New York Times' steroids beat writer gets some perspective

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Michael Schmidt is the New York Times’ steroids beat writer. He’s probably best remembered for taking a lot of heat last year after reporting names from the famous list of 103 ballplayers who tested positive back in 2003. The reason for the heat: the list was and remains subject to a court order sealing its contents and thus Schmidt’s source is almost certainly violating court orders in order to make the names public, which could constitute criminal contempt of court. Contrary to Don Fehr’s scaremongering, Schmidt isn’t himself subject to the court orders and thus did nothing illegal himself, but as my friend Johnny Caspar likes to say: ettickly, it’s kinda shaky.*

While still covering PEDs in baseball, Schmidt has since split time with the NYPD beat. The Big Lead interviewed him recently, and Schmidt says that the new beat has opened his eyes a bit:

Q: What’s the biggest difference between covering the NYPD
beat and covering steroids? What’s it like to cover a story about, say, a murder-suicide involving an entire family
versus
breaking news that a baseball players was caught using steroids. Has it
changed your attitude towards sports journalism?

Of
course. At times on my steroids beat, I believe I fell into the trap
that many journalists do and believed that everything that occurred on
my beat was really important. Not surprisingly, my perspective changed
when I came downtown and wrote stories about murders, the deaths of
children and hit-and-runs. As awful as it’s been to write those stories,
it has given me a much better sense of the big picture and how to
evaluate a story’s significance.

I obviously have no objection to people covering the steroids beat in baseball. I’d just like to see those who opine on the subject to get a little perspective is all. Taking steroids is a violation of the rules of the sport we love and it likely has some adverse effects on the drug user in question. But it’s not life and death, nor is it so starkly a question of wrong and right as it is so often portrayed.

Schmidt has had a chance to see that recently and I have no doubt that it will affect his reporting on the subject.  One can only hope that the other folks who cover that beat gain a little perspective as well.

* To elaborate, even if I was provided with the names on the list I don’t think I would report it myself because I’m a licensed lawyer and
I think my professional ethical obligations would prevent me from doing
so unless and until the sealing order is disposed of. Neither Schmidt nor anyone else who isn’t a lawyer is subject to the same restriction.

I do think, however, that anyone who gets into the subject of the famous 103 needs to be mindful that while they may be breaking news (a) they’re getting that information from someone who is knowingly violating a court order; and (b) they’re disseminating the private medical information of people who had every expectation that it would remain private and which multiple courts have since ruled was illegally seized by government agents acting outside of the scope of the Fourth Amendment. While I disagree with Don Fehr about whether reporting that sort of thing is illegal, it certainly carries with it some non-trivial ethical considerations, none of which anyone who likes to play the who’s-doing-steroids parlor games ever seem to want to acknowledge.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.