In his June 8 post at Midwestsportsfans.com, "The Curious Case of Raul Ibanez: Steroid Speculation Perhaps Unfair, but Great Start in 2009 Raising Eyebrows," Jerod "JRod" Morris is guilty of both -- and he was ambushed on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" because of it (the steroid part ... not the 'Curious Case' part).
Ibanez himself also took a shot at Morris. From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
"You can have my urine, my hair, my blood, my stool - anything you can test," Ibanez said. "I'll give you back every dime I've ever made" if the test is positive.
"I'll put that up against the jobs of anyone who writes this stuff," he said. "Make them accountable. There should be more credibility than some 42-year-old blogger typing in his mother's basement. It demeans everything you've done with one stroke of the pen."
In his post, Morris begins innocuously enough -- outlining his thought process behind his fantasy baseball draft -- which includes the drafting of Ibanez in the ninth round. He breaks down the ballpark dimensions of Citizens Bank Park and Safeco Field -- where Ibanez played the last few seasons with the Mariners. He continues to lay out myriad factors that have contributed to his improved stats -- including the fact that he's taken advantage of playing in some hitter-friendly ballparks and facing some paltry pitching. He actually breaks it down nicely -- and if he had left it at the ballpark and pitching stats, his post wouldn't have generated any buzz whatsoever.
But then he wrote this:
"Any aging hitter who puts up numbers this much better than his career averages is going to immediately generate suspicion that the numbers are not natural, that perhaps he is under the influence of some sort of performance enhancer. And since I was not able to draw any absolute parallels between his prodigously improved HR rate and his new ballpark's hitter-friendliness, it would be foolish to dismiss the possibility that "other" performance enhancers could be part of the equation."
Granted, Morris never specifically accuses Ibanez of using PEDs. Instead, he offers this:
"It will be a wonderful day when we can see a great start by a veteran like Ibanez and not immediately jump to speculating about whether steroids or PEDs are involved. We certainly are not at that point yet, however."
It's the crux of his argument, and very close to what our Sun-Times colleague Rick Telander was getting at when he brought up a similar question about Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot.
In his May 15 column "Small hitter, big problem," Telander wrote:
"The whole proposition may be ludicrous. In fact, I'm pretty sure it is.
"But this is what baseball has wrought.
"This is what we tried to tell Bud Selig and Donald Fehr and all the head-in-the-sand executive clowns for years and years would happen if Major League Baseball and its union left athletes to their own devices, acting as though crazy numbers came about just because eating and lifting had become trendy."
Telander's column caused a stir and irked Theriot, but it didn't raise the ire or inspire the same time of vitriol Morris' post has. And that's because of the simple fact that Morris is a blogger and lacks Telander's cache. It's a question of access.
Is this to say that Morris' point is invalid? It definitely echos the mindset of an overwhelming number of fans.
Take Ibanez' name out of the post, and replace it with, "every player who is performing well this season." Because of what happened during the Steroid Era, there exists a massive mistrust of anyone who achieves quick success in the game of baseball. Many fans feels scorned by Major League Baseball and its players. Add to that the ridiculously easy access to self-publishing tools, and you have yourself a perfect storm. A mouthpiece for the common fan.
This afternoon, Morris appeared on OTL to answer for his perceived sins along with the Inquirer's John Gonzales and FoxSports.com senior baseball writer Ken Rosenthal. Not only was he outnumbered by two people who were intent on chiding him, but Morris, appearing in bad lighting and cast as the face of all bloggers, was put at an immediate aesthetic disadvantage next to his polished, well-lit counterparts.
In his Tuesday column, Gonzales makes a good point, despite the pretense and condescension:
"MLB started the fire, but that doesn't mean we have to keep it going by tossing players and their Louisville sluggers into the flames. At a time when anybody's opinion can be quickly amplified and the weakest voices can suddenly make the loudest noise, I worry about fairness.
"Ibanez hasn't tested positive, and he's denied taking PEDs on multiple occasions. Until there's proof to the contrary, shouldn't all of us - from the traditional mainstream media to bloggers - be judicious about calling people cheaters? It's easier to sling mud than ever before, which is why we need to be careful when taking aim."
So, sports writers, if you are so inclined to pessimism to assume or question whether a specific player is using PEDs, I suggest you simply assume that every player who plays the game today is mainlining Andro for breakfast and moisturizing nightly with HGH -- it will do you just as much good as contemplating the habits of individual players. But stop writing about it. We all already know it's a scourge, but it's now become cliche. And until you have hard proof, it's just empty fodder and anything but a curious case.