Aug 03, 2009, 06:05AM

The Shots Heard Only 'Round the Press Box

The media frets over the steroid era, while baseball fans yawn.

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By the looks of the circus of nearly all-white humanity swarming Baltimore’s Inner Harbor last Saturday around noon, an innocent would’ve thought a celebrity on the order of Barack Obama or Marty Wombacher had just pulled into town. But no, it was merely another influx of Red Sox fans here to sell out the Orioles’ Camden Yards for a three-game weekend series, an event that local retailers and restaurateurs salivate over, and once again leads a resident to wonder just how swell it’d be if O’s owner Peter Angelos dipped into his fat purse just a touch and helped goose the s-l-o-w rebuilding process that his apparently competent President of Baseball Operations Andy McPhail has undertaken.

Okay, so that’s yesterday’s and the past decade’s old news, but I was still curious to gauge the mob’s reactions to the utterly unsurprising revelation that naughty David Ortiz, New England icon and onetime clutch slugger, had tested positive for PED use in 2003. I spoke with approximately 25 fans, chosen only if they wore Sox t-shirts, and not one was the slightest bit disillusioned that the beefy Ortiz—who, after all, was/is a baseball player during the steroid era—had been lumped into the same purgatory as Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Jay Gibbons, Miguel Tejada, Andy Pettitte, Rafael Palmeiro, Brian Roberts and… oh, hell, I don’t have the patience to list all the others. You get the drift.

And at Sunday’s Sox shellacking of the O’s—18-10—I became hoarse chatting with New Englanders about the Ortiz news, and once again, these fans were far more interested in seeing how Victor Martinez, acquired last Friday from Cleveland, would perform. For my part, it was all about 22-year-old Josh Reddick, just called up to the Sox from their Double A farm team on Friday, and the kid who wears goggles that recall Elvis Costello circa 1977—immediately making him, at least in my eyes, one of the coolest players in baseball, along with Tim Lincecum and Andrew McCutchen—was either lucky or a future star.

So what chafes this Sox fan—and, for the record, I speculated just two months ago that Papi was a user—is that the media, Boston’s in particular, has gone all sanctimonious on its readers, with several dolts even writing that the Sox’s two Series championships in ’04 and ’07 were now “tainted.” The Boston Globe, a once respectable and fairly decent daily that is now in almost the same dire bind as The Baltimore Sun, felt the need to run an editorial on the subject, with a headline, typically bereft of imagination, that ran “Say It Ain’t So, Papi.” Sure, I think Shoeless Joe Jackson belongs in the Hall of Fame, and was done in by the racist baseball commissioner at the time of the Black Sox scandal, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, but Joe’s long departed so I’d guess he has no opinion on this current baseball “crisis.”

The Globe editorialist—perhaps with a heavy heart, perhaps not—concluded: “The use of performance enhancers may have been no more prevalent among the Red Sox than at other clubs. But the 2003 list haunts the entire sport—and taints the Sox World Series wins. Boston fans may remember this decade fondly, but it represents a grim chapter for baseball as a whole.”

Baseball fans, if attendance numbers are any indication, have sensibly moved on from the steroid/PED debate, leaving the media to solemnly pronounce, again and again, its profound disappointment in players who are, apparently, guilty as charged. Now, just to inject some reality here: when the ‘roiders were breaking home run records and whiffing batters with the ease of a little league coach, unbeknownst to the great unwashed legions of fans, such as myself, who do you think knew that something fishy was causing stats to be inflated? The sports media, of course, and yet there wasn’t a peep until early in the 21st century when Balco and Barry Bonds’ 300-pound head brought the brouhaha to the surface.

The same beat writers and columnists, who now act as if they’re preachers who’ve never driven drunk, sniffed a line of cocaine, or engaged in other acts that might curl the nose-hairs of the “moral values” crowd, simply didn’t want to lose access to the stars they interviewed in the clubhouse and so they kept their traps shut. There are exceptions, certainly, and not just loud and proud steroid abuser Jose Canseco, but for the most part, the media, like the MLB establishment, which includes management and the players’ union, were silent.

So the Globe’s insufferable Dan Shaughnessy, dubbed “Curly Headed Boyfriend” by Sox bloggers, has the gall to call the Boston teams of ’04 and ’07 “cheaters,” albeit more adroit ones than those Yankees who juiced during that team’s run of dominance. It’s a moment for cynicism, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Shaughnessy, is angling to follow up his pre-Series victory book, The Curse of the Bambino, with a sequel proclaiming that the curse is, in fact, intact and Sox fans will have to wait another 86 years before the team can legitimately wear World Series Champions t-shirts with a clean conscience.

