Today’s SI.com column …

is on why Major League Baseball is to blame for the Hall of Fame/steroid mess, and why voters have been forced to question the legitimacy of it all.

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:

A. Experience.

B. Sources.

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!”

16 thoughts on “Today’s SI.com column …”

  1. But what he does have is actual legal experience. I mean, if you’re going to devote this many words to slamming a guy, you may want to spend the 2 minutes it would take to google him and actually look up what he did. Just an idea.

  2. 1. Calcaterra and other bloggers are not wishing away PEDs, they are instead arguing that because of the impossibility of proving who used PEDs pre-testing, it is impossible to apply a consistent standard for taking PED-use into account of Hall of Fame voting that isn’t all-or-nothing.
    2. “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.” You did enter a clubhouse during this period, did you report about the culture of doping before it became obvious that half of baseball was on PEDs? You conveniently blame MLB and the union for being slow on the PED enforcement, but the media was also slow to recognize the influence of PEDs in baseball. You may want to mention that in your history of steroids narrative.
    3. I hope you appreciate the irony of slamming bloggers on a blog.

  3. Antonio D'Arcangelis

    Okay. I gotta weight in here.

    Some of your criticisms are unfair, Jeff. I’m a huge fan of yours, but your overall stance on steroids has always smacked of both sanctimony and a hint of defensiveness.

    It’s tough to deny that a fraction of the blame with the steroid era falls on the beat writers (the guys in the clubhouses who “understood” all about the relationships between players, the culture, etc.) for exactly the reasons you cited that Craig is not an expert.

    As fans, we relied that beat writers were giving us most of the story, or at least a modicum of the juicy tidbits that could be gleaned from the all-access pass you were granted. Sure, some writers tried to start a conversation. There’s the famous story about Murray Chass wanting to bring up Mike Piazza’s bacne in the NYT, only to be flatly rejected by the editors. I’m not a Chass fan, but you get my point. It was the exception to the rule (the rule being that baseball writers kept their goddamn mouths shut). I could count the number of pre-1998 steroid articles written by the MLB beat writers — self- admitted “insiders” — on one hand. That’s not my bad, or the players…it’s an undeniable fuck-up (by the baseball media) that most beat writers have failed to acknowledge.

    The damage is done, and there’s no getting our innocence back. Actually, baseball has always been a sport stained by controversy and cheating, no matter how hard we misremember its sordid past. We’re intoxicated by the pastoral nature of baseball, and we forget it’s a pretty dirty sport. The way I see it, you can’t start excluding guys from that era, period. Babe Ruth once injected himself with sheep testosterone because he thought it would give him an edge. Greenies were prevalent throughout baseball clubhouses from the moment you could ask “why is mommy working so hard in the kitchen at 2 AM?”

    I greatly respect your work, Jeff, but the sanctimony that so many baseball writers spew out on this topic is a tad sickening. The rage over steroids does little to expand our knowledge on the topic. It distracts us from what we truly need an injection of on the issue – education.

    HGH and steroids are not evil. Ask any doctor worth his salt and he’ll expound on the benefits of these drugs. Abuse, of course, should not be condoned, but any decent conversation on the issue can’t begin with exclusion and finger-pointing. It starts with education. And when the issue came up for more review, the reaction of most of the beat writers failed to educate and inform about steroids themselves, because they already had a definition for them, and subsequently a distorted image of the guys who used them. Steve Wilstein got vilified for outing McGwire’s andro usage, and everybody clammed up. Once they had an appropriate villain (Bonds), it became kosher to start asking questions (albeit the wrong ones).

    So PUULLEEEEZZZ…unless you’re going to start educating us on steroids and advancing the argument, stop writing about the whole HOF-steroids issue, unless it’s just to say that it’s a non-issue. If not, you’re just like all the shitty beat writers with their holier-than-thou attitudes who missed the real story (when you had the chance) and never got back on track.

  4. While I’m sympathetic to the “yeah, but you writers failed to report it!” argument, it’s only to a point. Because remember what The Baseball Establishment did to that poor guy who had the temerity to report about the bottle of Andro that was sitting in plain sight in Mark McGwire’s locker.

    So, yeah, a guy who reported on something in plain sight that was (at the time) legal…was banned from the Cardinals’ clubhouse by that slimy hypocrite Tony LaRussa. If I’m a beat writer, I see that, and I’m not scared to death about my livelihood…

  5. I see that Antonio did point that out about McGwire’s Andro. But I don’t think he gave it proper weight. That *terrified* a lot of the beat writers.

