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
breaking news that a baseball players was caught using steroids. Has it
changed your attitude towards sports journalism?

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.

Blue Jays still focused on upgrading their pitching

Marco Estrada
AP Photo/LM Otero

Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.

The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.

Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.

Report: Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”

Jonathan Papelbon
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.

Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.

The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.

Minor league home run king Mike Hessman retires

NEW YORK - JULY 29:  Mike Hessman #19 of the New York Mets bats against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 4-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.

Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.

Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.

Marlins announcer Tommy Hutton was let go because he was “too negative”

marlins logo wide

We heard earlier this week that Marlins television analyst Tommy Hutton was let go after 19 seasons on the job. By all accounts, he’s well-liked and respected, so it smelled a little fishy with a team that has owner Jeffrey Loria calling the shots. Well, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald was told by a source close to the Marlins that Hutton was let go because he was “too negative.”

Jackson was also able to get in touch with Hutton, who provided some details about how things went down.

“I know there were times I was negative, but I thought those times were called for,” he said. “Ninety percent of what I said was positive. I tried not to be a homer, but you could tell I wanted the Marlins to do well.”

After being told that his salary wasn’t a factor in the decision, Hutton suspected that his candid, blunt analysis might be the impetus for his ouster.

So after learning his fate on Monday, he asked that question – whether they thought he was too negative — to both a Fox producer (at a meeting at Starbucks) and the Marlins’ vice president/communications (by phone).

He said the question was met with silence by both executives.

“I couldn’t get a yes or a no,” he said.

Hutton said there were three incident in recent years where he was told the Marlins were uncomfortable with something he said. He disclosed one example where he was exasperated at the ballpark’s dimensions after former catcher John Buck flew out to the warning track for the final out of a game. He was told by a Marlins vice president after the game that Loria prefer he not talk about the ballpark’s dimensions. Of course, the team is moving in the fences this winter.

To be clear, Hutton said he was told it was a “mutual decision” between the Marlins and FOX to let him go, but Jackson’s source hears that the concern about his “negativity” came from the team.

Hey, do you know the best way to prevent “negative” talk about your team? Fielding a winning baseball team without a dysfunctional ownership and front office. Crazy idea, I know, but it could be cool?