Fitting that we should be closing out 2007 not with a story about the current Mariners, but one about teams of yesteryear. Some of you won’t like that. Too bad. No use trying to make sense of the present-day team when we don’t have a true grip on the past just yet. I know from your emails that many of you have feelings on both sides of the whole Shane Monahan controversy. Monahan went public on ESPN.com last Friday, saying that steroids and amphetamines were rampant in the team’s clubhouse in 1998 and 1999. Larry Stone and I did a follow-up story in Sunday’s paper in which Jamie Moyer and Raul Ibanez disputed the “rampant drugs” allegations.
Some of you feel our story was a “puff piece” and that we should “begin investigating” what really went on with the team during its glory years. Others have likened us to “McCarthyism” for daring to suggest teams of the past were juiced up without irrefutable evidence.
Here’s where I stand:
I’ve been running out of patience over the last few years with folks who suggest reporters, baseball writers –and beat writers in particular — “blew it” on the steroids story. Yes, there are some beat writers who looked the other way, or were too lazy to do their jobs. Many of them are the same guys coming out now, issuing mea culpas for their profession. It should come as no surprise that some of these guys have the best contacts in the business. And why wouldn’t they? Not like they made any waves that would shake up the industry on any stuff going on away from the diamond. Hey, whatever makes them feel better. But they should apologize for themselves, not for me, or the rest of my colleagues.
There has been some excellent reporting work done on steroids in baseball over the past decade. It’s all there if you care to look. There are numerous references to this work and the reporters who did it, in the Mitchell Report. Did this work come out in 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were duking it out for the home run title? By and large, no. Although there was the infamous androstenedione controversy that year when an AP reporter noticed a bottle of the performance enhancing drug in McGwire’s locker and asked him about it. Did a write-up on it. Does that count as reporting?
The idea that the media “missed” this story because there was no tell-all investigative piece replete with photographs of players injecting themselves with needles is insane. Even the “Watergate” stories by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein took years to unfold. Richard Nixon actually got elected to a landslide second term before the Washington Post’s dynamic reporting duo could get enough meat behind their stories to force him to resign. Last I checked, Woodward and Bernstein weren’t forced to cover daily city council meetings from 3 p.m. to midnight every day, in multiple cities around the U.S., the way baseball beat writers are forced to maintain their daily coverage of teams.
This is not an excuse. Just a reality check. Sen. George Mitchell had two years, a seven-figure budget, an investigative staff and the power to compell MLB employees to co-operate with his probe. The best he could do was piggyback on two federal investigations to get a list of names generated almost entirely by two government witnesses. Give a couple of reporters that kind of money, staff and power to question and I guarantee you they’ll do a better job.
So, I’m sorry some of you want an instant investigation on the Mariners to come out with all the answers by next Tuesday. It isn’t going to happen.
I told you on the eve of the Mitchell Report about the work I did in 2005 for the Toronto Star, in which we described a serious problem of performance enhancing drugs being ingrained into young Dominican players in their early teens. We talked about the type of super-pro players being developed in that country at younger ages and at much faster rates than players in the U.S. The same players guys like Shane Monahan had to compete against coming up. We interviewed activists here in the U.S. who demanded that MLB start carrying out drug testing of all Dominican prospects BEFORE they sign pro contracts. That way, the theory goes, they will be dissuaded from getting hooked into the sport’s drug culture before their 16th birthdays. Some of you cared. Others yawned and shrugged.
Last year, here at the Times, we gave you the first stories from Venezuela done by any North American paper about the MLB drug testing program in that country. We raised issues in that story about the transparency of the program and whether the rules for its appeals process were being followed. Ask any experts on steroids testing programs and they will tell you that unless a program has rigid rules that are followed to-the-letter, it is useless.
Did anyone care? More of you seemed up-in-arms a few weeks later when we published a feature on Felix Hernandez from Venezuela that some felt portrayed him as overweight.
News flash: The number of Dominican and Venezuelan players in both the major and minor leagues has increased exponentially for years. If there is a steroid, HGH, or other PED problem in their ranks, being ingrained at a very young age by adults trying to sell these players off like cattle, then MLB is going to have a drug problem for years to come.