Shaughnessy, and other hysterics like the Boston Herald’s perpetual scold Gerry Callahan and ESPN’s Buster Olney, now pull out the “tainted” card in regards to the Sox, but say nothing about the ’02 feel-good Los Angeles Angels, a fabulous team who defeated the Bonds’ Giants in that year’s Series. The MVP of that seven-game set was, for writers with a gnat’s memory, Troy Glaus, another broken-down player who partook of PED’s and is now paying the price.

And pardon me, St. Louis fans and those in the media who proclaim Albert Pujols the best player alive, but does anyone really think that Albert (with whom I have no beef) is not using some still-legal substance to put up his otherworldly statistics season after season? Ditto for the Rays’ Carlos Pena, who, after a journeyman’s career suddenly became in 2007 the second coming of Roy Hobbs and smashed every hanging curveball into the seats. On the other hand, the Twins’ Joe Mauer, the best catcher in a generation whose squeaky clean public image would indicate he thinks of chocolate milk as a “hard” beverage, just doesn’t profile as a sidekick in the PED bad-boy class. Not sure about his teammate Justin Morneau, but he’s Canadian, so I’ll say he’s clean, too. The point here, once again, is that fans have no idea who indulged and who didn’t, so everyone over the age of 28, is fair game for suspicion. But, unlike the Elmer Gantrys of the baseball media, I really don’t give a jack’s ass, and I’ve been hard-pressed to find even more than a couple of fans who are upset about all this.

The July 4 issue of the U.K.’s superb Spectator, editorializing on the rash of jokes about Michael Jackson immediately after his death, was eminently sensible. “It is sad that Michel Jackson is dead. But it is not, with respect to him and his family, a global catastrophe. We will all solider on.” It hardly taxes the imagination to predict the media fallout if, by some instance of bad fortune, Ortiz, A-Rod or Bonds was killed in a car crash. The PED-use would be relegated to fourth or fifth paragraphs and baseball sainthood would be conferred, with mournful quotes from Bud Selig and a gaggle of baseball franchise owners who’ve reaped a monetary windfall during the past decade. As for this fan, I’m with oldtimer Ernie Banks: “Let’s play two!”

  • Well, I wish the drug stuff hadn't happened, but what is one to do? Recall "Ball Four" and the era of popping greenies? Anyway, the part I like best about your essay is your disdain for the writers. The L.A. Times has a sports columnist who changes sides of every question on a daily basis. I used to try to judge the fairness of his stuff, but decided to "pass" on him (choose another vowel if you like) and read the box scores instead.

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  • I'm as indifferent to the PED issue as you, Russ, and I'll bet most serious fans see it the same way. The explanation is hinted at in the end of your piece: the controllers of Baseball - Selig and his administrators; the club owners; and the players' union, all have implicitly condoned PED usage by largely ducking Sen. George Mitchel's report; side-stepping the BALCO-Bonds brouhaha; and resisting truly hardball penalties for usage. Players understandably inferred encouragement from their authorities. So why not chance it for a bigger slice of a finite compensation pie when the "cops" are largely turning a blind eye?

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  • I couldn't agree with you more, Russ and Carreraman. PED use happened and nothing can change that, and nothing can change that it is most likely still happening. You were totally spot on about this issue, when I read the news I just said, "well, duh." Oh, and Andrew McCutchen's dreads are pretty cool.

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  • I couldn't care less about the issue of steroids. if players are gonna use, who cares? they're making a choice to ruin their own bodies; they'll do well for a time and then fall apart. I think that's punishment enough.

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  • I'll be honest, I didn't expect papi to be juicing. manny, on the other hand...

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  • I'm surprised that you aren't more disappointed in Papi, Russ. Whenever I talked with my Sox fan buddy he always said that Papi was clean, that's what everyone thought. I think the MLB has to seriously confront the issue of PED's, because players are just going to find something new to take every time another is banned.

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  • I appreciate the comment, although I think you missed my point. It's not in MLB's interest to take a hard line on PED's--nor should they, from my perspective, since a player is only potentially harming himself and no one else--because there's too much money at stake. Same goes for the players' union, and, of course, all the agents, who want to maximize salaries, especially in this economic climate.

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