a baseball player; we have been conditioned to wonder if he is using a PED and it’s reasonable to post the thought.

The difference, of course, which is obvious if you just glace at the two articles, is that I spent 85-90% of the time actively trying to disprove the then-commonly discussed notion that Ibanez might be juicing. The genesis of the post was another manager in one of my fantasy leagues posing the question. I wrote the article to find objective reasons to disprove it, finally concluding that I couldn’t, which led to me making a blanket statement about all baseball players while using Raul Ibanez as the microcosm.

Cox, on the other hand, simply tosses out the question that he’s “gotta” ask, includes names like Roger Clemens, Troy Glaus, and Brady Anderson for good measure, and leaves it at that.

A recent post at Drunk Jays Fans summed it up best:

Fortunately for my conscience, Jerod’s piece proved to be mostly an analysis of possible reasons for Ibanez’s incredibly hot start (park factors, competition) that concluded with a lament about the inevitable PED speculation that would come. Cox, on the other hand, offered up counter-theories only in the most sarcastic, piece-of-shit-like way. So, while there may be a tinge of hypocrisy in my defending Morris and not Cox, I really do think that, if you actually read what Jerod wrote—which, if I recall correctly, was kind of the major fucking problem with how the media treated the Ibanez in the first place—he’s hardly being accusatory, if at all. Cox totally is.

I agree, and continue to wish that more people had actually read my piece before passing judgment last year. But alas, this is the Internet we’re talking about here. I used a title that was far more provocative than I intended it to be, and most people never read any further. Actually, I’m not sure most people even read the entire title. They saw “The Curious Case of Raul Ibanez: Steroid Speculation…” and then dropped everything to email John Gonzalez that some Midwest blogger was accusing Ibanez of using steroids…even though I didn’t.

But this column isn’t so much about reliving last year’s news as it is about gauging how the coverage and overall landscape have changed now that a similar story has popped up this year. The most obvious aspect of how the Cox-Bautista story has been covered differently as last year’s Ibanez story is the striking double standard that has been applied to Cox’s comments.

We have established, and I’m not really sure it’s debatable, that Cox’s comments about Bautista are far more flippant and accusatory than mine were. Yet, where is Ken Rosenthal decrying Cox’s disrespect for the written word? Where is the Outside the Lines special analyzing the giant schism between bloggers and the mainstream media and — oh, that’s right; Cox isn’t technically a blogger. He wrote his comments on a blog, but he’s a sports editor for The Star, meaning he’s part of the in-crowd.

Yes, I think that has a lot to do with it. Part of the reason no one is out to tar and feather Damien Cox on national TV, as good ‘ol Ken was clearly attempting to do to me, is because of his position. There simply is no other reasonable explanation. And plenty of bloggers, as well as commenters and tweeters, are taking up the fight and pointing out this clear example of mainstream media hypocrisy, of an obvious double standard being applied.

But to simplify the issue down just to that would be foolhardy.

I think another contributing factor is that things are different now as compared to last year at this time. The landscape is different, the tone and amplification of the blogger/MSM debate is different, the steroids issue in baseball is different.

And, honestly, I think people may just be tired of it all.

I know that I’m sick of talking about steroids, as evidenced by the fact that you’ve heard nary a peep about the subject from me on this blog since last season. And as the lines continue to blur between what a “blogger” is and what a “mainstream media member” is, what’s the point in continuing to shout at eachother about varying shades of gray?

Because of the daily grind of the 24-hour sports news cycle, and moments like last year’s Ibanez story and the Leitch-Bissinger debate before that, the sports media and sports blogging community have slowly but surely reached an uneasy alliance that, for the most part, benefits everyone involved. The online landscape is still quite Darwinian in that survival of the fittest necessitates a constant race for pageviews, but people are also coming to the correct understanding that pageviews are not a zero sum game. Working together can in fact be beneficial and all boats really can rise together.

Mix all of it in – Cox’s job title, steroids fatigue, less blogger/MSM sensitivity – and it creates the much more muted response to Damien Cox’s post than what mine received last year.

I’m certainly not bitter about it or upset in any way. I didn’t ask him too, and I certainly didn’t think it would be the case at the time, but Ken Rosenthal did more for the credibility and exposure of Midwest Sports Fans than anyone has in the 2+ years of this site’s existence. Sure, I had to sit there on national TV trying to get a word in edgewise while looking like a recluse who’d never seen the sun, but it was a tremendous experience that I’ll never forget nor would I ever trade. Damien Cox should be so lucky so have such righteous indignation heaped upon him.

