Six months ago, after the flop of Fukudome, the Chicago Cubs were in the market for just one thing: a slugging lefty right fielder. Though I won’t pour over the options here, I will note that the Cubs chose the riskiest of them all, Milton Bradley. And for all the ballyhoo that accompanied the signing, here we stand, mid-season, angry and frustrated.
Bradley hasn’t played much, and when he has, it hasn’t been pretty. Maybe he’ll come around, and all will be forgiven, but for now, thoughts of what might have been leave me heavy-hearted every time Bradley weakly rolls out to second base, or haughtily tosses a caught flyball – the second out of the inning – into the Wrigley bleachers to fans who have never been so disappointed to catch a ball at the ballpark.
Yes, what might have been.
Though I said I wouldn’t pour over the other options the Cubs could have had, one requires mention: Raul Ibanez. The 37-year old outfielder was always serviceable, adequate in the field, and an acceptable run-producer. But at his advanced age, and with his advanced salary demands, certainly he wouldn’t be worth the contract he’d command.
Ibanez, now one of the best hitters in baseball, is putting together the kind of season that Chicago Cubs fans look at and think, “what would our offense look like with him in the middle instead of Bradley?” But of course, such thoughts are inherently false: would Ibanez really be having this kind of season in Chicago? And even if he was, would it be all flowers and sunshine?
Or would the Cubs be dealing with the specter of steroid suspicion? Because that is precisely what now wafts in the air around each Ibanez home run. That suspicion presumably drove a blog post written earlier this week, which ignited a firestorm under the auspices of a steroid debate, but which was truly about something else entirely.
The original article by Midwest Sports Fans is here. It has all of the background you’ll need, and links to the rest. The author, JRod (an aside: folks like to take shots because he uses “JRod” as his online handle – give me a break, people. That’s the way of the new world. …says “Ace”), offers a long, detailed, and well-reasoned analysis of Raul Ibanez’s surprisingly strong offensive start to this season. After eliminating other possible explanations, JRod pondered that maybe performance enhancing drugs could have played a role.
Thirdly, it’s time for me to begrudgingly acknowledge the elephant in the room: 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.
Sorry Raul Ibanez and Major League Baseball, that’s just the era that we are in — testing or no testing.
Personally, I am withholding judgment until we see a full seasons’ worth of stats.
Note that the MSF piece never actually suggests Ibanez DID use, but no one seemed to let that get in the way of a good story. So following the piece, Ibanez caught wind and absolutely exploded.
“You can have my urine, my hair, my blood, my stool — anything you can test,” Ibanez said, according to the report. “I’ll give you back every dime I’ve ever made” if the test is positive, he added.
“I’ll put that up against the jobs of anyone who writes this stuff,” he said, according to the Inquirer. “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.”
I’ll sidestep pointing out the near-hilarious irony in Ibanez describing the article as by the “stroke of the pen” (old media, much?), and instead note the stereotyping that Ibanez does. What, we can’t look at you and make assumptions based on your activity, but you can do that to us? Tisk, tisk, Raul. I’m typing in my grandmother’s basement.
The point here is that it has become clear that this is not a battle about whether or not Ibanez used PEDs. It never was.
What this is absolutely about: bitter old media.
Do you think Ibanez just happened upon the MSF article on his own? No offense to MSF, but of course he didn’t. Someone – someone looking for a story and a quote – brought it to his attention. Someone bitter.
See, when Ibanez blew up this year at age 37, we all thought it, at least momentarily (hell, we all thought it for a moment about Ryan Theriot – cooler heads prevailed, but such is the era we’ve lived through). An old media publication could never speculate as MSF did, and it makes them brutally bitter. But they’ve still got to have their story.
As always, when it comes to the Old-New Media War, the issue is access. We don’t have it, and they can’t risk losing it. We can say whatever we think, because we have no access to risk losing.
The irony, of course, is that this episode is a perfect example of the symbiotic relationship blogs and old media can have: blog says the thing the old media can’t, old media gets to then ask the question (because “it’s not coming from us”), old media gets a good story, blog gets a whole lot of attention. The system works. Yet, too many in the old media would have you believe that we add nothing to that cycle. For shame.
This is not to say that all members of the old guard are bitter or even hostile toward the blog world. Rob Neyer of ESPN recently wrote about this very issue, and lauded MSF for taking the chance and hypothosizing. But the Neyer’s of the world – he routinely links to blogs, and has linked to this one, in fact – are too few and far between.
A part of me wants to give into the siren call of pomp and believe that the reason the old media acts this way is fear. But that’s just hubris. To the extent the old media attacks bloggers, it isn’t out of fear that we will soon supplant them (though if they don’t change, grown, and learn to understand and appreciate our role, we will).
The old media is dying – I’m sorry, but it’s true. Lashing out is a natural reaction not only to that death, but also to a new breed of writers, whom “real” sports writers no doubt regard as charlatans “acting as though they can do what I went to school and trained hard to do.” Tell a doctor some time that you used Web MD and diagnosed your own anemia, and see how they react.
It is as though they are dying, writing their own epitaph, and then we are taking a snippet of that epitaph, linking to it, summarizing and analyzing it better, and taking all of their mourners. I suppose I’d be bitter and hostile, too.