No, the Mitchell Report did not tackle this issue. But when players like Shane Monahan come out and say they took steroids because they had to compete with the players around them, who do you think many of these players are? Where do you think the easiest-attainable drugs come from? Do you see 12-year-olds in Colorado Springs getting steroid injections mixed in with their Vitamin B-12 shots? Do you see them getting Vitamin B-12 shots at all?
So, for those of you writing in, suggesting I’m afraid of tackling the steroids issue because I want to safeguard clubhouse access, spare me the lectures and educate yourselves. Nobody here is afraid of anything. But if players don’t want to talk, they don’t want to talk. If Raul Ibanez and Jamie Moyer want to say Monahan was wrong, who am I to call them liars?
We gave chances to plenty of people to step forward. I have plenty of questions for them. I have questions for Shane Monahan as well. I left repeated messages on his cellphone on Saturday that he chose not to return. Left another one with his family in Atlanta earlier in the day and they said they would pass it along to him. We incorrectly identified his mother as “Diane” instead of “Linda” in newspaper editions of our story. Yeah, it was a silly goof-up. But do you know what? If that was our worst mistake, I’ll live with it. In the context of the story we were writing about, Monahan’s mother is as important to it as John Parrish was to the Mariners bullpen last year.
Monahan doesn’t need to hide behind his mother. If he has a problem with the ESPN.com story, as his mother implied, he has to come forward and say so. After all, he got the ball rolling on this. Opened the can of worms, so to speak. He comes from a famed hockey family, more famous in my hometown of Montreal than any athlete in this city is to Seattle. Monahan had to know how this story would play out. My sense is he feels under seige right now. Monahan wrote to me via text message yesterday to say he has no comment on what Ibanez and Moyer said about his allegations. Added that he had no further comment and to stop calling him and his family.
I don’t care to keep calling his family up. But alas for Monahan, he doesn’t get to dictate who calls him up. Not anymore. That part went out the window when he tarred an entire organization with the brush of his allegations. Does that make him the bad guy? Only if what he said isn’t true. For my part, I suspect there is a lot of truth to what he said. Only wish some of these ballplayers now finding their courage to talk would jump into the pool with both feet instead of dipping in a toe at a time.
Anyway, this is what we’re dealing with in the Monahan story. For those of you asking how I can dare keep mentioning those rumors about steroids use by some of the Mariners playoff teams, well, take a look at what we’ve learned in the past few years.
We have Monahan saying drug use was rampant in 1998 and 1999 when he was there. Any reason to believe it began in 1998 and not, say, 1995, or 1997? Any reason to suspect it ended in 1999 and didn’t carry through 2000 and 2001? Really? Why is that? There were no MLB crackdowns coming. Barry Bonds didn’t break the home run record until 2001 and power totals throughout the game were still inflated by that point.
You say you want proof? Uh, OK, the fact the Mariners in 2005 led all organizations with 11 positive drug tests in the major and minor leagues once MLB began instituting a more serious steroids policy? Sure, maybe the trouble was all limited to 2005 alone. Maybe my girlfriend will let me play X-Box until 3 a.m. every night this week. Hey, anything’s possible.
What about the seven players who were on those 1998 and 1999 teams who have since been linked to performance enhancing drugs? Guys like David Bell, David Segui, Ryan Franklin? Should we believe they were the only ones? What would a personal trainer from Seattle say if, facing federal prosecution, he was given the chance to spill some beans?
I don’t have all the answers. But to suggest we are wrong for pointing out the shady picture starting to emerge about Mariners teams over the past decade smacks of burying one’s head in the sand. Find someone else to do that for you. I like my head where it can see what’s going on. I’ve enjoyed the back-and-forth discourse with all of you throughout 2007 and look forward to doing it again in 2008. I wish you nothing but the best tonight and hope you celebrate in style.
But for now, if you want to email me any more tips on how to write a steroids story, make sure of just one thing: that you include the names of those anonymous clubhouse dealers Monahan mentions in the ESPN.com piece. Now, that’s the type of help we could really use.