And as for Cox’s words, no I do not think he is inherently wrong to raise the question he raised.

My brother has Jose Bautista on a couple of fantasy teams and we’ve randomly joked a few times about whether his numbers are legit or not. I haven’t looked, but I would assume that there have even been other blog posts or message board forums that have mentioned and discussed this. (Last year, people overlooked the fact that I was actually the third blogger to mention Raul Ibanez and the possibility that he could be on steroids. I just happened to win the Lottery of Internet Exposure Serendipity when John Gonzalez mentioned my post.) When a guy goes from a career high of 16 HR to 40 before September, steroids will be brought up. It’s inevitable, despite baseball’s history of outliers that Keith Law astutely brought up recently.

Here is where I diverge from Damien Cox, however: I would have raised the Bautista question differently, with what I consider to be more tact and fairness; and I can say that because I did. As mentioned above, even though Cox and I essentially concluded the same general point about baseball, I spent far more time trying to disprove my hypothesis about the individual than prove it. That matters, I believe, and manifests intent.

Which is a perfect segue to my concluding topic.

Of all the articles I read yesterday dealing either directly or tangentially with this topic, I actually appreciated Geoff Baker’s the most. Baker, you may recall, was one of my harshest critics last year, but also the person from whom I learned the most when looking at what I’d written through the prism of his criticism.

Here is what Baker wrote yesterday:

You’ll remember how we engaged in one of our typically healthy debates back then about Jerod Morris, a blogger who seemed to suggest in a headline and the text of his post that Raul Ibanez was taking steroids.

That spurred all type of arguing back and forth, but the more depressing upshot I took away from it was that there are thousands, if not millions of people out there who believe that blogs are not held to as high a standard as traditional media when it comes to truth and libel law and that just about anything can be written on the internet.

Not true. And the story I’ve linked to spells that out.

Let’s not get into the technicalities of what was written in the whole Morris thing again. I know some of you don’t feel that he intended to accuse Ibanez, while some of us think he tried to soft-pedal his way in there and did so sloppily. That’s ancient history and only the reminder I’m using to bring up the greater issue here.

That even though the public at large now has the power of the written word in its hands like never before, it’s a power that must be used wisely.

What was most interesting to me about reading Baker’s piece yesterday is that it doesn’t mention Cox or Bautista at all. His post was written as a commentary on this article, which details the increasing liability risk faced by people who write blogs and even comments.

Baker and I disagree on what my intention with the Ibanez piece was, but his article, my email exchange with him afterwards, and the entirety of the Ibanez story taught me a valuable lesson about considering the potential impact of hitting the PUBLISH button and putting a piece of content out there on the Internet. I may not write for ESPN or FanHouse or even the Toronto Star, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t take the words written on Midwest Sports Fans seriously, especially the subject of them.

And for all bloggers, Baker’s point is a good one. Too often, we disrespect ourselves by thinking that our words don’t carry the weight that they do, both in terms of influence and, increasingly, potential liability. A normal post on MSF may only get a few hundred pageviews, but it only takes one link from a big site or one mention from a ballplayer to turn a few hundred into 50,000; and you never know what post it will be, so you might as well just assume that it could be any one of them. Hence, it’s a good idea to consider the probable reaction of the masses, of any individuals explicitly named, and to be prepared to defend your words and point of view should you get called on to do so.

I have to imagine that Damien Cox had a pretty good idea that the question about Jose Bautista that he had to ask publicly would create a strong reaction. He’s been in the business too long not to understand what will create a firestorm and what won’t. Steroids + Player Name x Source is a good equation for figuring out how great the firestorm will be, but there will undoubtedly be a loud and swift reaction to any such story.

In Cox’s case, the reaction just happened to be far more swift and vociferous from commenters and bloggers, rather than his mainstream media peers. The reaction to my story was different, for all of the reasons I’ve addressed in this post. In both cases, the players were able to address the issue publicly; in Ibanez’s case, everyone moved on; and in Bautista’s case, everyone will too.

The ubiquitous reality is that there is always another sports news cycle just around the corner, ready to chew up and spit out the latest hot story. Honestly, I’m just glad I got to be a part of one, double standards and all.

**********

* – Jose Bautista photo credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America via Zimbio.com



About Jerod Morris

I love words. I write for Copyblogger and founded MSF, The Assembly Call, & Primility. I practice yoga, eat well, & strive for balance. I love life. Namaste. Say hi on Twitter, Facebook, & G+.

