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.