Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Peter Gammons

Full disclosure – I love Gammons. I’ve never tried to hide that fact, even though a lot of people see him as biased and slow to adapt. I grew up reading him every Sunday in the Boston Globe, kept reading him on ESPN until they Insidered him, and always looked forward to his Diamond Notes on SportsCenter. As unwatchable as Baseball Tonight is now, if I happen upon it while flipping channels, I’ll keep it on if Gammons is on the set. More than anyone else in the media, he made baseball fun for me to follow.

Now… all of that being said, his response to the Mitchell Report, both on screen and in print, has been insulting. I’m not even exaggerating; I’m literally insulted by the way he dismisses baseball’s steroid problem and blames everyone but the dirty players. His follow-up column to the Mitchell Report (it’s Insider, so I have to admit that I haven’t read the whole thing – for details, check here) reads like the minutes from a support group meeting. Woe is he! Everything is just so unfair!

Gammons contends that the “sewer rats” who spoke to Mitchell – McNamee and Radomski – and their sordid tales of drug dealing and injecting, are not to be trusted. Why is that, exactly? Who else should we be asking to explain baseball’s drug culture to us? If you want to know about drug use and trafficking, you can ask two parties: the user, or the dealer. Well, the users seem pretty well content to give us “no comments” and half-truths, so our options for substantive information are pretty much limited to the dealers.

And even if the users were to speak freely, the dealers have a more intimate knowledge of the drugs and the drug culture than anyone. If you’re a player, you can get a dealer’s name and a phone number from someone, send them a check, get your pills and needles in the mail, and go off and take your drugs, oblivious to the enormity of what just happened. You don’t have to think about everything behind-the-scenes: the illegal prescriptions, the sources behind the sources, the health risks. If you convince yourself that you’re just taking vitamins and training hard, eventually it becomes true to you.

The dealers know what they’re doing. They’re aware of all of the illegalities and side effects, the pitfalls and the perils. Does it make them good people? Of course not. But it makes them knowledgeable sources, and whether they’re “gym rats” or “clubhouse guys” does nothing to change that. Nobody likes Jose Canseco, and everyone dismissed his initial claims about individual use and the widespread nature of the problem. Guess what, Peter? He was right! He’s been right all along, and your precious baseball institution, instead of listening to him and acting, blackballed him and slandered him, because he was a no-good, boat-rocking, steroid-using “sewer rat.”

Gammons bitches about hearsay testimonials from the sewer rats, but he saves his best for Larry Bigbie, claiming that he fingered Brian Roberts “without evidence of any wrongdoing whatsoever.” Roberts told Bigbie that he tried steroids once. Bigbie told Mitchell what Roberts said. Mitchell printed it. It seems that Gammons has decided, despite his unwavering trust in the judgment and honesty of dirty players, not to trust Larry Bigbie. This conversation that he had with Roberts is not “evidence,” apparently. Bigbie either imagined the entire thing, or made it up for no good reason. That makes perfect sense.

Disregarding the incredible idiocy that it would take to defend Roberts before he had even commented on the matter, Roberts was named (or at the very least, allegedly named) by Jason Grimsley, along with five other guys of whom you may have heard: Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Miguel Tejada, Jay Gibbons, and David Segui. All five of them were also named by Mitchell. Segui admitted that he was in the Grimsley affidavit, and also to using HGH and steroids before the Mitchell Report was even released. Gibbons was linked to Signature Pharmacy, suspended by MLB, and eventually admitted to using HGH. Rafael Palmiero and was linked to Tejada, and Canseco named him as a "suspected" juicer in his book. That’s a lot of smoke surrounding a guy to whose defense Gammons just couldn’t wait to jump.

Not surprisingly, Roberts used the company “I only did it once and felt bad about it right away” line and admitted that he tried steroids, just as the report said he had. Gammons hasn’t been heard from again on the matter.

All of this is bad, but the money shot, if you will, has to be seen to be believed:

“You can blame the players association and you can blame Bud Selig, but the fact remains that the players who were truly clean did not exercise their power to avoid this, nor did their owners care to know as the business went from a $1.3B industry in 1995 to one that topped $6.2B in 2007.”

I agree with the bookends of what he says: the MLBPA, Selig, and the owners all share part of the blame here. But read that middle section again:

“but the fact remains that the players who were truly clean did not exercise their power to avoid this”
Do my senses deceive me, or did Gammons just blame the clean players for baseball’s steroids problem? How can this possibly be allowed to happen? I hope, I really do hope, that ESPN’s ombudsman takes him to task for this in her next column, because this is a completely irresponsible thing to say at the very least. Here he is condemning society’s willingness to rush to judgment when playing the blame game, and he quickly blames the players who haven’t even done anything wrong!

As for the power of the clean players to avoid this, what if Canseco was right (again)? What if more than half of baseball players were on the stuff, and the clean minority was powerless to convince the union that stiffer testing was needed? That couldn’t possibly be true, though. Canseco’s a sewer rat, after all.

Congrats, Pete. I thought you were untouchable. I really thought there was nothing you could say or do that would make me turn on you, but you’ve done it. You’ve become the face of the “see no evil” media in this whole steroid mess. If you want to ignore the problem entirely, just don’t say or write anything, because you’re doing more harm than good right now, both to the public’s perception of the problem, and to the real fan’s perception of you.

No comments: