Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Man Responds

Joe Posnanski took the time to address my previous post about A-Rod & McGwire. Like everything else he writes, it's worth reading.

I Know That Face: McGwire, A-Rod and Posnanski

I didn't really want to talk about this subject, but for some odd reason, I've been thinking a lot about Mark McGwire over the past two days. The reason of course is obvious, but it's odd because I've never really cared much about McGwire before Monday. When you say "baseball" and "1998" the first thing that comes to mind is the unstoppable version of the Yankees that won 114 games and the World Series. I never really cared that Big Mac took steroids, but I still consider the single season home run record to be 61 (although Maris' 1961 campaign obviously comes with its own set of caveats). Basically, I was fairly indifferent about the guy and still am about steroid use in general.

But then I read the part of his statement where he said "wished he never played during the steroid era" and quickly realized this wasn't going to be an actual apology. Then I watched the interview with Bob Costas on Monday night and listened to McGwire refuse to acknowledge that there might be some connection between him taking steroids and hitting lots of home runs and I grew more disenchanted. My first mistake was expecting a real apology in the first place. My second mistake was watching the interview.

At that point I was ensnared in the story. I read reaction after reaction yesterday, some echoing the disapproval Tom Verducci and Ken Rosenthal showed on the MLB Network after the interview and some questioning why McGwire's apology wasn't good enough for us. Even those who claimed not to care were adamant in their apathy.

While no one was particularly surprised by McGwire's admission, the story still got huge and reached a point of ridiculous oversaturation. Basically everyone with a voice in the baseball media offered their opinion and there were responses to the interview and also retorts to those responses.

Well, here I am with a rebuttal to a retort to the responses. When you are a media bottom feeder like myself and you wait 36 hours to give your opinion on a story like this, all that's left is the backwash of the backlash. So here goes nothing...

If you don't read Joe Posnanski's blog, you are truly missing out. If there was a sports writers draft tomorrow, he would be snatched up with the first pick. He weaves together disparate topics with ease and makes seemingly uninteresting things worth reading about. His posts are long and nuanced and are meant to be read in full, but I'm going to blockquote him here (and take him out of context) to make a point.

From his reaction to the McGwire interview (or more accurately, his reaction to other's reactions):
I didn't agree with or even follow everything McGwire said, but I never thought that was the point. I never thought apologizing was an Olympic sport with stoned-faced people judging how straight his toes were pointed and if he made too big a splash. McGwire is not a public speaker. He's not a philosopher. He's not a politician. He is not even an especially open person. He is a guy who dedicated his life to hitting baseballs hard. Expecting him to become Hamlet doesn't seem fair.
This is a valid viewpoint. I happen to disagree, but two people can watch the same lengthy interview and come away with completely different perceptions of what just took place. There's a lot of wiggle room in 54 minutes of two-way conversation.

I thought Alex Rodriguez’s ”apology“ was one of the most absurd shams of recent memory. I thought it was so pathetic that, for the first time, that ”A-Fraud“ moniker finally made some sense to me. As a baseball fan, I wasn’t mad at A-Rod when the steroid story broke. As a baseball fan, I was furious at A-Rod when he and his handlers put together this infomercial apology.
To me that sounds like Joe judging A-Rod's apology, something that "wasn't the point" when it was McGwire's turn in the hot seat. Again, there is a lot of room for interpretation and there are significant differences between the two situations and subsequent interviews (namely the interviewer), but it's hard to reconcile those two statements.

Both of these guys had handlers and given the attention that they were bound to garner by admitting to using steroids, they should have. The biggest difference was that McGwire's team had a month to orchestrate his PR offensive while A-Rod found out that he was going to have to face the music three days prior while he was running on a treadmill and confronted by Selena Roberts.

Poz goes on to suggest (about A-Rod):
That this is a PR campaign ordered up by a very rich man who got caught and the only goal was to admit as little as humanly possible and make excuses for the little he does admit.
McGwire didn't get caught, but the only reason that he's admitting this now is that he wants to be the hitting coach for the Cardinals and he knows he has to pay his pound of flesh to the media and get this out of the way now. But his PR campaign was far more calculated than A-Rod's was and similarly unbelievable.

