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Big League Stew

The history of PED reporting in baseball

David Brown
Big League Stew

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If it seems like the media is a lot "tougher" on Major League Baseball players associated with performance-enhancing drugs than it used to be, well, no kidding. Just look at the Hall of Fame voting totals for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and others who have been implicated, and compare the results to coverage of the athletes when they played. The press has been making up for lost time.

An engaging post by Grantland's Bryan Curtis tries to explain what the media has done, and what it hasn't done, in reporting the history of PEDs in MLB. Curtis' own reporting is replete, and he tells a good story, but many of his conclusions are unsatisfying. Something is missing; perhaps it's that his analysis isn't critical enough. He lets his interview subjects tell the story, but the reporters' explanations are fraught with excuses, rationalizing, ignorance, arrogance and stunning admissions of incompetence.

That's not Curtis' fault, but ... OK, here's an example, using slugger Mark McGwire, who was referred to as "shy" twice in the story:

After he retired in 2001, Mark McGwire vanished. "People need to understand that he didn't run and hide [because of the steroid revelations]," said ESPN's Tim Kurkjian. "He was going to run and hide no matter what." But the allegations multiplied his natural shyness.

McGwire's unwillingness to talk — whatever his motivation or lack thereof — made it difficult to get him to incriminate himself. So what? As if that's the only way to investigate a story. Well, Curtis writes, it's the only way a baseball reporter apparently knows how to investigate a story.

And even if McGwire would talk, once manager Tony La Russa found out, he'd try to ban the reporter from the clubhouse for causing problems. It's probably true, but why should we accept this? Because these are the only baseball writers we have?

This is what Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe thinks of his own job:

"I've never been an investigative reporter," he said. "I'm not really interested in that. It's not what I got into this for."

Might as well omit the word "investigative." It's redundant, or is supposed to be. Why are attitudes like these — which remain in place — acceptable?

• "I asked the ballplayer 10 times if he was doing 'roids and he said no each time, so what else do you want me to do?"

• "Hey, what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse. I don't want to have my access taken by the manager."

• "I tried to get third-party rumors and innuendo into the newspaper because I lacked facts on which to base my reporting, but my curmudgeon of an editor just wouldn't let us print stories that could be considered slanderous."

• "There weren't enough grand-jury leaks or court documents implicating ballplayers in those days."

• "I'm a baseball reporter, not a reporter-reporter! I can't do any investigative journalism!"

Another excuse: MLB didn't start punishing players for using PEDs until 2005. That's certainly noteworthy, but just because it wasn't expressly against the rules until 2005 doesn't mean there weren't relevant stories to be written, or some kind of stance to be taken. This is (at least) one area where Curtis comes through with solid criticism of his colleagues failures.

Also: Why PEDs were apparently tolerated (if not encouraged) for so long is another story that has been criminally underreported. Perhaps, going forward, some reporter will look into that.

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David Brown edits Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rdbrown@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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