Thursday, December 15, 2011

Update: Plagiarists Who (might) Write Among Us

By The Common Man

Last December, The Common Man came across Dan Graziano, then a writer for AOL Fanhouse with a Hall of Fame vote, who refused to vote for Jeff Bagwell based on his suspicion that the Astros legend had used Performance Enhancing Drugs in his career. Graziano wrote,
“I don't know for sure that Bagwell took steroids or any other performance-enhancing drugs to help him attain his Hall of Fame-caliber numbers. I don't have evidence, like we do against Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. But I'm suspicious. And this year, that suspicion was enough to make me send back my ballot without the Bagwell box checked. I'd rather withhold the vote based on suspicion than vote the guy in only to find out later that he cheated and I shouldn't have.”

Over the past year, it’s become increasingly apparent that, despite there being no evidence or accusations that Bagwell used PEDs, a number of Grazianos colleagues around the BBWAA agree with him. Bagwell garnered just 41.7% of the vote last year, despite eye-popping numbers (.297/.408/.540, 449 homers, 149 OPS+, 81.9 Avg WAR). These numbers, and Bagwell’s physique, are part of the problem. All home run hitters from the PED Era of the mid-1990s and early 2000s are suspect, Graziano and his compadres argue. Tom Verducci, in what has become an influential summary of Bagwell’s case, wrote

“Bagwell's numbers look worthy of Cooperstown, but he has been tied to steroid speculation enough that he “defended” himself in an interview last month. His defense? “I have no problem” with a guy juicing up, he said. To take such a position today is wildly irresponsible. It also invites the very talk that Bagwell claimed to be “sick and tired of.”

Bagwell was an admitted Andro user who hired a competitive bodybuilder to make him as big as he could be, who claimed, McGwire-like, that Andro "doesn't help you hit home runs," who went from a prospect with "no pop" to massively changing his body and outhomering all but six big leaguers in the 13 seasons before steroid penalties (Ken Griffey Jr. and five connected to steroids: Bonds, Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Juan Gonzalez), and who condones the use of steroids -- but said, "I never used."
This led The Common Man to the realization that, if it was fair for writers to penalize Bagwell* because of their own suspicions that they were apparently too busy to investigate during Bagwell’s playing career, it was equally fair to suspect them of being plagiarists.** After all, sports reporters tend to write an awful lot, and so many of them seem to be writing about the same topics and coming to the exact same conclusions. Are we really so na├»ve as to think that they are doing this naturally?

These plagiarists, who violate the public trust and unfairly compete against their fellow writers on a daily basis, need to be called to account in a public forum. And thanks to our friend LeoKitty of The Girl Who Loved Andy Pettitte and her Hall of Fame voting tracker, TCM was able to find several writers who seem incredibly suspicious.*** Until they are able to definitively prove otherwise, the following writers are hereby suspected plagiarists:

Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Globe
Like a lot of players who will follow him to the ballot, he was a guy who made you wonder.

Bob Brookover, Philadelphia Inquirer

Bagwell, meanwhile, never tested positive and his name did not show up on the Mitchell Report or in any of Canseco's books. Still, there are people out there who suspected he used steroids, a theory you could offer simply by looking at his cartoonish forearms. Add the fact that he played with admitted steroid users Ken Caminiti and Jason Grimsley and there's at least reason to "suspect" that Bagwell may have used performance-enhancing drugs. I don't know if Bagwell did or did not. I do know I'm not ready to give him the benefit of the doubt right now simply because of the era in which he played the game. Mark McGwire appears on this year's ballot for the fifth time and so far I have not voted for him. I'm not sure if I ever will, but I'm not willing to say never in his case.

Terence Moore, formerly of AOL Fanhouse, now of
Then you have the rumored steroid guys on the ballot such as Bret Boone, Benito Santiago, Kevin Brown, Raul Mondesi and Jeff Bagwell. In contrast to McGwire and Palmeiro, none among that group was caught or confessed regarding steroids. But here's the thing: Guilt by association -- as in, they played during the Steroid Era, and they all had puffed-up bodies, statistical jumps out of nowhere or a combination of both that made you wonder if it was coincidence or needles.

