Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Ibanez vs. Midwest Sports Fans Controversy: Blame the Philly Inquirer

Yesterday, I received a few random texts, Tweets and emails, as well as a call from my father in law to my wife "Hey, your husband's blog made the papers. Gonzo. What's a Twitter?"

From John Gonzalez's column in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer:

Shortly after the sun was up, a site called Midwest Sports Fans (MSF) posted a piece titled "The Curious Case of Raul Ibanez: Steroid Speculation Perhaps Unfair, but Great Start in 2009 Raising Eyebrows."

There was a time when a small, regional site like MSF could write something like that and no one would notice. Not anymore. Not long after the Ibanez post went up, Hugging Harold Reynolds - a popular national blog - linked to it on its Twitter feed. And just like that, we were off. Less than an hour later, I had several e-mails in my inbox asking if I read the MSF story and whether I believe Ibanez is chemically enhanced.
The MSF piece, by all accounts, was not a random finger-pointing post accusing a ballplayer, who by all accounts should be past his prime and is putting up monster power numbers, of using performance enhancers. Rather, the author sought to disprove the speculation by looking at statistical evidence. In summary, though, he noted that "...it would be foolish to dismiss the possibility that “other” performance enhancers could be part of the equation." Adding, "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."

After the Gonzalez story, word apparently got back to Ibanez, who fired off some choice words to MSF via Inquirer staff writer Jim Salisbury in today's paper, "I'm clean, angry Ibanez says":

"I'll come after people who defame or slander me. It's pathetic and disgusting. There should be some accountability for people who put that out there." "Unfortunately, I understand the environment we're in and the events that have led us to this era of speculation. At the same time, you can't just walk down the street and accuse somebody of being a thief because they didn't have a nice car yesterday and they do today. You can't say that guy is a thief."

"You can have my urine, my hair, my blood, my stool - anything you can test. I'll give you back every dime I've ever made [if the test is positive]."

"I'll put that up against the jobs of anyone who writes this stuff. 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."

"It's unfair because this story should be about how hard work, determination, and desire trumps chemicals and shortcuts. That should be the message: desire, character, work ethic. But some guy who doesn't know me - one idiot - says something like this. They should be held accountable. It's cowardly."

While Ibanez's speculation is justified, despite the "typing in his mother's basement" comment, his anger is a bit excessive. My guess is that he was presented the question (after "a team official made him aware of the speculation") by a reporter looking to pen a story - thus taking a fairly innocent post, and creating a regional, if not national, controversy out of it.

As such, the reporter is as much to blame - strike that MORE SO - to blame for fueling speculation than is MSF.

Following the Salisbury piece, MSF offered up a response of its own, and in the process opens up a much larger debate - that of the roles of the so-called "mainstream media" and those of, well, the average fan.

Midwest Sports Fans is obviously not part of the mainstream media, but rather is a public forum for grassroots discussion of topics that are of interest to sports fans in general, and topics that are not typically discussed by the MSM. As one of the main contributors of MSF, it is my job to direct the discussion to topics that are interesting and compelling and that are not always simple regurgitations of what readers could find elsewhere. In addition to our regular schedule posts that are aimed at simply providing useful information, I try to open up discussions that I might have with my buddies sitting around the table at BW3s.

That is where blogs and MSM sites differ, in my opinion: blogs are, by their nature, more interactive and more open — and oftentimes more controversial — and are more reflective of the sensibilities of real sports fans; whereas the MSM is usually more geared towards reflecting the sensibilities of reporters and informing sports fans of the facts by which we develop our thoughts and opinions. The best MSM sites have learned how to incorporate the interactive, fan-centric qualities of blogs and vice versa, but clear distinctions still exist.

When you look at the post about Raul Ibanez in particular, what it was was not, I suppose, was “safe”. It is not the type of story you would expect to read in the Philadelphia Inquirer. But much of it was based on facts and was an attempt to research and be objective about a subject, PEDs in baseball, for which emotion and subjectivity so often frame the discussion. And as you will see if you read the comment thread, I am clearly open to opinions that differ from my own, and to arguments that attempt to further debunk the Ibanez steroid speculation (my original aim in the first place).

In March, SI ran a cover story on Albert Pujols proactively denying any PED hanky-panky, to which I noted, "If someone told me today Albert Pujols was a raging roider or at least tinkered with some PEDs provided by a mysterious Dominican cousin, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised."


If someone of Pujols' caliber has the wherewithal to acknowledge that suspicion is part of today's game, suffice to say that while Ibanez too acknowledges this reality, his willingness to attack someone who brings it up is a bit presumptuous. If this is the first he's hearing of people questioning him specifically, he's living on another planet. Sad, but true.

