For decades now, baseball players have enjoyed the protection of the strongest union in the world, and they have taken full advantage of it. Until only two seasons ago, baseball, alone among virtually all sports, had no drug testing program of any kind. Beat writers, the men (and women) who cover their respective teams, have access to players, teams, clubhouses, general managers; they often travel with their teams, stay in the same hotels…. in short, they are as close to the players and what they do as is humanly possible.
Recently, I have taken to chastising these writers for their lazy and frankly dishonest approach to the so-called controversy regarding steroids use in baseball. Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels that many of today’s writers are little more than instigators and/or simply repeating the company line.
For example, here’s the NY Times’ Murray Chass taking a swipe at the writers covering the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry:
The routine has become a daily practice in the Boston Red Sox’ spring camp. It’s as if there’s a podium on which players are asked daily to unburden themselves. “What do you think of A-Rod?” they are asked. It’s open season on Alex Rodriguez, who has been made the poster boy of evil in the rivalry that was heated and rumbling long before he joined the Yankees.
In this new version of “Get the good guy,” the Red Sox are blameless. One player, Trot Nixon, ignited the game with negative comments about Rodriguez last week and a torrent of teammates have followed. But the teammates’ comments have not been unsolicited. They were at the urging of reporters eager to inflame the game to incendiary levels. They were all but handed a script.
Athletes have long accused reporters of creating stories, and, sadly, this is one of those instances. It has become one of the most distasteful instances I have witnessed in 45 years of covering baseball.
He’s talking about the recent spate of stories detailing the many Red Sox players who apparently don’t like Alex Rodriguez. Here’s one, two, three, and four different stories, just from today’s Daily News.
As Chass correctly points out, this isn’t even a story. It’s a bunch of dummies repeatedly asking different players from each team the same question over and over and over, fueling a supposed dispute that doesn’t merit ten seconds of attention. A-Rod and most of the Yankees are doing their level best to just let it go, and have been for going on a week. In that time, there have been something like thirty stories on the subject. For more than a week, probably ten reporters, from three or four newspapers, have been beating this story to death.
With that kind of resource allocation, with that many writers; how is it possible that a player could do anything beyond the reach of the press? How is it possible that there are any secrets that the newspapers cannot uncover? Because of the lack of initiative, creativity, and willingness to do actual reporting, real work, evidenced by the vast majority of reporters in today’s modern media.
Just to keep it in perspective, remember that we have recently been reading about how Jose Canseco and company used steroids in the Oakland A’s clubhouse, during the season, repeatedly. So, just to be clear, while reporters sat around asking Dave Stewart whether he liked Rickey Henderson’s mom’s chicken pot-pie, baseball players used performance enhancing agents right in front of them, and they wrote nothing, said nothing; and act now like Canseco had somehow hypnotized them for most of the last ten years.
And this is still going to happen. Because right now, this season, when Derek Jeter, or Bernie Williams, or Albert Pujols or any other baseball players takes the field on Opening Day, odds are, he will be on pain killers, amphetamines, or some other type of PED. And notice that the sportswriters are already done with the amphetamine story. It’s already over. The players think it’s not so bad, so why report it? It’s a concession the players weren’t willing to make, when they strengthened the drug testing policy, so forget about it already.
Are the reporters to blame for players using steroids? Of course not. But they are to blame for making it a story only when it was handed to them. They are to blame for writing virtually nothing of substance on the issue, even today after Caminitti, Canseco, Sheffield, Giambi and Bonds have all been exposed for being involved. Find me a story on the subject that isn’t a pieced together package of press releases and AP reports and speculation.
Here’s a question: How hard could it be to find out if Mark McGwire was really using steroids during his super home run years? How hard could it be? We’re not in the old Soviet Union. Am I to believe that McGwire had insulated himself so completely and perfectly, that not one person who could testify as to whether or not he’s used will come forth? Where are these stories? Where are these people? Why aren’t we reading about what they saw, or what they heard, or what they know?
During that 1998 season, McGwire was trailed by perhaps as many as a hundred reporters for essentially the entire second half of the season. With a hundred reporters following him, we found out that he was using andro, an over the counter, steroids pre-cursor. How did this discovery take place? A reporter saw it in his locker. Now that’s investigative journalism.
Remember that asshole Rick Reilly asking Sosa to pee in a cup? How come Reilly didn’t do some investigating and reporting and actually find out whether Sosa used steroids? What stopped Reilly from, you know, asking questions from people who saw Sosa work out? Or, I don’t know, finding a guy selling steroids and asking him if he sold some to Sammy? You wanna know how hard it is to find a guy selling steroids? About as hard as finding a gym. But not one reporter can find one guy who sold steroids to one baseball player?
Doesn’t that sound a bit fishy? I mean, we’re talking about something that has to be used daily, every day for weeks or months at a time. How could any baseball player operate his life in such a total vaccum? How could McGwire, or any other world famous, recognizable, superstar athlete hide an everyday part of their lives from the men who are paid to write about them, about what they do and what they like and where they go, for years and years? It’s a terrible tragedy, according to Lupica and his pals. So how could Lupica and his pals not write about was happening right in front of them for going on ten years?
And I’m not talking about all of those ridiculous, speculative, innuendo-filled columns that were being written for the last five years. I’m not talking about, “oooh, look at how big his head is, that proves he’s using steroids” stories. I’m talking about facts, stories with quotes and sources and information about what, when, where and who. Where were those stories? Where are they now?