The thought struck me as I was working on this column about baseball’s latest steroids scandal that has dominated baseball news in the weeks leading to the start of spring training this week.
Everyone from the commissioner on down gets in a tizzy over steroids, especially when reports emerge identifying users or players who have allegedly used. Major League Baseball, with union cooperation, has steadily strengthened its testing program to the point where it boasts of having the toughest testing program in professional sports.
All well and good. Steroids are repulsive to baseball people because they are illegal, because they enhance players’ ability to perform and because their use constitutes cheating.
Now there is an intriguing concept: cheating. When I was growing up, there was a saying that cheaters never gain. Well, of course, they gain, some more than others. Barry Bonds for one.
What has been largely overlooked, however, is that cheating occurs off the field as well as on. Sometimes it’s not the players who cheat but their employers.
Shocking! The owners cheat? It’s like the scene from the movie “Casablanca,” when police Capt. Louis Renault is ordered to shut down Rick’s Café American and exclaims, as he accepts a wad of cash from a café employee, “I am shocked – shocked – to find that gambling is going on in here!”
Yes, the owners cheat, they don’t admit it and sometimes they gain. But let’s look at one example: the owners’ collusion against free agents, which they began in 1985 only a few weeks after they reached agreement with the players on a new labor contract, including the anti-collusion language that “clubs shall not act in concert with other clubs.”
The owners cheated for three years, and two arbitrators found them guilty in three different grievances. “Collusion was the worst stain on baseball in its history, no doubt about it,” Richard Moss, the union’s general counsel from 1966 to 1977, said Friday.
Seven months before he died at the age of 95, Marvin Miller was still talking about it.
“They put the Black Sox scandal into infancy,” Miller said. “This was really a scandal of major proportion and to this day it hasn’t been treated as such or written about or really researched at any time. It’s kind of shocking when you think about it.”
Yet owners did not admit that they cheated. Bill Giles, who was the managing partner of the Phillies at the time, eventually admitted that the owners had colluded, in his 2011 book, but before that publication, the only management people who acknowledged that the owners had colluded were Fay Vincent, the former commissioner and Richard Ravitch, the clubs’ chief labor executive in the early 1990s. Neither was on the baseball scene to experience collusion first hand.
Commissioner Bud Selig, who owned the Milwaukee Brewers and was chairman of the clubs’ player relation committee, was knee deep in collusion, but he has never admitted the owners cheated. The words have never left his mouth: We cheated.
Yet Selig penalizes players who cheat by using performance-enhancing drugs. If you think there’s a difference between colluding against free agents and using steroids, think again. Cheating is cheating.
The cheating perpetrated by Selig and his fellow owners resulted in lost jobs and end of careers for some players. Billy Sample last week recalled in this space how his career ended after the 1986 season as the result of collusion.
By conspiring to snub other teams’ free agents, clubs displayed less than a 100 percent effort to win, thus cheating their fans as well as the players.
“Owners refused to better their teams,” Miller said. “They passed on talent and it amounted in my view to throwing games. That’s what you do when you refuse to improve a team.”
Once the arbitrators found them guilty, the clubs ultimately agreed to pay the players $280 million in damages, but that was a cheap price to pay for their cheating. Not many of those cheaters are still around – Selig, Jerry Reinsdorf, Fred Wilpon – but since he has hung around for the last two decades as commissioner, Selig could have acknowledged that the owners colluded, that he was part of their illegal plan and that he was apologizing to the players and the fans.
That’s what steroids users are expected to do, isn’t it, admit what they did and apologize for having done it? They don’t say they cheated, but neither does Selig. I guess the commissioner has set a bad example for his younger colleagues.
Now what about the latest batch of alleged steroids users? Well, they’re not all alleged. Three of the newly named players were suspended for 50 games each last year after positive tests and a fourth, the ubiquitous Alex Rodriguez, has admitted previous use.
Their names and others have been linked to a now closed anti-aging clinic in south Florida by reports from two different outlets.
A weekly newspaper, the Miami New Times, broke the story in a 5,400 word report crammed with documents naming players with amounts of money and names of banned substances attached to the names.
Yahoo! Sports later reported additional details from the Bosch documents, including the name of Ryan Braun, like Rodriguez a most valuable player, though in Braun’s case no drugs were attached to his name.
Major League Baseball wants in. That is, it wants the New Times documents the newspaper used for its report. Two M.L.B. officials met with the New Times editor, Chuck Strouse, and Tim Elfrink, the reporter, in Florida last Monday and requested the documents.
“We had one meeting,” said Pat Courtney, senior vice president for public relations, who was joined by Rob Manfred, an executive vice president. “It was a cordial meeting.”
Strouse did not give Courtney and Manfred an immediate answer. The major league officials did not try to learn the newspaper’s source. It was obviously someone who worked for Anthony Bosch’s clinic and most likely had it in for Bosch and wanted to unmask him as a dispenser of steroids and other illegal substances.