Dan Graziano, formerly of AOL Fanhouse

I don't know for sure that Bagwell took steroids or any other performance-enhancing drugs to help him attain his Hall of Fame-caliber numbers. I don't have evidence, like we do against Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. But I'm suspicious. And this year, that suspicion was enough to make me send back my ballot without the Bagwell box checked. I'd rather withhold the vote based on suspicion than vote the guy in only to find out later that he cheated and I shouldn't have.

 Jeff Pearlman, Sports Illustrated

Statistically, Jeff Bagwell is a Hall of Famer. And, on a personal note, he was always an approachable and nice guy. But, dammit, thanks to baseball’s meekness (for lack of a better word), Hall of Fame voters (I’m not one, for the record) have the right to suspect anyone and everyone from the past era. They have the right to view muscles suspiciously; to question a guy putting up six-straight 100-plus RBI seasons in the heat of PED Madness; to wonder why—when, oh, 75 percent of players were using–one extremely succesful, extemely large, extremely muscular man wouldn’t. [from his personal blog]

Jeff Schultz, Atlanta Journal Constitution

[Quoting Tom Verducci directly]: “Bagwell was an admitted Andro user who hired a competitive bodybuilder to make him as big as he could be, who claimed, [Mark] McGwire-like, that Andro ‘doesn’t help you hit home runs,’ who went from a prospect with ‘no pop’ to massively changing his body and outhomering all but six big leaguers in the 13 seasons before steroid penalties (Ken Griffey Jr. and five connected to steroids: Bonds, [Sammy] Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, McGwire and Juan Gonzalez), and who condones the use of steroids — but said, ‘I never used.’” Yeah. I’m going to need a few more years on this one.

For any player either convicted or suspected of PED usage, I am holding off my ballot check mark. Not for. Not against. Waiting. [then does not vote for Bagwell; the implication is clear].
And then there’s Jeff Jacobs, of the Hartford Courant, who doubled down both in 2011 and 2012:


Besides never leading the Astros to postseason success, those inflated numbers and that inflated body lead to inevitable whispers of steroids. He has always denied it. He wasn't named in the Mitchell Report. The suspicion, however, postpones my support.


Based on numbers alone, Bagwell deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. That part is easy. He hit .297 with 449 homers, eight 100-RBI seasons and had a .948 OPS as well as a Gold Glove and an MVP Award. Yet because of the sins of his baseball generation, fair or not, Bagwell finds himself in an uncomfortable position.

There are also two cases that are troubling.  One is Danny Knobler, of CBS Sports, who proclaimed that he would only vote for players he knew for a fact were "pure." He voted only for Roberto Alomar and Jack Morris and wrote,

There are players I'm not voting for this year because I strongly suspect they built their credentials by cheating. And I've decided, after much consternation, that I'm not going to vote for them....Please don't assume that anyone left off used steroids. But also understand that my ballots the next few years will be shorter than usual (we're allowed to vote for as many as 10 per year), in large part because of steroids. It won't be fair to some, because my suspicions won't always be right. But I still believe it's a better solution than voting for players who I believe cheated.
He did not address Bagwell directly, but clearly said he's not voting for players he suspects even though he may end up being wrong and he has no proof. That, to The Common Man is probably enough evidence to suspect that Danny Knobler is as much of a plagiarist as any of them.

On the other hand, Peter Abraham wrote,
If every Steroid Era slugger gains entry to the Hall, they're going to need a new wing.  His on-base percentage of .408 was incredible, but I can't help but think the 449 homers and 1,529 RBIs were a product of a time in baseball history where such statistics were cheap to come by. I'd be open to voting for Bagwell down the road as more research is done into that time period of baseball.
This veers very close to the line, but it's entirely plausible that Abraham is talking simply about Bagwell's offensive accomplishments being less valuable in an age of incredible offense, and needing more time to think on that.  So we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Update: Peter Abraham has reconsidered his previous lack of support for Bagwell, saying "Ignoring drug use seems unconscionable. Voting for Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire or Manny Ramirez would cheapen the Hall of Fame. But not voting for somebody based only a hunch is worse. It's baseball McCarthyism."  Abraham's revised position is an entirely legitimate one, and as such it's with great pride that we shout from the rooftops that Peter Abraham is not, not, NOT a suspected plagiarist.

