Writing for YES as I do, I run the risk of being labeled a pro-Rod shill if I defend Alex Rodriguez too vigorously. And yet, I’ve been a Selena Roberts detractor for years, because whenever she picked up her pen to write about baseball as a New York Times columnist I tended to become ill. I go out of my way not to attack fellow writers out of a sense of professional courtesy, but when Roberts wrote passages such as —
At 42, Beane didn’t invent sabermetrics, a sci-fi word formed from S.A.B.R., the Society of American Baseball Research [sic] (a k a The No-Life Institute). But with its philosophy filtered through his Ivy League predecessor in Oakland, Sandy Alderson, Beane applies the tenets of numeric efficiency found in the stapled baseball abstracts of the 70’s fringe writer Bill James.
— she sunk so far below professional standards that it removed any obligation I might have felt. Anti-intellectualism and schoolyard, ad hominem attacks aren’t deserving of professional courtesy, and if she thinks Bill James is a fringe writer (those “stapled baseball abstracts” quickly gave way to bestselling mass market paperbacks and hardcovers), well, she is fringe ignorant. Another baseball passage that sent me running for the bathroom was written when Roberts imagined that Tony Clark was in a competition with Jason Giambi for playing time.
She sided with Clark. “At the plate, Giambi is a withering vision of power… with an on-base percentage of .376, which would be impressive in ‘Moneyball’ wisdom but falls flat in Yankees logic considering he is paid to produce runs, not draw walks.” Walks produce runs, period, but never mind. Roberts also argued that Giambi’s weakness with the glove meant that he was, “not the Giambi that anyone expected when the Yankees seduced him with the perfume of cash in 2001.” If Roberts expected Jason Giambi to be Don Mattingly around the bag when the Yankees acquired him, she was the only one. As I wrote at the time, going after Giambi for his defense is a bit like saying that Mark Twain was a bad writer because he looked terrible in a bikini. It wasn’t anything anyone ever expected of him.
Roberts has a weak track record in terms of thinking and knowledge of baseball, and she also led the charge against the Duke lacrosse players in the 2006 rape case, the one that ended with the prosecutor who brought charges being discharged. As Jason Whitlock wrote on Saturday, Roberts has never been called to account for these columns. Among her last words on the subject: “No one would want an innocent Duke player wronged or ruined by false charges — and that may have occurred on Nifong’s watch — but the alleged crime and the culture are mutually exclusive… A dismissal doesn’t mean forget everything. Amnesia would be a poor defense to the next act of athlete privilege.”
Yes, let’s look on the bright side, because jocks having slightly more restrained keg parties makes calling innocent young men rapists worthwhile.
I don’t trust Roberts’ judgment, I don’t trust her understanding of baseball, and I don’t trust her motives in writing a book about Alex Rodriguez that surely would not exist were it not intended to be a hit piece. If Rodriguez was juicing in high school or kindergarten, it goes to character, not performance, and we have had countless reasons to know that he’s not Mother Theresa in the clubhouse or off the field. Neither were Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, et al. Cobb’s reward was to die friendless, Ruth and Mantle died young, the causes of their cancer probably not unrelated to their youthful carousing, and Williams’ own son had him decapitated and stuck in a freezer.
On the field, they all won their pennants, and for now that should be our main area of interest in regards to Mr. Rodriguez, because the personality stuff is off the slightest relevance. If Derek Jeter loves or hates Rodriguez matters less than this basic equation: Jeter singles and Rodriguez hits a home run. That’s the only relationship, the only trust that needs to be between them — and needs to be between Rodriguez and us.
If Rodriguez used steroids in high school, that tells us a little more about Rodriguez the man but nothing of substance about Rodriguez the ballplayer. If he used HGH as a Yankees, well, HGH seems to help athletes with recovery time and healing, not performance. So does aspirin. Move on. Xavier Nady is having platelets shot into his elbow. The dividing line between these two therapies is entirely arbitrary.
As for Roberts’ allegations of Rodriguez tipping pitches as a Ranger, they had best be better sourced than her work on the Duke case. According to SI.com, “Roberts said that over the course of a couple years, some people with the Rangers began to detect a pattern whereby Rodriguez would appear to be giving away pitch type and location to hitters, always middle infielders who would then be able to repay him in kind when he was at the plate, with his body movement.”
It is extraordinary to think that “some people” would notice this and not alert management as to the practice. Unless there is videotape evidence, or Roberts’ sources are willing to come forward and explain why they sat on their knowledge that Rodriguez was damaging his own pitchers, this must be dismissed as the worst kind of hearsay. That Roberts knows relatively little about baseball must be considered here — her credulity and our skepticism must be of equal proportion.
Rodriguez and his all-too-evident feet of clay are being attacked by a not particularly knowledgeable writer in a way that hurts the player and the game without adding any illumination. Rodriguez should not be made to carry the banner for the steroids era, one which few sportswriters are willing to treat with anything like fairness anyway. Until the mainstream writers are willing to examine in a realistic way what we really know about the impact of steroids on performance, their metaphorically running down Main Street shouting “Cheater! Cheater!” does nothing but add heat where there should be light.
For the thousandth time: the players broke the rules, but they did not rewrite the record books, not A-Rod, not even Barry Bonds. You can’t prove it logically, you can’t prove it by inference, and you can’t prove it medically. Roberts has damaged an already damaged man by wielding a very blunt instrument. Hooray for her, hooray for us for paying attention.