syringe

What did the press know about PEDs and when did they know it?

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There’s a great piece over at Grantland. In it Bryan Curtis tracks the history of the media’s awareness and investigation of steroids in baseball from the 1980s onward. How generalized but unreportable knowledge became actual news. It’s must-click, must-read stuff.

It’s great because the guys who were there — Rosenthal, Olney, Justice, others — talk about what the culture was at the time and the challenges they faced in convincing editors to let them run steroids stories. There’s this idea that float around PED stories today that the media ignored it all back in the 80s and 90s. I agree some did and some — as detailed in the story — even worked hard to beat back PED stories that emerged.  But overall I think that’s an unfair assessment of what went on.

Reporters knew and often wanted to write about steroids, but the culture and conventions of print journalism were and continue to be such that, unless you got multiple people going on the record, editors are going to kill your story. Whether that’s good or not is another conversation — I think it’s bad in many cases as gossip and muckraking have its place — but it’s not accurate to say that all or even most reporters turned a blind eye. They were limited by journalistic convention.

But I also think that the struggle it took for these guys to get these stories to print and the “I-Team,” big-time investigative reporting culture that eventually got this stuff to the surface is why the media is so messed up in the way they pass judgment on the Steroids Era now.

When a reporter is working hard to break something — when that one story becomes their only job for months on end, as deep-digging investigative work requires it to be — the story ends up assuming an outsized importance. It’s their whole life so it’s obviously huge to them, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the biggest thing on the planet. Or the most important thing in baseball. If you’re looking at only one thing, perspective is lost.

I feel like, because PEDs became — as Curtis deftly describes — THE BIG GET of the baseball media for a number of years, it managed to be taken as bigger than it is in terms of baseball impact by many in the media. It became the way a reporter could place his own personal stamp on baseball because, eventually, he knew that world very well and it became the media’s value proposition in baseball analysis to play up that side when people in the game would not. When the most important and most unique thing you have to say about Barry Bonds, for example, comes from the media’s reams of scoops and stories, the baseball realities of Barry Bonds — that he was nonetheless an amazing, amazing ballplayer — is lost to some degree and the PED side is oversold.

That’s just a theory, of course. And it’s obviously not a uniform one. On the one hand, someone like Selena Roberts can only see A-Rod as a PED-using awful person because she has spent years reporting and writing that story. On the other hand better reporters, like, say, Buster Olney, are able to put this stuff in perspective. But I do think it’s a case where many in the media are keen to latch on to the media’s most proprietary angle re: baseball and inflate its importance.

Anyway, take some time from your schedule today and read Curtis’ story. You won’t be sorry.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 16: Starting pitcher J.A. Happ #33 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the seventh inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on June 16, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
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Did you know J.A. Happ is in the thick of the American League Cy Young Award race? Of all the contenders, he may be the biggest surprise, even ahead of Drew Pomeranz. Happ leads the league with 17 wins and only has three losses to go with it. He’s holding a 3.05 ERA and a 133/44 K/BB ratio in 150 1/3 innings.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Happ was struggling to stay in a starting rotation. In 2011, his first full season with the Astros, he finished with a 5.35 ERA. In 2012, he put up a 4.79 ERA with the ‘stros and Blue Jays. The next year? 4.56 followed by 4.22, both with the Jays. Then, with the Mariners, he continued the mediocrity with a 4.64 ERA before he was traded to the Pirates.

Under the tutelage of Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage, Happ turned his career around. In 11 starts in Pittsburgh, the lefty had a microscopic 1.85 ERA. That came with significant improvements in his strikeout and walk rates. Even the ERA retrodictors like FIP and xFIP, which had so often agreed with his uninspiring ERA’s, agreed that he had thrown like an elite hurler. So that’s how we arrived at J.A. Happ, Cy Young Award contender.

Among AL starters, Happ is fifth-best in ERA behind Cole Hamels, Jose Quintana, Aaron Sanchez, and Steven Wright. However, his 17-3 record is equaled only by Rick Porcello. As there are still a significant number of voters in the Baseball Writers Association of America who consider won-lost record, Happ is sitting in a good position and will be even better if he can cross the coveted 20-win threshold. He’ll get a bit of a boost as well if he can help the Jays return to the postseason for a second consecutive season.

Happ’s Jays will host the hapless — and Happ-less — Angels on Thursday evening. He’ll take on veteran Jered Weaver in a 7:07 PM EDT start.

The rest of Thursday’s action…

Baltimore Orioles (Ubaldo Jimenez) @ Washington Nationals (Max Scherzer), 7:05 PM EDT

Kansas City Royals (Edinson Volquez) @ Miami Marlins (Tom Koehler), 7:10 PM EDT

New York Mets (Seth Lugo) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Adam Wainwright), 7:15 PM EDT

Cleveland Indians (Josh Tomlin) @ Texas Rangers (Cole Hamels), 8:05 PM EDT

Pittsburgh Pirates (Chad Kuhl) @ Milwaukee Brewers (Wily Peralta), 8:10 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (James Paxton) @ Chicago White Sox (Anthony Ranaudo), 8:10 PM EDT

Atlanta Braves (Matt Wisler) @ Arizona Diamondbacks (Robbie Ray), 9:40 PM EDT

San Francisco Giants (Matt Moore) @ Los Angeles Dodgers (Ross Stripling), 10:10 PM EDT

Let’s play the “how long has it been since the Cubs won the World Series?” game!

1908 Cubs
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It started with a no-good St. Louis Cardinals fan being a troublemaker. That no-good Cardinals fan was Drew Silva, who began things innocently enough, noting that, despite their dominance this season, any team can theoretically beat the Chicago Cubs in a short series because that’s just how baseball goes:

Cubs fans started giving him guff for that, so Drew gave some back:

And with that it was on like Donkey Kong (a super old video game which was not invented for another 73 years after the Cubs last won the World Series). I tweeted this:

And with that, my followers went crazy. Here’s a sampling of some of the best ones:

And, for that matter . . .

Too soon. Unlike the last Cubs World Series title.

Like I said, this was just a sampling. I’ve retweeted a ton more on my timeline and those I didn’t retweet can be seen in the replies here. My favorite one may have been “literally the invention of sliced bread,” which debuted in 1912, but I can’t find that tweet.

Please, Cubs fans, have a sense of humor about this. You have a wonderful ballpark that is not named after a third tier mortgage company, a grand history that is fantastic even if it hasn’t featured any championships and a future that is as bright or brighter than any other team out there. Maybe even come up with some of your own in the comments! History is fun! As is self-deprecation! What I’m saying is don’t be salty about this sort of thing. Salty is a bad look.

In other news, the Morton Salt Company was incorporated in 1910, two years after the Cubs last World Series victory.