June 11, 2009
In the span of just a few days, Jerod Morris' long-winded examination of Raul Ibanez's sizzling start has turned from some nice cud for people who follow the sport a little closer than most to a spot on ESPN's Outside The Lines as one of the bigger baseball stories so far this season.
A quick primer for those of you still blissfully unaware of the recent firestorm: Morris (left) of Midwest Sports Fans wrote a Monday post that looked at various reasons why Ibanez (center) is setting the most blistering pace of his career at age 37 before deciding that none of the explanations could completely absolve him of the steroid suspicion that hangs over all players in the year 2009.
The next day, John Gonzalez (right) of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote a tsk-tsking column with a headline that labeled Morris' post 'a cheap shot' which then gave co-worker Jim Salisbury an opportunity to approach Ibanez for comment that night. It didn't go very well.
Today, everyone with a Blogspot account and the ability to type is weighing in on the story with some going the mainstream media v. bloggers route while others like Joe Posnanski are taking a look at the situation by shining a wider light on Ibanez's stats.
Though I've agreed with the folks who correctly point out Rick Telander wrote similar things about Ryan Theriot this season without raising the ire of other writers — or the Rays Index post that just called out Jon Heyman's hypocrisy — the best point that anyone has made is that it was the Philadelphia Inquirer and not Morris, who started this fire.
OK, so it was Morris who made the initial post that mentioned Ibanez and steroids in a headline that was more sensational than his article — that was his biggest mistake, by the way — but it was the paper people who turned the post into a Trojan horse so that they could introduce the topic to their exponentially-larger audience. That's bothersome to me.
Look, the beginning of this season has seen plenty of steroid speculation in a variety of forums — on Twitter feeds, on blogs, on radio shows and, as we saw with the Theriot-Telander case, even in newspapers. Whether it was fair or not — and I don't think it was — Ibanez was among those names most frequently whispered. It was only a matter of time until this issue broke the surface like Shamu at Sea World and flopped into the first row. Morris just happened to be the guy who cracked open the door so everyone else could think that their subsequent storming was somehow more legitimate.
And that's is what I find so disingenuous about the whole episode. Gonzalez's initial column took on a scolding tone and warned about the dangers of slinging mud in the age of instant transmission. Though his points about social media giving anyone the power to become a newsmaker were well founded (and have been proven true in many instances), Gonzalez either fails to see or acknowledge the key point that there's still a hierarchy in place.
Though the barriers are few and the boundaries grow blurrier by the day, there are still certain outlets — think Deadspin, Twitterers with a millions of followers and, yes, even the Philly Inquirer — that hold kingmaking ability over what becomes news and what doesn't. There is still a system of checks and balances in place and if Gonzalez had just used the same standards that he and fellow OTL panelist Ken Rosenthal warn the blogosphere about having, I'm probably not taking up half of my Thursday by writing a response to this situation.
But Gonzalez did step up with his sermon in his paper, which escalated Morris' post to a wider audience and lent it more legitimacy by the mere mention of it. It then allowed Salisbury to walk down an apologetic path and approach Ibanez on a topic that should have crossed any objective reporter's mind. (I mean, you can just imagine how he introduced that question, can't you? "Sorry Raul, this is just from some blogger, but what do you think about ...")
Admittedly, this isn't the first time a mainstreamer has used an obscure blogger to funnel an issue to a wider audience and it probably isn't going to be the last.
But to introduce a blogger's post to a larger world with leery-eyed writing and then deem it worthy enough to ask Ibanez about? Well, that's where I get off the line.
Either it was or it wasn't, and the gatekeepers must realize that they still hold the power to decide if it is or it isn't. At this point, I still don't know where the Inquirer stands or if it even grasps that it had the power to make a choice to make in the first place.