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.
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.
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