Saturday, February 7, 2009

Breaking Down Breaking News

The Common Man woke up this morning with The Boy in his bed, kicking him in the head. The Boy was ready to get up, and wanted his father with him. So together they walked downstairs, had some breakfast, and turned on the TV. As they sat enjoying the MLB Network showing David Cone's 19-strikeout gem from 1991 (The Boy likes baseball, and keeps yelling "run, run, run!"), MLB came through with the first scoop of its short life.

Alex Rodriguez, the most complete and talented player in the game today, tested positive for steroids in 2003. The Common Man fired off an email to Shysterball as quick as he could, but hasn't really had time to unpack what this means for the game and for Alex Rodriguez until now.

--The original test in 2003 was supposed to be anonymous, an effort to determine just how many players were on the juice and whether further action by the league and the union was required. Obviously, it was. But it's somewhat disconcerting that the results that were supposed to be anonymous (and probably should have been destroyed in the aftermath of the testing) have been used to name names. Since there are apparently 103 other names that are connected to these positive tests, The Common Man agrees strongly with Shysterball, who argues that "Given that it is now inevitable that all of the names who tested positive in 2003 will come out, maybe it's in the union's best interest to release every name now rather than deal with the drip, drip, dripping of names over time."

At this point, the players (and the league) should be trying to minimize the damage of the positive tests. The longer this story keeps generating new information, the longer it will remain in the public consciousness. With Opening Day approaching and a bevy of storylines waiting to be exploited, there will be ample opportunity for baseball fans to get distracted. Also, by taking control over the release of the names, the players and the players' association can control the story to a degree, putting a more positive spin on their decision and shift the focus from the tests themselves to the union's responsible decision to clear the air.

Whether or not this is feasible is debatable. With an expectation of privacy, the players who tested positive may not be willing to have their names released, hoping that journalists will stop looking or they'll miraculously escape detection. And they may have legal recourse (honestly, The Common Man doesn't know) if their names are released without their consent. The union's statement today that "information and documents relating to the results of the 2003 MLB testing program are both confidential and under seal by court orders. We are prohibited from confirming or denying any allegation about the test results of any particular player(s) by the collective bargaining agreement and by court orders" would seem to suggest that releasing the names could prove difficult and complicated at best.

--Allegations that Gene Orza, the union's Chief Operating Officer, tipped off players about upcoming drug tests, are potentially more serious to the game's integrity than A-Rod's positive test. A-Rod tested positive before there were penalties in place for the cheating and represent a single player's bad actions. Orza's alleged behavior compromises the entire Players' Association and undermines its credibility tremendously. At this point, it's unclear how effective Orza's warnings were in minimizing positive tests, but it suggests that a) the union had knowledge of specific players who were using and b) was actively working against efforts to clean up the game. It would seem to be a violation of the collective bargaining agreement, and destroys Orza's personal reputation with league ownership.

--Jason at It Is About the Money, Stupid, writes that A-Rod "can kiss his HOF wishes goodbye." Later, in the comments, he writes, "maybe I jumped to that 'no HOF' stance too quickly, but in seeing the response that Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Palmiero, Sosa, et al are getting with respect to the HOF, I wonder how ARod will stand above it all." If these allegations against A-Rod are true, Jason is right that he'll get thrown in with Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Palmeiro, and Sosa (though, technically, Sosa's name has never been connected with any steroid allegations). But it's not at all clear what the BBWAA's response to these players will be. While McGwire has thusfar been shut out of the Hall, and Palmeiro is unlikely to gain induction any time soon, it's hard for The Common Man to imagine Bonds and Clemens on the outside looking in. And if there is an inconsistency in the BBWAA's voting with these players, The Common Man would argue that A-Rod (with his phenominal talent, his position on the field, and his ridiculous numbers) is far more likely to be in the Bonds/Clemens group than the McGwire/Palmeiro.

It's also worth remembering that Alex Rodriguez still has nine years remaining on his Yankees contract, and five years after he retires before he becomes eligible. There is no way to predict a) how the rest of his career will progress, and how his image will change in the public eye (he certainly has plenty of time to atone); b) how the public and media's perception of the steroid era and PEDs will change in 14 years; and c) how the voting pool of the BBWAA will change in that time.

--One interesting, and underdiscussed, aspect of this story was that, while it was broken by Sports Illustrated, SI has been linked closely with the MLB Network through the on-air presence of writers Tom Verducci and Jon Heyman. As a result, MLB Network, wholly owned and operated by Major League Baseball, was ostensibly breaking a devastating story this morning about its chief rival (the Players' Association) and its most prolific player. Whether or not there is a conflict of interest there, The Common Man doesn't know.

What interest does Major League Baseball have in this story, and were they at all responsible for alerting Selena Roberts, the SI reporter who wrote the story and who was interviewed on the network by Bob Costas today, to the existence of the test results? The Common Man isn't much for conspiracy theories, but the cozy relationship here and the obvious way in which this disparages the union and Gene Orza in particular makes The Common Man wonder. Also, and The Common Man is sure the league's lawyers have delved into this question, does the league and its subsidieries have a legal obligation to not release a story in which a specific player is outed as testing positive, especially in light of their agreement with the Players' Association and the existing court order to keep the results confidential?

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