Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Stark Reality

You know, I like Jason Stark. I think he's really bright and generally gets the story right. However his story about Lenny Dykstra on ESPN.com strikes me as a whitewash job.

Here's the story: Stark was a beat writer for the Phillies when Dykstra came into spring training camp weighing 15-25 pound heavier in 1993. When asked how he had bulked up, Dykstra said he had some help from "some real good vitamins," at which everyone laughed.

This is what Jason says about it:

He has always denied using steroids. But he couldn't have been more public about his "vitamins." So it never felt like an issue worth holding a congressional hearing over.

Back then, there was plenty of stuff a guy could buy down at the vitamin store that wasn't illegal -- not in baseball, not in America. And I always figured a player who was that open about his vitamin supply didn't fit the profile of a man doing something he was trying to hide from the proper authorities.

Nowadays, we view all stories like this with a very different eye. But just because no one made a big deal of it then doesn't mean we were involved in some massive, conspiratorial cover-up to protect a popular big-name player.

Say what? Okay, so you knew guys were taking steroids, but you didn't chase the story because why again? Because steroids weren't a big deal? Because Lenny came out and admitted it?

I don't want to single Stark out, but he's the one leaving it bare for everyone to see. But look, these guys were paid by their papers to get stories. And if even one of them had the gumption enough to ask more questions, dig deeper and really dive into this story, maybe we wouldn't be sitting here today questioning the integrity of the last 10 years of baseball statistics.

The reason why they didn't? Well, being a beat writer is more like being the juggler in a three ring circus than being the next Bob Woodward. Sure, you're paid by your paper to not get scooped. And yeah, all the papers are trying not to get scooped. But that sorta leads to more co-opitition than competition.

So if everyone has the same story everyday, then nobody gets in trouble, right? And how do you all get the same story? You don't ask the hard questions. If Stark asked, "Hey Lenny, who gave you the steroids? How long were you drug cycles? Nice pimples, Lenny. Did you know that was a side effect of the drug?" You can bet that the laughing would cease pretty quickly, and Stark would be out of the inner circle.

I worked for a magazine that idly sat by and watched the dot.bomb explode in front of our eyes. Sure we ran some stories that talked about how crazy the market value of it all was. But still, we weren't encouraged to really take it to task, to actually draw a picture of how completely fucked up Webvan and Pets.com really were and translated it into real dollars. The reason: well the dot.coms were strong advertisers that pumped up our monthly magazines from 200 pages to over 600 at the peak. Nobody wanted to see the gravy train end that way.

So it was ok to splatter a little mud here and there. But to say "Invest in Webvan and LOSE ALL YOUR MONEY" on the cover? Wasn't gonna happen. In some respects, it was similar with these beat writers. Nobody could afford to be on the outside looking in.


For the media to be all over the steroid "cheaters" and act morally outraged is disingenous at best and outright lying at its worst. The press knew: How could they not. The writers were around these players every day. And while probably not close friends with them, they had enough connections to know what the hell was going on.

Come on guys. Just stand up and say, "Yeah, I knew McGwire was on the juice. I just didn't have the guts to put my career on the line to chase the story." We'll accept it alot better smarmy character assissnations that take the form of an apology.