The source, however, apparently was not satisfied with what the New Times ran and sought out another outlet or two. That’s how Braun’s name came out, and that disclosure suggests that the source was unhappy that an arbitrator’s ruling let Braun escape a 50-game suspension.
The Braun mention very likely eluded the New Times because no drugs were noted. There was a lot of data to wade through.
A weekly newspaper is not the usual recipient of such information, but obviously the person who possessed it preferred the New Times to any of the south Florida dailies.
Not sure what to make of it initially, the newspaper sent letters to the teams whose players were named in the documents. The teams, in turn, alerted the commissioner’s office.
Realizing the potential magnitude of the story, Tim Elfrink, the paper’s managing editor, who would write the story, proceeded cautiously and carefully with no one outside the paper knowing what he was working on.
I wouldn’t want to predict what Strouse’s answer to M.L.B. will be, but I hope he follows the example of the San Francisco Chronicle nearly a decade ago when M.L.B. sought transcripts the newspaper had of grand jury testimony in a Federal steroids investigation.
“I don’t remember baseball really pushing; we got a call from them,” said Glenn Schwarz, then the Chronicle sports editor. “It was clear that we weren’t going to give them anything.”
The Chronicle, in effect, told baseball to do its own work and don’t ask it to be an investigative arm of M.L.B. It’s one thing for the government to help baseball by telling Kirk Radomski he could avoid prosecution for steroids sales if he gave M.L.B. the names of his baseball customers. It’s another for a newspaper to aid and abet a baseball probe.
As the Chronicle did in the Balco investigation, I think any major daily would rebuff a baseball solicitation, but major dailies haven’t been much of a factor in this latest scandal.
The New York Daily News had an article at the start of the month quoting a source as saying Rodriguez had summoned Bosch to his Miami waterfront home to inject him, but the New Times had published its more comprehensive piece a few days earlier.
Generally, however, the Daily News has done a far more impressive and aggressive job than The New York Times, whose sports section these days seems more interested in snowboarding and dog-sledding than legitimate news. For much of the run of the Bosch stories, the Times has quoted another publication or Web site.
In fact, the Miami New Times has appeared so frequently – 9 days in a 12-day span before Sunday – that the papers’ names seem to be blending and emerging as the Miami/New York New/Old Times or simply the New/Old Times.
At the end of that period, the Old Times, by its own admission, “has not independently authenticated the Bosch records….”
Does this mean the records are suspect? Or might it mean the Old Times has been unable to match the New Times’ report; in other words, the Old Times doesn’t have the documents so it doesn’t know if they are or aren’t legitimate?
There was a time when the Old Times would not give credence to another publication’s report if the Old Times couldn’t learn of the report’s information on its own. Maybe the Old Times has changed its policy because if it didn’t carry other publications’ reports, it would miss a lot of stories and deprive its readers of information readers of other newspapers would know.
This is not to say the Old Times has not had stories other papers haven’t had. Last Thursday the Old Times quoted “recent associates of Bosch,” who doubted that he was capable of being “at the nexus of a major doping scandal.”
My first thought was the Old Times, unable to match the New Times story, was trying to debunk it. That sort of gamesmanship has gone on forever in the industry, especially where there has been fierce competition, such as in New York with its two tabloids, the Daily News and the Post.
I am, however, not prepared to draw that conclusion. I’ll leave it up to baseball’s investigators to determine if Bosch’s roster of players had a similar percentage of cheaters as Kirk Radomski, the renowned steroids salesman, fed to George Mitchell in 2007.
And when the investigators are finished flushing out the steroids cheats, they can turn their bloodhound-like attention to the collusion cheats.
SCHILLING NOT PITCHING BUT STILL TALKING
Curt Schilling talks so much his mouth gets in the way of his brain. I’m probably not the first person to make that observation, but I feel compelled to offer it after having seen his latest foot-in-mouth episode.
The loquacious pitcher created a steroids storm last week when he said in a Boston radio interview that in 2008, when he was trying to come back from a shoulder injury instead of retiring, someone in the Red Sox organization suggested to him that a banned performance-enhancing substance could do the trick.
Schilling did not identify the person, but he ruled out enough people to narrow the possibilities to a precious few.
It wasn’t one of the owners, Schilling said, the manager, general manager, assistant general manager, anyone in uniform, the head trainer, the massage therapist, the medical operations coordinator. Schilling apparently didn’t stop talking long enough to realize that if he eliminated everyone but one person, people would know who the person was.
As it turned out, this was a completely incestuous story. Schilling is an ESPN commentator. He told of the alleged PED idea in an interview on ESPN radio in Boston. Then later in the week, last week, ESPNBoston.com reported that two investigations, one by Major League Baseball, the other by the Red Sox, found Schilling’s claim to be baseless.
One more thing. The member of the Red Sox organization who made the suggestion to Schilling was said to be Mike Reinold, the team’s head physical therapist. Who said it? ESPNBoston.com, of course.
Just one question: Would anyone, even in Boston, have cared if the interview had never been done?