Saturday, April 23, 2005

RYAN'S GOT THE JUICE. For years now, the possibility that Nomar Garciaparra's home-run power and brittle physique were the result of steroid use has been a regular topic of idle baseball talk. Still, it kind of took my breath away yesterday when the Globe's Bob Ryan said it right out loud following Garciaparra's devastating injury earlier in the week.

Ryan's column was not even close to the first time that Garciaparra has been linked to steroids. For instance, last December 4, the Globe's Gordon Edes wrote this in the middle of a piece on baseball's steroid scandal:

Former big league player Mark Grace told the Arizona Republic that he doesn't expect anything to change in a sport where a onetime 155-pound shortstop, Nomar Garciaparra, was proudly featured bare-chested on the cover of Sports Illustrated, flaunting a torso that appeared to be made of coiled steel.

On February 11, the Herald's Gerry Callahan, in writing about Jose Canseco's steroid claims, said:

Canseco hit just 52 home runs in his two seasons in Boston. He never wore a glove or a hat and spent more time in front of the mirror than on the field. But he was no pariah. He seemed to be friendly with a number of Red Sox veterans, including Mo Vaughn and Roger Clemens. Could a young Nomar Garciaparra have learned anything from Canseco when the two played together at the end of the '96 season?

But until Ryan came along, it's always been questions, hints, and denials from Nomar's former teammates. Ryan took it quite a bit farther than that, writing on Friday:

Look, I'm hardly the first person to raise the question. When he was with the Red Sox, who was bold enough to link our fair shortstop, a noted workout guy, with the dreaded S-word? But he did go from, like, standard athlete issue normal to ultra-buffed in one winter, and he has been - there is no other way to say it - systematically breaking down for the past six years, so you can't help wondering just what he's been putting into his body other than Wheaties and sirloin steaks. If we're going to assume that Mark McGwire's physical breakdown was because of a reliance on steroids, then it would be quite logical to adopt the same line of thinking about Nomar. It's a legitimate question.

Ryan did tone it down right after that, noting that it was possible Garciaparra's physical woes were the byproduct of a flawed workout regimen rather than steroids. But still, he'd said what everyone was thinking, and it makes a great deal of sense - even though he presents no actual evidence. Personally, I suspect Ryan is right on target. But it does raise an interesting question about media ethics, doesn't it?

Garciaparra yesterday dismissed the charges, and his Chicago Cubs manager, Dusty Baker, ripped into Ryan. According to the Chicago Tribune, Baker said, "How can you speculate that? That's not fair to Nomar and to the reading public.… I can't comment on what somebody says. But it's unfair, period." The story slyly notes that, in the past, Baker had defended Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa on steroid charges.

In the Chicago Sun-Times, Steve Stone has this to say:

All of us have suspicions as to who might have done what. However, it's really irresponsible to come out publicly and say this guy did this unless you know definitively that's the case. And to have horrific injuries and ascribe all of them to steroids might be overstating it a touch. From Nomar's standpoint, if he says it, I will believe he didn't do it.

What's happened to Garciaparra is sad. Whether he used steroids or not, his body has betrayed him, and it's getting harder and harder to believe he'll ever be a full-time player again.

What Ryan did wasn't completely novel. Rather, he put the steroid accusation out there somewhat less ambiguously than had been done in the past, and he did it right after Nomar had suffered a major injury, guaranteeing that his column would get a lot of attention. I'm still not quite sure what to make of it. Ryan leveled a serious accusation for which he has no actual proof, but for which there is a load of circumstantial evidence. Baseball is in the midst of a crisis over its inability to get a handle on juiced-up ballplayers. And now Nomar is the poster boy for all that.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.


Anonymous said...

This has all the potential for turning into a sports radio type of debate, with both sides trying to outscream the other. As I see it, Ryan's column is unfortunate, because the role of an opinion writer should be to take what is known and help readers make sense of it. Ryan instead simply dredges up old and unproven accusations and fails to even bother contacting Nomar beforehand. Strikes me as armchair journalism (something Ryan is often guilty of, by the way). It also strikes me as piling it on.