    These guys *knew*. LaRussa knew (if you doubt that, read Howard Bryant’s book…he knew about Canseco all along). But LaRussa had all the power, and the writers had none.

  6. But that just backs my point further. Many players worried about keeping their jobs were the ones taking steroids, but the layers are the pariahs… not the writers. What makes what the writers did any better? i think it makes it worse. Their jobs revolve around ethics. Baseball is a game with much cloudier ethics than journalism.

  7. William Satterwhite

    I can’t speak for anyone else but to me, the problem with all the Bagwell stuff is that it does seem irresponsible and unjust for writers who do have access to the kind of sources you and your colleagues (like a Tom Verducci) have access to just throw out there that you have suspicions about a player like Bagwell and then just leave it at that. When I, as a fan, read this-

    “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.”

    -I can’t understand how you can make an actual public accusation against Bagwell without any actual proof or hard evidence. Are there no former trainers that Bagwell worked with who can be tracked down to at least go on the record as refusing to talk ala Greg Anderson? Are there no dealers who can directly link Bagwell to the acquisition of steroids? You are exactly right that people like Calcaterra and that mounting faction of fans he represents (of which I consider myself to be one of) have not been in the clubhouses and have not had access to the sources that professional writers have but if anything, that is the reason we expect and demand more than accusations based on circumstantial evidence (no matter how strong). It’s one thing for Joe Blow Fan to say publicly that he suspects Bagwell of juicing because he hit a lot of home runs and was a big buff guy and played for a team strongly linked to PEDs because that’s all the info that Joe Blow Fan can have to go on. But from professional writers who can have access to much more information, we expect much more.

  8. The thing about the take from your SI column, reprinted here, is that it makes no sense at all. Don’t you think that when the “innocent until proven guilty” concept arose, they considered the possibility that sometimes proof might be impossible? And that the principle held anyway?

    I know you’ve apologized for attacking Craig so I don’t want to harp on it, but there is something funny about your blasting someone for his “simplistic” takes when yours completely ignores the whole history of the terms you’re dealing with and just makes no sense at all.

  9. re: Your comment that the majority of baseball writers want proof before accusing a player of using steroids.

    If by majority you mean, pretty much everyone, then yes. If you mean the BBWAA then..no. At least going by the Bagwell vote and the McGwire vote before he admitted his use. And judging by the Kevin Brown vote, and the Alomar ‘punishment year’, I can only assume a huge majority of the BBWAA are a mean-spirited, grumpy, grumpy group with a very long memory of grievances.

  10. Mama mia. “Innocent until proven guilty” applies in a court of law, not to a Hall of Fame vote. For goodness’ sake…

  11. The Pride of Curry

    While “innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t apply in a Hall of Fame vote, deciding that because you THINK someone did something, they can’t be enshrined is, at best, moronic.

  12. You quote Verducci that Jeff Bagwell “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.” Take a look at some of the tapes of Bagwell’s 1994 season. He was not very bulky at all. He hit 39 homeruns in a strike shortened season and was on a pace to hit 55 before he got hurt the day before the strike happened. Thus, the argument that his bulking up gave him power he did not have before simply does not bear scrutiny if you look at how he looked in 94.

    While some writers that voted against Bagwell say that he is under suspicion because of his bulking up and it is up to him to dispove it, I have a much different take. With the protections that the First Amendment gives writers writing about public figures, the facts are that not one sports writer has come up with a “scoop” that Bagwell used PED’s, that Jose Canseco hasn’t mentioned him, that his name hasn’t come up in the Mitchell report or in any of the leaks about the Union “confidential” testing, or any other testing, leads me to conclude that the press has nothing on him and PED’s. If you or others do, you should write the story. If you are asking me to trust you, that you know things you can’t write, my response is: why should I. You make an assertion that Bagwell had no power before he bulked up, an assertion that a review of 1994 films refutes. If you are wrong on this one central point of the argument, I have no reason to believe that you know things you can’t print. I would be disappointed if Bagwell turns out to have lied about his usage, but right now based on what I know, the arguments against Bagwell strike me as very weak. It reeks of a witch hunt.

  13. If you did so much research on the Astros during this period, surely you have some evidence of Bagwell using. I have yet to see you come forth with it.

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