Again, not to say that he shouldn't defend himself, but the fact of the matter is that he is only fueling fire to the story, no thanks to the reporter who put him on the spot. How the actions of MSF are any different (or worse) than that of the MSM is questionable. MSF didn't make this a story. And it's not even about Ibanez. You could have substituted anyone else's name into the MSF piece. The Philly Inquirer made this a story. And Ibanez, who could have very easily shrugged it off and squashed Salisbury's piece, didn't help himself any.


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36 comments:

arcanedufresne said...

Ibanez has apparently already been transformed by the hard streets of Philadelphia and now lashes out at any on-comers that are not supporters. The Philadelphia fans' mindsets and actions are full of piss, vinegar and dark magic.

Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
It's a beautiful day for sports said...

wow first post is a moron but how can you blame the reporter here? It is his job to ask players questions (something bloggers DON'T usually do) and if he feels the public would be interested, he must write about it. Obviously we are since you wrote this post, OTL talked about it, and was all over ESPN and local Philadelphia sports stations all day. And don't blame Ibanez. I would be just as offended if someone had accused me of PED use even though i was clean.

Matt said...

"It's a beautiful day for sports" - If you bother to actually read the MWSF blog in question, it's hard to imagine you'd come to the conclusion that it accuses him of anything. It's precisely the sort of in-depth analysis of a broad range of factors that could be leading to Ibanez's surprising season.

It's ironic that guys like Buzz Bissinger like to bloviate against the supposed havok sports blogs cause to sports journalists. In truth, the main-stream sports page has become increasingly filled with sensationalistic columns, rewritten wire copy and even MLB produced quotes recompiled into "notes" columns (for example: see what has happened to the once vaunted Boston Globe Sunday Baseball Notes column over the last couple of years - once a "must read" for baseball fans, it's nothing more than a compilation of inane observations and anonymous/unattributed quotes about nothing).

IMO, the PI reporter here was most likely a provocateur. It's unlikely that Ibanez had read the blog, so his response would be based entirely on how the question was framed by the reporter. If we give Raul the benefit of the doubt, then only the reporter can be held accountable for either knowingly misrepresenting the content of the MWSF blog post, or being too lazy to check it out for his/herself.

No intellecutally honest person, either yourself, or the PI reporter, or Ibanez himself could read the MWSF blog in question and walk away with the impression that Ibanez had been "accused" of anything. It simply acknowledges the whispers and then spends 90% of its energy building a case in Ibanez's favor to find a non-chemically enhance scenario for Ibanez's surge. It's only real conclusion? Small Sample Size - too soon to draw any conclusions at all other than acknowledge the damage the steroids scandal has caused to players, fans, and the game itself.

Brad said...

Matt, you nailed it. I am baffled at what the problem is. Sure, the blog could've ben a little more tactful, but it was an honest attempt to analyze a hot start. Joe Posnanski assessed Ibanez start perfectly by providing similar 50-55 game hot stretches every year since 2002. It's a shame the blogger missed that, but even if he included that and concluded that this was simply one of Ibanez's hot streaks coinciding with the beginning of a season in a stacked lineup in a small park in a weaker league against terrible pitching I think he still should bring up the issue of PEDs simply because too many people are quick to discount the former factors in favor of the latter either to jest, provoke, or in all seriousness. It's the elephant in the room and to fail to mention it, even if only to dismiss it, to me is ignorant of today's social baseball climate.

I especially hated the OTL interview where an clearly upset and trigger happy Wee Kenny Rosenthal said "How did we get here?" Well Ken, because the PI reporter chose to make this issue and use Ibanez as a catalyst and the mainstream media chose to pile on this poor guy. That's how, you pompous ass.

Then Rosenthal roles his eyes and calls for standards blah, blah, blah... I'm all for standards in every walk of life, but you can't police everything, nor should you. And to say speculation is fine, but not on the internet in this age is ridiculous. First of all, the blogger didn't speculate, he attempted to disprove the speculation. He presented his thoughts on the internet. At what point do you assume that people that can use a computer have a reading comprehension level above 1st grade? If any thinking person read this article, the most criticism they'd have is what Posnanski wrote, which mentioned Ibanez proclivity for hot streaks of this magnitude and length.

I'm glad this happened because now there are a few other writers whom I now know not to trust.

Philly Keith said...

I think Raul is the man but isn't he sharing the same mentality to a degree? Assuming that all bloggers are "some 42-year-old blogger typing in his mother's basement" comes from the same train of thought as saying all MLB'ers are on the juice...

Now go win an MVP Rauuuuuuuuuuuuul!

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