That's it so far, our starting nine of suspected plagiarists: Dan Shaughnessy, Bob Brookover, Terence Moore, Dan Graziano, Jeff Pearlman, Jeff Schultz, Mark Purdy, Jeff Jacobs, and Danny Knobler.  Gentlemen, if you have evidence that will exonerate you, you are more than welcome to publicly present it.  This may mean that we have to dig through your laptops and the personnel files of your previous employers.  Hopefully, that's ok with you.  Otherwise, it seems clear to The Common Man that you should be suspended from the BBWAA and have your voting rights stripped until all of this is cleared up.

And to the vigilent public, if you find more examples of shameless potential plagiarism, please let TCM know. We must remain vigilant, and drag these suspected plagiarists into the harsh light of day, where they will be forced to account for their alleged crimes for which we have no evidence.

*Make no mistake, withholding a vote from a player is a penalty. If a player drops below 5% on the submitted ballots, he is dropped, meaning he would have to wait for the Veterans Committee to get additional consideration, as Bill points out when he discusses Lou Whitaker. Writers from across the country just got done lamenting that Ron Santo died before he was elected last week and bemoaning his induction as “too late,” essentially condemning the writers who came before them for their ignorance and intransigence. Writers should be smart enough to realize they’re in danger of doing the same thing with an entire generation of players, and essentially abdicating their responsibility to the game, its fans, and the Hall of Fame out of a misplaced desire to mediate justice against players against whom there’s no evidence of wrongdoing.

** A note: this is not a label The Common Man throws around lightly. If a voter makes a case that Bagwell doesn’t belong because his numbers don’t match up, The Common Man can respect him or her. TCM will disagree vehemently, and try and change your mind, but you can legitimately believe Bagwell’s not a Hall of Famer, or want more time to think about him, without being a plagiarist. You can even privately suspect Bagwell of using PEDs without letting it impact your vote. But what TCM cannot respect is a voter who decides to suspect Bagwell based on zero evidence, and who uses that suspicion as an excuse to wait on Bagwell. It’s antithetical to believing in justice and fairness, and ironically forces Bagwell to compete on an unleveled playing field in comparison to other HOF candidates. Plus, it’s downright anti-American.

***Many of the links in LeoKitty’s tracking database are now behind paywalls or have been deleted by Twitter, and are thus unavailable to TCM. Which should make you wonder: How many plagiarists are still out there?


William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Joe McCarthy would be smiling. J. Edgar would be squealing and Nixon would be stealing secrets from their doctors. What a world we've become.

Dan McCloskey said...

Simply awesome, TCM.

Stevo-sama said...

Keep this fire burning...the day of the "beat writers who get paid to use words like 'provocateur' and make blanket assumptions" is truly at hand!!

David said...

*Picky obnoxious comment*

When you do the asterisk thing (I won't accuse you of plagiarizing Poz ;), even though that would be irony at it's finest, because lots of people do it, not just him), would you mind not putting the things way down at the bottom of the article? If I wait until the end to read them, by the time I get there I've forgotten to what they refer, and if I read them right away, it makes for a lot more scrolling than is really necessary. Yes, that's lazy, but it also makes for clearer presentation, in my opinion. Anyway, sorry about the obnoxious post.

Larry said...

This piece filled my heart with joy and restored my faith in humankind. And when I say that, I'm only exaggerating a little bit.

Erik P said...

Yes, Mr. Pearlman, those six straight 100 RBI seasons scream steriods!!!!! Sadly, TCM, i dont think any of the aforementioned writers will read this article, much less understand the reasons why those of us with logic-centered minds find their resonings to be flawed or downright irresponsible.

Anonymous said...

Someone plagiarized in the future (2012)?

Bill said...

Good call remaining anonymous on that one. Articles published on this topic right now are discussing the 2012 Hall of Fame ballot.

Anonymous said...

Meh. Pretty weak article.

