Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.

How people were trolled into believing Cards fans launched racial slurs at Jason Heyward


The other day the New York Daily New ran with some allegations from some Twitter users that Cards fans at Busch Stadium could be heard directing racial slurs at Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward on the audio feed of the game. In response, ESPN and other media outlets said they were reviewing the audio. Upon that review, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and us here at HardballTalk, among other media outlets, reported that the allegations existed and that the review was taking place. Soon after, it was revealed that the allegations were false. No racial slurs were heard.

The entire episode was a combustible mix of many different factors which have been invoked in sports coverage and, specifically, coverage of the Cardinals and their fans in recent years. Racial allegations ALWAYS play, of course, and will almost always be picked up if allegations are made, even thin ones. The real fuel to the fire here, however, was the particular place Cardinals fans occupy in the current baseball landscape.

For a lot of reasons — including the fact that they constantly sell out their stadium and support an excellent baseball team — Cards have fans developed a reputation over the years as being a savvier and more devoted bunch than fans in other cities. Given the tribalism of all sports fandom this created a backlash and then a backlash to a backlash and the comically over-the-top parodies and then a certain understandable defensiveness of Cards fans to it all. The net result of it is that anything having to do with Cards fandom is something of a hot button issue now. Phillies fans from 2007-2011 or so will recall a similar dynamic. It’s all just . . . complicated.

Into that stew of complications came these allegations, which have now been shown as false. But where did they come from and how did it spread? For that, you can go read this excellent post about it all from the Double Birds blog, which tracks the whole story to its genesis and showed how it unfolded.

In the past two days I’ve spoken with Chase from Double Birds on Twitter about it, and with a lot of other Cardinals fans. I still believe there are some fundamental misunderstandings about the nature of the coverage and what motivated it on the part of some Cardinals fans. Other than the debunked tweets and the Daily News story, I didn’t see any media outlet actually claim that the tweets were credible or use them as a basis to dredge up old stories about Cardinals fans and their alleged nature. At the same time, I personally received all sorts of reflexive blowback from Cards fans on Twitter claiming that that was exactly what happened and that the media was “seizing” on this, twirling their mustaches and laughing with evil glee because they, once again, had a chance to stick it to those horrible Cards fans and blame them all for the actions of a few. That’s nonsense and I believe its evidence of defensive, bunker mentality on the part of some people in Cards Nation that has skewed the way THEY view the way they’re viewed by others.

Still, there are a lot of truths here too. Truths about how Cardinals fans have been stereotyped by others. Truths about how the acts of some are easily generalized as the acts of all. Assumptions about how the media may cover a story and what people may be inclined to believe via their own predispositions. Truths, also, about how fandom can be virulently subjective.

All worth chewing on.

Justin Verlander thinks first time PED users should get a lifetime ban

Associated Press

Ken Rosenthal of Fox has a story today in which he talks to multiple players and league and union officials about the state of drug testing and performance enhancing drugs in baseball.

The big takeaway here, I think, is that players openly and sharply talk about their frustration with PED users now in ways they never would’ve years ago. We saw this change begin after the Mitchell Report and as the MLBPA membership began to agree to and then, later, agitate for harsher penalties for drug users. What was once a taboo subject around which players carefully tread is now something against which they actively campaign.

That, more than home run totals and the number of tests and suspensions handed out, tell you about the state of PEDs in the game. They still exist, of course. Players still get suspensions and, as Rosenthal’s report notes, no testing regime will ever be perfect. Partially because cheaters are always ahead of the testers, partially because no testing can be frequent enough to get some drugs due to how short a period the stay in one’s system. So a lot of the talk is about how to live in a world that, while imperfect, is still pointed in the right direction and shows how little tolerated PEDs are by players.

Some, however, still want the system to be tougher. Justin Verlander, for example, tells Rosenthal that a one strike and you’re out approach¬†is the way to go:

“How do you clean it up? Maybe more severe punishments,” Verlander said.

“If there is proven intent to cheat — i.e. you tested positive or it’s found that you were taking an illegal substance, PEDs, and trying to cheat the system, trying to go around it — I think it should be a ban from baseball.

“It’s too easy for guys to serve a suspension and come back and still get paid.”

I doubt that could ever fly, either legally or practically. While guys lie all the time now, a false positive is always possible in a drug testing scenario. And mixups and cross-contamination of supplements, etc., can occur too. Now baseball uses a zero tolerance approach which does not interest itself with the intent or the why of it. Probably for good reason as that would be a very difficult thing to determine and would lead to a lot of litigation. Under Verlander’s proposal, every positive test would lead to a protracted legal battle about intent. It would simply be unworkable.

Still, interesting to see the sea change in player sentiment about all of this in the past several years.

Tim Lincecum is still out there, wandering the Earth


There are a handful of well-known big leaguers still out there looking for work, but Tim Lincecum intrigues more than any of them. Probably because he was a back-to-back Cy Young Award winner who then fell off a cliff and that kind of dynamic is both hard to get one’s heard around but impossible to ignore.

Lincecum isn’t close to signing anyplace, though. Jon Heyman reported yesterday that he’s throwing on the San Francisco Giants’ practice fields in Scottsdale now, but that we shouldn’t look into that as it’s mostly just a courtesy to a longtime member of the club. In reality, Lincecum is just working out in Arizona, still, throwing simulated games — Heyman says he’s working on a rotation schedule, doing 70-pitch sim games — and that the long-teased “Tim Lincecum Showcase” is going to eventually happen. Heyman has been promoting it so long I think Bill Graham was originally involved. It was gonna be at the Fillmore West or the Cow Palace, maybe.

Anyway, he’s still out there, wandering the desert. I can’t help but hope he latches on someplace soon. He was one of my favorites when he was on his game. And the idea that someone can have it all and be on top of everything to suddenly just lose it and then wander like that is fascinating to me.