Comments

  1. It's all about perspective and locality. As a moderate baseball fan, I wasn't even aware of your "plight", as it were, last year. Here in Canada, Damien has been taken to task by some MSM people, not just bloggers, and Buck Martinez and Tabler went at him on the telecast last night (though I don't believe they mentioned his name).
    while Damien's piece was flip and didn't even allow for the fact there's been statistical anomalies in every era of baseball, a big issue with it was structure. He has a paragraph 4th from the bottom – "Maybe Bautista is just one of the great individual stories in baseball this season. This could be his career year, and he could deserve nothing but credit and praise." It was a sentiment that was too little too late in light of the rest of the piece. Had he put that phrase in the 2nd or 3rd graf, I think it would have went a fair way (though not all) to reducing the controversy.

    • Good point, and thanks for the Canadian perspective. When the Ibanez thing hit, everyone from ESPN to seemingly the smallest site was discussing it, which is partly why many bloggers and other observers see the reaction to Cox as disproportionate.

  2. Rich in TX says:

    When I here people talk of Jose Bautista having his career year, I want to puke. In 2001, Luis Gonzalez at age 33 for the Arizona Diamondbacks hits 57HR and 142RBI with a .325AVG, .429OBA, .688SLG, and 1.117OPS. He has a career year. His career 162 game average for HR was 22. Or even Brady Anderson, at the age of 32 for the Baltimore Orioles, hits 50HR and 110RBI with a .297AVG, .396OBA, .637SLG, and 1.034OPS. The year previous, he hits 16 HR and the year after hitting 50 he hits18 HR. Career years by both…hmmm. Better yet, do a google image search of both players and watch the transformation of both during the PED era!

    • Rich, your point is certainly well taken and has been posited many times before. It is also a point I've long agree with. Interestingly though, I've actually begun to wonder just how accurate it is. Do we really think that PED use can create these massive on year swings? Why would it only be one year? That is not say that PEDs weren't involved with one or all of these players – we have no way of knowing – but what seems more likely to me is the outlier theory. Maybe a guy just had a flukish fly ball rate one year (like Bautista this year). Maybe any of a number of factors contributed to an anomalous season. I would think that if someone were a PED user – especially if we look at Brady Anderson and Luis Gonzalez, during the "Steroid Era" – then they would stay consistently outstanding, if PEDs truly were the cause.

      I don't know…it's all a bunch of speculation. I will say that reading analysis from guys like Keith Law has broadened my perspective on this since last year. Things rarely are as cut-and-dried as we like to make them out to be, which is important to remember anytime we discuss steroids with a specific name attached to the discussion.

  3. Yeah…. but…. bathrobes! Cheetos! Parents' basements!

  4. Adderall.

  5. Has anyone taken the time to ask Jose why he is playing so well this year? Isn't it okay to ask what someone is doing differently when the level they are currently playing at is different from expectations/past results?

    • Great question Brian. And Frankie Piliere at FanHouse tackled that very issue yesterday:
      http://mlb.fanhouse.com/2010/08/24/altered-swing-

      • Jeff,
        Cox actually first raised the issue on the Reporters show last week. I'll post the link below, but to warn the Americans who might endure listening to it, these jokers are some of the worst "big name" reporters in Canada. Anyway, I haven't found out to fast forward it, but I think it's about 15-16 minutes in. Dave Hodge asks Cox about the Jays preparing to host the Yankees and whether or not the Jays are back in Toronto. Cox says no. Then they ask about what effect his home run splurge has done. Another guy says we're going back to traditional levels of HR. Simmons says they haven't done enough to tell Bautista's story. Cox then asks if they don't think people should "wonder" about why Bautista's hitting HRs. Dave Hodge interrupts and Simmons said Jose never played regular before. Cox then asks if it's the Brady Anderson effect. To their credit, the other guys brush it off, and Steve Simmons even says you have to ask the question IF you see a body change (implying not in this case). Anyway, here's the link: http://www.tsn.ca/window/podcastcentre.aspx?xmlUR

      • AJ Kaufman says:

        Just published on Bautista: http://blogs.wsj.com/dailyfix/2010/08/25/for-baut

    • Brian,

      TSN ran a story on SportsCentre last night/this morning where they asked Jose that very question (kudos to Sarah Orlesky, who at least filed the report, which you can find on tsn.ca). His response was that he had made some changes to his swing in the off-season based on some pointers he received from manager (and former kick-ass hitting coach) Cito Gaston and hitting coach Dwayne Murphy. I'm actually wondering if this will come up on TSN's The Reporters on Sunday (TSN's equivalent of ESPN's The Sports Reporters), for which Cox is a panelist. I really hope that one of the other 3 has the rocks to do so. They do a thumbs-up/thumbs-down segment towards the end of the show, and I sincerely hope that at the very least one of them gives Cox a thumbs-down for his irresponsible journalism. As the Sports Editor for one of Canada's biggest papers, he should know better.