As an aside, I have engaged Ryan in emails on other subjects where he took a similar approach. His general response was in the vein of "everybody knew it, therefore it's OK for me to repeat it in a column." Lazy, lazy, lazy.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations to Bob Ryan for having the balls to write about Nomar and Steroids. For those who disagree - How boring, bland, and lacking of punch to you want your daily Sports Page articles to be?

I'll never forget that SI cover photo - have a look yourself and you be the judge.

Anonymous said...

Hmm...Nomar is all of 190 pounds, and I was never impressed with that cover photo anyway. He looks flabby to me. I see plenty of guys that size at the local Y and they can't all be on steroids.

To think all guys with a bit of muscle must be on steroids is like thinking all writers who post anonymously must be idiots. Then again...


John Rosenthal said...

In May, 2003, after saying he would “like to smack” Joumana Kidd, wife of New Jersey Nets guard Jason Kidd, Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan was suspended without pay for 30 days.
"It was, of course, atrocious judgment on my part," Ryan said at the time.
The month off rehabilitated Ryan’s image and his standing with his colleagues on ESPN’s The Sports Reporters, where he is once again a regular. But it has done little for his judgment.
Ryan’s latest offense is his April 22 column in which he doesn’t quite accuse former Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra of taking steroids. Ryan doesn’t have any evidence that Garciaparra took steroids other than the fact that he crossed paths with Jose Canseco and has been hurt a lot lately, most recently a season-ending groin injury last week. Instead, he does a lot of speculating about whether Nomar took steroids.
This is yellow journalism for sure—casting doubt about a player’s accomplishments without a shred of proof. But what makes it worse is that Ryan punked Garciaparra from a thousand miles away, safely beyond the reach of Nomar or the fans of the team he now plays for.
Dozens of baseball players have been suspected of taking steroids for years now. The fact that Jason Giambi got caught only meant that baseball has had to confront the issue, rather than sweep it over, as it had been doing for a decade.
But Ryan’s timing has more to do with Nomar no longer being a member of the Boston Red Sox. If Ryan is so sure Garciaparra has been taking steroids, why didn’t he say something four years ago, when the shortstop bulked up for a March 5, 2001 cover photo for Sports Illustrated? Why didn’t he say anything when Nomar got injured in 2004. Could it have something to do with the fact that he was hitting .321 for the Sox at the time?
Where was Ryan’s suspicious mind when David Ortiz, who never hit more than 20 home runs as a member of the Minnesota Twins, hit double that number for Boston? What was Ryan saying about Jason Varitek in 2001, when injuries limited him to 51 games, or in 2004, when the Sox catcher hit 24 points above his career average?
Ryan was in Boston, where readers would be calling for his head and players would be confronting him every day if he called their achievements into question. But now that Nomar has been safely shipped off to Chicago, and Ryan no longer needs quotes from him, he doesn’t have to worry about giving him a fair shake. Garciaparra didn’t just take the Red Sox curse with him; Ryan has conveniently made him the fall guy for any and all steroid use by Boston players.

The whole episode points out a larger problem in baseball, which is that steroids are now going to be the elephant in the room every time a player gets hurt, doesn’t get hurt, slims down, bulks up, performs well, or goes into the tank. Steroids have tainted every player in the game, whether they use performance enhancers or not. And the toothless testing policy the league has adopted to address the issue isn’t going to change anything.
As long as chicks dig the long ball, as long as ESPN does a special segment each night replaying every roundtripper hit in the previous 24 ours (but cutting the number of defensive Web Gems down to a more manageable five), as long as there is a designated hitter position for immobile sluggers who can’t play the field, baseball is going to reward home run hitters more than speedsters, slap hitters, and defensive whiz kids. And that means players have millions of reasons to cheat.
Unless these basic facts change, Bob Ryan will be able to write the same column about every player in baseball. Except those who happen to play in Boston.

Anonymous said...

I've got to agree with Mike B on this one. I'm all of 5' 7" and weight 175 lbs. While not in the shape I once was, I had better muscle definition that Nomar showed on the cover and all I ever did was push-ups and pull-ups. 190 lbs is hardly a lot of weight for some one of his height. This all strikes me as sour grapes from the Boston Media. It's amazing to see how Boston media and fans like to tear apart former players. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? Oh yes it does - just listen to some of the local idiots on sports radio.