On the day when the Senate votes on a stimulus package to attempt to remedy the most serious financial crisis in U.S. history, the New York press got their priorities right: the lead stories are all about whether a baseball player took drugs six years ago, before they were banned by his sport. Not a hundred or more baseball players, just one.
As for putting the Rodriguez story in perspective, Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus beat us to it yesterday, so we’ll quote him: “This is a big story, in the sense that it involves a famous person, a bad act, and America’s true favorite pastime of tearing down people of achievement … It also provides a new way to pick on Alex Rodriguez who — whatever he did in 2003 — is probably the hardest-working baseball player to ever become a national punch line.” We agree with Sheehan that “while it’s a big story, however, it’s not a big deal. We already know that baseball players great and small were using PEDs. That was the only thing of substance from the Mitchell book report.
Perhaps the nastiest element of the whole sordid tale is how it is being twisted to serve the press’s penchant for union bashing — for instance, this morning’s story by Michael O’Keeffe and Teri Thompson in the Daily News, which begins “when Gene Orza would show up in a baseball clubhouse during the 2004 season seeking out certain players, just about everyone on the team had a pretty good idea why he was there: to let them know they’d failed a major League baseball drug test.” To which O’Keeffe and Thompson should have added “And he was just doing his job.”
Bob Costas, who ought to know better, poured a bucket of oil on the fire on the MLB Network with charges that Orza, the union’s COO, was “tipping” the players about upcoming drug tests. Since Costas cited no new sources, we assume he was taking his lead from a statement in the Sports Illustrated story by Selena Roberts and David Epstein that threw out the first pitch.
Here’s what Roberts and Epstein said: “According to the 2007 Mitchell Report on steroid use in baseball, in September 2004 Gene Orza, the Chief Operating Officer of the Players Union, violated an agreement with MLB by tipping of a player (not named in the report) about an upcoming, supposedly unannounced drug test. Three major league players who spoke to SI said that Rodriguez was also tipped by Orza in early September 2004 that he would be tested later month.” Orza already addressed and dealt with these allegations two years ago at the height of the Mitchell frenzy: he was informing his union members that they had not been tested so far that year, and that therefore their test could be coming up soon.
This was accepted by the press at the time, and apparently forgotten about. Now it is misinterpreted in the hysteria surrounding the A-Rod mess. As for actual “tipping,” no one has explained how it could have been possible: there is no provision in the Basic Agreement between the union and MLB for prior knowledge of which players will be tested when — that is precisely what the word “random” means. (Why would the commissioner’s office allow for the possibility of a leak by informing the union in advance of tests?)
That a “tip” wouldn’t have helped Rodriguez much in any event is confirmed by PED expert, Will Carroll, author of The Juice: The Real Story of Baseball’s Drug Problems, who wrote last Saturday that primobolan, one of the two substances Rodriguez tested positive for “has a six month detectable for the injectable form.”