  6. Just read Cox's Twitter feed, says he's off to the cottage until next Tuesday for the end of summer. Kind of like the hockey player who gets the first shot in, then skates away rather than dropping the gloves…

  7. Another Canadian perspective. (Part I)
    First, I thought you might be pleased to know that Keith Law came down hard on Cox on a Toronto radio station last night comparing you (although not by name, I don't think) favourably to Cox (and of the guys then started attacking Keith). Also, I don't think anyone else has pointed out that Jose Bautista's improvement this year is actually only vs. RHP. He's always had good power vs. LHP (except in 2007 for some reason), and his stats this year show that he is hitting LHP worse than usual (not what I'd expect if he was on steroids).

    Jose Bautista vs. RHP (BA/OBP/SLG)
    2006 vs. RHP 215/306/373
    2007 vs. RHP 253/331/411
    2008 vs. RHP 233/301/347
    2009 vs. RHP 202/331/333
    2010 vs. RHP 270/382/621 (as of 359 AB vs. RHP)
    The change here is off-the-charts. He's gone from the equivalent to a light-hitting middle infielder in the NL (e.g. less power than Brendan Ryan vs RHP) to someone who is (at worst) on the short list of guys who might have the highest SLG and OPS vs. RHP in the MLB in 2010.

  8. But vs. LHP, he's actually had an off-year compared to the sample from 2006-2010.
    Jose Bautista vs. LHP
    Season
    2006 283/404/540
    2007 256/366/421
    2008 250/339/546
    2009 293/382/537
    2010 210/333/506 (as of 81 AB vs. LHP)

    So since Bautista has always had power vs. LHP, maybe just maybe he's finally learned how to hit RHP. Maybe he'll be like Dave Stewart or Roger Maris or Ryan Ludwick and be a late bloomer (if so I'd expect Ludwick-style numbers – so in Bautista's case, maybe a .480-500 SLG vs. RHP and back to his usual .530+ SLG vs. LHP in 2011). On the other hand, maybe it is a Davey Johnson style fluke and he'll be back to doing his Olmedo Saenz imitation (a former Dodger who slugged over .500 vs. LHP and was next to useless vs. RHP) at the plate next year. Time will tell.

  9. This isn't the first time Cox has made a fairly serious allegation about someone but danced around the issue in such a way that he could technically argue he'd not said anything. A couple of years ago a young player on the Toronto Maple Leafs named Jiri Tlusty had a picture of him kissing another man leaked to the press. Cox compared the lack of reaction from the organisation (which stood by Tlusty) to their response to allegations that some staff members at Maple Leaf Gardens had sexually abused young boys. He never came out and explicitly said "Jiri Tlusty is as bad as a pedophile" but the implication was obvious to anyone who read the article, and I found the whole thing hugely offensive.

  10. Sean Boulton says:

    Jerod,

    In case you haven't seen it since, Ken Rosenthal actually did comment on the Cox 'column' on his Twitter feed Tuesday night, and he came out strongly against it. It turned into quite a lively discussion with other bloggers and sportswriters. It's worth a look.

  11. Great! Thank you. I was not on Twitter last night. I will have to check it out.

  12. Another Canadian baseball guy here. I think another element of the Damien Cox story is that he's a hockey writer and the Canadian baseball establishment (be it MSM or bloggers) have collectively had enough of the hockey world saying that all of baseball is dirty and that innocent hockey is clean. Yes, there have not been many positive tests in hockey, but to think that PED wouldn't help a hockey player is silly; it's similar to the idea in the 90s that no pitchers would dare take roids because beefing up would lose their flexibility; I've always wondered if anyone has gone through the stories there were in Spring Training about pitchers taking up yoga in the off-season during the roid days.

    Anyway, the hockey world has for the most part pushed forth the myth that "good old boys from Moose Jaw" wouldn't dare use PED unlike those baseball players and with Cox's cheap shots, Canadian baseball types have had enough.

    By the way, KLaw and the DrunkJaysFans have done a great job with this. KLaw really took the hockey boys to task on the FAN in Toronto this week.
    First time I've actually read your blog, keep up the good work.

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