The Commish Online                                                                                
Reader Response
February 15, 2005

A response to the article published in TCO on February 9th:
Hey Commish,

I gotta say I disagree with your take on the Canseco situation. 

Since when did motivation become the key criteria of credibility?  It is an intriguing but exhausting process to debate the motivations of a persons actions; the amount of airplay and print given to the exploration of Canseco's motivation must outnumber the discussion of his credibility 10 to 1.  Shall we discuss the motivation of players now denying steroid use?  Does their motivation to not be exposed as cheats, to defend against their potential Hall of Fame legacy, does that potential motivation call into question their credibility?

Though Canseco has not stated his motivation, probably because he has yet to be asked on record, I'm sure selling books and making money are a huge part of his reasoning.  This seems to be your, and many others, reason for questioning his truthfulness.  However, I don't in anyway see how that, in and of itself, serves to undermine the truthfulness of his claims.  If a profit motive was an indictment of fact then no journalist, non-fiction author, or online columnist should be believed.  Truth and income are not mutually exclusive.

But where is the proof?  Where is the evidence of his charges?  There seems to be none, but this is not a court of law and Canseco concedes it is simply his word to be taken for what it is worth.  There are many tales from my life that I repeat that, if pressed for physical evidence and DNA samples, I could not provide.  Is my drunken dognapping story any less true?  Unfortunately, it is not.

Yet, while his credibility is attacked as being "one of baseball's least trustworthy players," his premise is supported by claims that "players started reporting to training camp many pounds lighter and several neck sizes smaller once testing began in MLB."  Add to that recent revelations that Giambi testified to a Grand Jury that he did take steroids and Human Growth Hormones; which is exactly what Canseco alleges.  Barry Bonds, who has added more then a few long balls to his career numbers recently, has also admitted to using steroids and other illegal performance enhancing substances- though, he states, unknowingly.  Does his explanation call into question his credibility? 

Even his most vocal critics inside baseball seem more upset about his breaking the clubhouse code of silence then they seriously question his factualness (coining a phrase).  Tom Grieve, Rangers ex-GM, who barked loudest last week called Canseco a "disgrace" and a "joke", but during an interview with Dan Patrick of ESPN Radio conceded that he didn't doubt there was probably a great deal of truth in his charges.  Many other longtime baseball beat reporters now say that Canseco's book only confirms what they and other baseball insiders knew for years, but could not print due to, essentially the clubhouse code of silence, where no one would go on record. 

I don't argue that the Mantle era players are necessarily better then today's stars, but I do believe that anabolic steroids, human growth hormones, and other performance enhancing drugs have wildly inflated offensive numbers over the last decade or so.  I believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg and that much more is yet to come out of the years about an era in baseball that will, perhaps not be discredited, but will forever be cordoned off in the minds of future lovers of the game.

For baseball to turn a new page, we must stop revisioning the past and instead put in place those measures to ensure performance enhancing drugs can never taint this great game again.  That is the only path to credibility.
First of all, let me preface by saying I am not incredibly interested in “off-the-field” topics because I am more concerned with the game itself.  In this case, however, the “off-the-field” activities are affecting the game itself, so I, like most fans, have an interest in the topic.  Also, I am not a stubborn man and am willing to admit my faults; I am more concerned with finding the right answer than being the one to say it first.  Therefore, let’s try to find the truth…

I think the reader’s rebuttal suggests things which are more similar to my opinions than he might think.  For starters, my original article was presented from my perception of the views of the general public, and I believe that the public knew steroids were rampant in baseball over the past decade, even (or especially) among the game’s most highly touted players.  I don’t think there’s much debate in that topic around the water cooler – the issue is that the media could not (and still can’t) talk about specific players because, as the reader mentioned, there is no proof.  Now the media can talk about specifics, but only by stating “Canseco claims that Joe Blow used steroids.”  We still can’t publicly make statements about players other than Giambi and Bonds because the proof is not there, even though we BELIEVE things to be true.  I think both the article and the rebuttal agree to the above statements.

As for motivation becoming a key ingredient of credibility, well, I believe it is.  Again, it doesn’t mean that what Canseco claims isn’t true, but it would be a lot more credible if he made these statements while he was playing.  He has nothing to lose at this stage, so while he may be telling the truth, it is hard for the public to know how much is truth, how much is exaggeration, and how much is plain fiction.  Staying consistent, yes, the motivation of current players denying Canseco’s claims is also highly suspect, because they have everything to lose by telling the truth, if in fact the truth is steroid abuse.  That is why, in the article, I said that Canseco’s comments create confusion for the public. 

In comparing truth and income as mutually exclusive, I would argue that, as a journalist, profit DOES motivate, but other factors are involved.  That’s why publications have checks and balances.  Without them, the idea of motivation being a key criterion of credibility would be proved.  What do you trust more: a story from the Enquirer and an article from the New York Times?  The Enquirer is much more lax on checking sources (based on the number of lawsuits they receive each year), so a writer is more encouraged to deliver a story that will make him money, regardless of the truthfulness.  Why?  Because there are no repercussions, like Canseco naming names AFTER he retires.  A writer for the New York Times trying to make up stories to advance his career and his paycheck would be fired if discovered.  Jayson Blair is a real life example, losing his job in 2003 after embellishing and making up stories for the Times.  Coming full circle, Blair’s firing probably lessened the credibility of the Times itself since readers became understandably suspicious of the truths of future articles in the paper.  Therefore, the paper, whose target audience is the higher income individual in search of fact-based news, is forced to increase its checks and balances (and perhaps decrease deadline pressures, but that’s another story) to regain the trust of its readers.  In other words, yes, profit motivates and potentially skews credibility which is why steps are taken to ensure that other factors exist as well (getting fired, etc.).

Lacking credibility doesn’t automatically make statements from a questionable source false; it just makes them more suspect.  Even the Enquirer publishes a true story now and then.  The confusion for the reader is trying to figure out which ones are true.  With Canseco, his lack of credibility doesn’t mean everything in his book is false; it’s just a little more suspect than if Ivan Rodriguez admitted to using steroids and named names with several years left on a hefty contract.

I agree that breaking the “clubhouse code” has become the louder topic in the media than if Canseco’s allegations are actually true.  My previously article was more about the “code” than the content because I was answering a reader’s question about Canseco ratting on teammates, not about whether the claims were true.

Also in agreement, we can’t change the past, and when all the smoke clears, the current era will be known as having inflated numbers, so even though Maris doesn’t hold the home run record anymore, I will be more inclined to tell my son about a record which held up for 37 years than about Bonds and McGwire and their recent achievements.

Regarding the steps toward erasing drugs from baseball, while many years late, at least MLB is finally doing SOMETHING.  I feel that baseball and the owners are more to blame than the players for the inflated numbers and illegal activity (similar to the Enquirer publisher or a drug pusher), but that opinionated topic is reserved for another Hot Corner.

To everyone who has been writing, thank you for the smart and informed responses.  I never mind being questioned or debated, and this medium is, in my opinion, thoroughly more enjoyable than listening to local sports talk show hosts yell over their listeners because they don’t agree with something.  Keep the e-mails coming!