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Fans care about PEDs … sometimes

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NPR has a story about the polling relating to fans attitudes about PEDs in Major League Baseball. Their look at the polls shows that, among other results, 60 percent of those surveyed said it matters to them “a lot” if baseball players use steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs. Twenty nine percent said it matters to them “a little.” Only 9 percent said it matters “not at all.” There are some other results in there too which suggest thinking in keeping with that.

I’m kinda dubious. I obviously write a lot about PEDs because I find it interesting and important, but based on my interaction with readers and baseball fans in general — not just the vocal ones who comment — I’m not sure there is anything approaching a consensus of this among fans.

I think fans care a great deal and have very strong opinions about PEDs when the matter is placed before them. Like, when the story like the one we’ve been tracking the past couple of days first breaks and/or when they are asked specifically about PEDs.  I do not, however, think that PEDs are an issue that fans care about all that much in the day-to-day of their baseball fandom. I don’t think that it consumes anyone or changes their opinion about baseball in general. Yes, people say it does. They say it has soured them. But those anecdotal responses are simply not borne out in any tangible way when you look at attendance, revenue, TV ratings or people’s overall attitude about the game.

I also think there is a heavy dose of provincialism among fans when it comes to PEDs. If an already loathed player like Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez is implicated, yes, they hate PEDs. If a player on their team’s rival is implicated, oh man, that guy is a disgrace. If their own player is implicated, however, it’s amazing how fast they’ll tell you that PEDs don’t matter, that the guy is the subject of a conspiracy, that he’d still be an All-Star, that “everybody does it” or any other number of other things which seek to diminish the problem. I’ve noticed this in a major, major way in Brewers fans who, in my experience anyway, will go to some pretty extreme lengths to defend Ryan Braun or to otherwise diminish the allegations against him.  They’re even bigger Braun apologists than I am.

Not that this is surprising or even bad. It’s just like any other issue in baseball. Fans hate beanballs until their pitcher starts throwing them. They think stealing a base when you’re up by ten runs is low rent unless their team does it. The opposition’s showboating player is a classless hot dog, their showboating player is just filled with joy and enthusiasm and all the good stuff of life. Go back and look at Tony La Russa’s record of taking offense at violations of unwritten rules by opposing teams and not really noticing them when the Cardinals did it.

Which isn’t to say that people don’t have actual moral and ethical beliefs about players taking PEDs. It’s just that they’re not nearly as deep as people may say when asked a point blank question about it by a person taking a survey. Their convictions on it will ebb and flow depending on the news cycle. Or their fandom. Or if the guy was already thought of as an S.O.B. And no matter the case, there is nothing to suggest that PED stories have any large overall negative impact with respect to how people view the game.

Dexter Fowler: “I didn’t say anything wrong.”

JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 20:  Dexter Fowler #81 poses for a portrait during St Louis Cardinals Photo Day at Roger Dean Stadium on February 20, 2017 in Jupiter, Florida.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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New Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler was recently asked by ESPN’s Mark Saxon how President Trump’s efforts to institute a travel ban affected him and his family. Fowler’s wife is from Iran and Fowler said that he had reconsidered traveling with his daughter to Iran to visit her family. His wife’s sister also delayed her return from a business trip to Qatar as a result of Trump’s executive order. “It’s huge,” Fowler said. “Especially anytime you’re not able to see family, it’s unfortunate.”

Fowler’s statement was pretty bland as far as athletes wading into political waters go. He didn’t criticize Trump or conservatives, nor did he espouse support for liberals or Democrats. It was a simple statement that his life had been adversely impacted by an executive order.

The responses to Fowler’s comment were mostly awful. The @BestFansStLouis Twitter account highlighted this, as did Jeff Passan for Yahoo Sports and Will Leitch for Sports on Earth. Fans suggested that Fowler “shut up and play” because “nobody cares” and that Fowler is “property” of the Cardinals. The responses were so negative that Fowler tweeted about it:

Fowler, however, isn’t backing down. Via MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch:

“I didn’t say anything wrong,” Fowler said. “I think it was taken out of context [by other outlets]. I don’t think people read the article. I think people made their own [headlines]. The question was asked out of empathy to my family, and I appreciate that. If anybody is asking about my family, then I’m going to let them know that, ‘Yeah, obviously it affected my family. My wife is Iranian.’ … I think it’s kind of ignorant of people to just come at me like that and not read the article.”

[…]

“I’m always going to care for my family,” Fowler said. “And if a question is asked out of concern, I’m going to answer the question. And I’m going to answer it truthfully. It’s not to hurt anybody. It’s unfortunate that people think of things that way. I believe they’re sensitive. I’m not the sensitive one. I appreciate the ones that understood.”

Manager Mike Matheny has Fowler’s back. He said, “I think he handled it correctly. He was very clear that he was trying to make a statement about his family [and it] ended up becoming a political statement.”

Tony Clark, executive director of the MLBPA, also expressed support for Fowler:

“Baseball players are a microcosm of society, and I was a grown man before I was a baseball player,” Clark said. “If I have a view, I should be willing to share it, while understanding what I’m a part of and what my responsibilities are. Any player understands that when they take a particular position, it may not be a popular one.

“There may be pushback. That shouldn’t be a reason not to have an opinion. In this instance, it’s a very personal one to Dex. I respect the commentators that responded. I respect their freedom to respond to it.”

Indeed, Fowler had every right to say what he said and it’s good to see that both his manager and the head of the MLBPA support him fully. It would have been easy and politically safe to allow Fowler to hang out to dry.

Report: Extension talks between Mets, Neil Walker are “probably dead”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 21: Neil Walker #20 of the New York Mets sits in the dugout before the game against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on August 21, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  The New York Mets defeated the San Francisco Giants 2-0. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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On Sunday, it was reported that second baseman Neil Walker and the Mets were discussing a potential three-year contract extension worth “north of $40 million.” Those discussions took a turn for the worse. The Mets feel extension talks are “probably dead,” according to Mike Puma of the New York Post.

Walker underwent a lumbar microdisectomy in September, ending his 2016 season during which he hit .282/.347/.476 with 23 home runs and 55 RBI over 458 plate appearances.

The Mets may not necessarily need to keep Walker around as it has some potential options up the middle waiting in the minor leagues. Though Amed Rosario is expected to stick at shortstop, Gavin Cecchini — the club’s No. 3 prospect according to MLB Pipeline — could shift over to second base.