One of the writers I cited in the column was Craig Calcaterra, a blogger for NBC Sports’ Hardball Talk. I don’t know Craig, and I certainly have nothing personal against the man. But, ever since I was directed to his work last week, I’ve been dumbfounded by the simplicity of his general take.
Today, for example, Calcaterra slams Tom Verducci, my old SI colleague and the best baseball writer on the planet, for writing this in his latest SI.com column:
Bagwell’s numbers look worthy of Cooperstown, but he has been tied to steroid speculation enough that he “defended” himself in an ESPN.com interview last month. His defense? “I have no problem” with a guy juicing up, he said. To take such a position today is wildly irresponsible. It also invites the very talk that Bagwell claimed to be “sick and tired of.”
Bagwell was an admitted Andro user who hired a competitive bodybuilder to make him as big as he could be, who claimed, McGwire-like, that Andro “doesn’t help you hit home runs,” who went from a prospect with “no pop” to massively changing his body and outhomering all but six big leaguers in the 13 seasons before steroid penalties (Ken Griffey Jr. and five connected to steroids: Bonds, Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Juan Gonzalez), and who condones the use of steroids — but said, “I never used.”
Calcaterra refers to this sort of stuff as odius McCarthyism (Which leads to the question: Does Calcaterra actually know who Joseph McCarthy was, or does he just dig the term?), and writes: “Wow. Forget evidence or even eyeball-speculation. Now it’s enough to be merely “tied to speculation,” — query; who’s doing the tying? — to have defended oneself and to have engaged in “irresponsible” talk.” (Sidenote: I just picked up that, toward the end of his column, Calcaterra slams me. Ha).
If one reads Calcaterra’s stuff, he’ll quickly notice how a supposed “expert,” never references that, until 2004, Major League Baseball did not have testing—therefore making his sought-after proof an impossibility. Literally, the positive tests he so desperately seeks cannot exist. Why? Because baseball refused to test. Because the union stalled and hemmed and hawed until something had to give. Because the players didn’t want it.*
One more point: As far as I can tell, Craig Calcaterra never entered a Major League clubhouse during the era we’re all referencing. He wouldn’t understand the culture; certainly doesn’t know the relationship between players; the pressure to keep up; the … anything. At all. He is a former attorney with a laptop, hired by a website, to speak on behalf of a mounting faction of fans who desperately want this whole steroid debate to go away. Steroids? Never happened? PED? What’s that?
The reason baseball writers from the era (like Verducci, like Jon Heyman, like Ed Price) have so many suspicions and doubts about players like Jeff Bagwell is because they possess two things the Calcaterras of the world lack:
When I wrote my Roger Clemens biography a couple of years ago, I devoted much of my research time to delving into the Houston Astros’ clubhouse culture from the Rocket’s time with the team. As I’ve noted a more than once, the place was a hotbed for PED. A. Because of its proximity to Mexico (and, yes, many PEDs came—and surely stil come—from south of the border), the stuff was readily available; B. Because so many Astros used. This is not a guess, or speculation. This is fact. And just because a reporter can’t always name names in print (or online) doesn’t mean his material and knowledge is less than legitimate.
As I note in today’s column, Calcaterra is right—we don’t have proof Jeff Bagwell didn’t use, and in the absence of proof there is the possibility of innocence. But because proof—thanks to baseball and, specifically, the union—is an impossibility, we are left with speculation.
And, too often, ignorant bliss.
* The way a ballplayer got caught back them? A loudmouth trainer. And even then, as is the case with Clemens, people will scream, “But there’s no proof! Where’s the DNA-marked needle!”