If voters want to keep roiders out, that's fine. If they get voted in, that's fine, too. Getting voted into the HOF is a privilege, not a right. But arguing that voters should ignore evidence of PED use like Verducci noted is a bit strained. Get the truth.

The Common Man said...

You're welcome to think what you want about the article, Anon. But voters aren't keeping out PED users. In fact, it would take a huge stretch of the imagination to believe that someone who has used PEDs isn't already in the Hall of Fame.

And that privilege you talk about is extended to all baseball players who were good enough (and who are not currently banned by MLB) to make it in. It's a privilege that's been extended to drunks, racists, criminals, gamblers, womanizers, pill poppers, and (yes) cheaters. So the burden's on you to explain why that privilege should be extended, say, to Cap Anson but not Jeff Bagwell.

Finally, that "evidence" you're pointing to isn't evidence of steroid use. It's evidence of Bagwell's attitude toward steroid users, in that he doesn't share the writers' moral outrage. It's also evidence that he worked out. So if you'd like to kick out anyone who ever lifted a weight or took a lenient stance on, say, drug use, that's your prerogative, but that seems awfully ridiculous.

And if you would care to explain how we get the truth, now that Bagwell is retired...well, we're all ears.

Bill said...

Nobody's arguing they should ignore any evidence; I personally don't think it should matter at all, but if you disagree, that's valid. The problem (as is stated many times above) is that writers are withholding votes based on "suspicion," with no evidence. If all they were doing was refusing to ignore evidence, this post wouldn't be here.

terencem said...

Beat writers refuse to acknowledge the late 90's and early 2000's for what they were: another Golden Age for baseball. How else do you explain all of the generational talents and record breaking statistics accumulated in the 10 year span? Either every player in major league baseball was doing steroids, including Thomas, Griffey, jr, and Pedro Martinez, or this was just a very special group of athletes who found their prime around the same time.

Anonymous said...

While listing suspected plagiarists is worthwhile and commendable, shouldn't you start adding those proven to pilfer? Think: Ronnie Borges (alas, he soils such a distinguished surname), Boston Herald.

lewis cole said...

Don't know why this is such a big-deal "statement." Why so many readers are posting "exactly so!" presumably with a bemused shake of their satisfied heads. Would they prefer that writers don't read other writers? Would that somehow make their decision-making process more ideologically pure? More singular and therefore more honest? Where should this stop -- let's not read any books because they may influence our thinking? Another thing? Why shouldn't we pay attention to Boswell, Shaughnessy and Verducci on steroids, but accept the anonymous wisdom of Common Man? Because they make a living writing about sports whereas he does it for a byline? Sounds like blogger envy to me.

Bill said...

lewis cole, it's not possible that you could actually have read this piece and yet misread it so completely. Please read it again, because I'm a bit embarrassed for you. Hint: it has nothing at all to do with plagiarism.

Evan said...

Is there a drug to enhance reading comprehension performance? If there is, we know for sure lewis cole isn't using it. He's clean.

Anonymous said...

If Bagwell admitted using andro, and andro is a steroid, then why is Bagwell not viewed as having admitted using steroids? (I am assuming Verducci has that right.)

The Common Man said...

Anon, androstenedione is considered a steroid by the Federal Government, but was not cdesignated as such until 2004, at which point it was banned by MLB. Bagwell retired in 2005, so it was legal virtually throughout his entire career. Would you prosecute a drinker in 1922 for a beer they had in 1915?

Also, aside from Verducci's claim, TCM has not seen a quote where Bagwell admits using it. It's not in the ESPN article Verducci references. Any help finding a reference would be appreciated.

Jeff Adissi said...

Bagwell deserves a lot better.

Jeff Adissi said...

Bagwell deserves better.

Anonymous said...

This piece would be brilliant, but you clearly plagiarized it from me... Well, actually I never wrote those words, and I never thought those words either, but, I don't have a problem with those words, so... no Hall of Fame for you!

Actually who am I kidding you guys rock, you can be in my Hall of Fame nobody's ever heard of, or cares about!

And Lewis Cole?!? Hahahaha.. awesome.