If you're Mark McGwire, you don't pay the big bucks to a "crisis-communications company" to tell the whole truth. You hire them to conveniently confine your steroid usage to the smallest believable window, and claim you used them only to recover from injuries. You flatly deny Jose Canseco's account because he still doesn't have any real credibility despite the fact that most of the stuff he said was true. You say that you only used steroids in "very, very low dosage". You don't acknowledge that they might have made you a superhuman home run machine, because that would be cheating, you see? You just took them to get back to where you were. Heck, talk about the "backspin" you put on the ball and act like you unlocked some key to hitting. You're going to be a hitting coach after all!

When you hire a crisis-communications company, they feed you lines like "walking M*A*S*H unit" that you repeat over and over again. They find a way to spin your bungled appearance in front of congress in 2005 so it looks like it wasn't your fault. They make sure you don't incriminate your former coach and future boss by saying he had knowledge of your steroid use. They remind you to say that you "wish you never played in the steroid era". Because like A-Rod being naive and trying to live up to the expectations of a giant contract in Texas, you were a victim of circumstance - an injury-plagued slugger who just happened to play in the steroid era.

I don't like being lied to. I don't appreciate the fact that, not only does Mark McGwire think that he was a better home run hitter than Babe Ruth because of his "God-given ability", but that he is also smarter than everyone else and thinks he can pass off a partial admission because he hired a company to calculate exactly how much he had to admit.

The problem is that a story gets this big, and the mainstream media reaction becomes the villian. Everyone needs a take and no one wants to hear you repeat what Tom Verducci said 10 seconds after the interview concluded.

The one common thread between Posnanski's take on McGwire and A-Rod is that he says that he's shocked that he disagrees with everyone's else's reaction in both. I don't find that surprising at all. I think the best writers make a living on the opposite end of the spectrum (our pal Craig Calcaterra comes to mind). Not to say that they don't believe their own opinions, but the guys I most enjoy reading typically come down diametrically opposed to the majority reaction when a story like this breaks. They are good at finding something about conventional wisdom to disagree with and that makes their opinion interesting to read.

Well this time, I think the original consensus was right. I think McGwire's "admission" was, in many ways, just as bad as A-Rod's. I'm not willing to believe that he really took steroids just to get healthy and I think deep down he knows that they made him better.

If you grant that the truth lies between what Jose Canseco said and what McGwire did, well McGwire's lying because he said there was "absolutely no truth to that whatsoever". And what good is an apology if you're not going to tell the truth? Besides, I wasn't asking for an apology anyway. McGwire did this for himself. Which shouldn't be a surprise, because if he was doing it for everyone else, it would have happened years ago.

Today In Meaningless Clichés

To be fair, Anthony McCarron wrote this yesterday, but that's not going to stop me from making fun of him for it this morning, Fackers:
They are looking for a right-handed hitter. Sounds like Johnny Damon hasn’t got a shot unless he’s willing to play on the seriously cheap, which isn't likely to happen. So who do you like? Reed Johnson? Jerry Hairston, Jr.? Xavier Nady?

Me, I think they need to add someone, preferably a get-the-uniform-dirty type. But I also think they ought to give Brett Gardner a real chance.
Me, I'd like a keeps-his-uniform-clean-so-he-doesn't-have-to-wash-it-very-often type. Saves money for the team, to say nothing of the benefits for the environment, you know?

I know this "dirty uniform" tag gets tossed around a lot, but what does it actually mean? Someone who steals bases? A guy who is willing to slide to catch the ball? Are extra points awarded for grass stains? (They are harder to remove after all...)

Is it someone who sits Indian-style in the on-deck circle and makes fucking sand castles? Or is it just another meaningless moniker for a scrappy, gritty, feisty, battling, pugnacious, rough-and-tumble bench grunt who plays with a chip on his shoulder (otherwise known as someone who isn't good enough to land a starting job somewhere else)?

McCarron doesn't elaborate on what he means by this at all. He doesn't even offer up even one example of a uniform dirtier that the Yankees could sign. In fact, he sort of implies that Brett Gardner isn't sufficient in his garb grubbying, thus necessitating the acquisition of another shirt stainer.

Is this filthy enough for you, Anthony? Does Reed Johnson meet your standards of uncleanliness?