07.30.09

No Smearing in the Press Box: Michael S. Schmidt, You Still Have Half a Story to Write

Posted in Baseball, Sports Journalism at 2:22 pm by

This is what a baseball reporter looks like, i.e., a working man.  This is not Michael S. Schmidt.

If it can still be called news, word comes from The New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt today of two more names added to the list of those who allegedly tested positive for steroids in 2003.  Today, Yankee fans will be happy to see Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz’ from the World Series Curse Breaking Red Sox.  Curt Schilling haters can now sneer that his World Series ring was won with a needle.  Unfortunately for Bosox haters and those hoping to read a credible story, Schmidt continues to base his allegations on discredited evidenceLike his Sammy Sosa story a few months back, Schmidt relies on the evidence thrown out of Federal court as inconclusive in the Barry Bonds case.  If a Federal Judge threw the Bonds results out, why are results from the same batch of results now conclusive for The New York Times re Sosa, Manny, or Ortiz?   They’re not, and one guesses the attorneys who fed Schmidt these stories, and Schmidt himself, hopes for an A-Rod style confession as vindication.  If it’s not forthcoming from Sosa, Ortiz, or Manny, then Schmidt actually has some reporting to do, besides waiting for his phone to ring.  As steroid fans will recall, at no time could the results said to belong to Bonds from this same batch of tests actually be proven to be Bonds’ results “ it needed corroboration from his trainer, Greg Anderson, who refused to talk.  It’s why the Federal case against Bonds fell apart in February ’09, and exactly when the names of the 104 started to leak to the public “ ie, February ’09.  Chasing after Selena Roberts’ A-Rod admission of PED use, Schmidt continues to play mouthpiece to lawyers familiar with the case who taint player reputations with No Credible Evidence.  If I read Schmidt’s story correctly, he has not personally seen any evidence, shows no sign of making the link Federal prosecutors failed to make, and he has no other sources.

What’s getting so pathetic about The New York Times’ sporting coverage comes down to three current/former NYT staffers:  Michael S. Schmidt, Murray Chass, and Selena Roberts.  Chass’ “backne” fiasco re allegations of Mike Piazza and PEDs, and Schmidt’s threadbare accusations against Sammy Sosa, are equally ludicrous at this point.  Roberts took heat for her anonymous sourcing, a standard if imperfect journalism practice, but guess what “ she’s the only one proven correct.  She certainly beat the Times out on this story, and Schmidt obviously hopes to catch up and score the same kind of admissions but with  much weaker sourcing.  There’s a difference between using anonymous sources and letting them use you.  We’ll see if Ortiz or Sosa ever confess, as A-Rod did with Roberts, and save Schmidt’s rep from that of “backne” level journalism.  Again, as I’ve said before, it wouldn’t surprise me these days if my three-year-old tested positive for steroids, much less a Sosa or Ortiz.  Still, Michael S. Schmidt is getting played here.  He needs to actually report something or forever look like what he is today, a shill.

As Schmidt relates here, his story is based on nothing but the following:

Baseball first tested for steroids in 2003, and the results from that season were supposed to remain anonymous. But for reasons that have never been made clear, the results were never destroyed and the first batch of positives has come to be known among fans and people in baseball as œthe list. The information was later seized by federal agents investigating the distribution of performance-enhancing drugs to professional athletes, and the test results remain the subject of litigation between the baseball players union and the government.

Five others have been tied to positive tests from that year: Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Jason Grimsley and David Segui. Bonds, baseball™s career home runs leader, was not on the original list, although federal agents seized his 2003 sample and had it retested. Those results showed the presence of steroids, according to court documents.

The information about Ramirez and Ortiz emerged through interviews with multiple lawyers and others connected to the pending litigation. The lawyers spoke anonymously because the testing information is under seal by a court order. The lawyers did not identify which drugs were detected.

8 Responses to “No Smearing in the Press Box: Michael S. Schmidt, You Still Have Half a Story to Write”

  1. David Roth says:

    Good work as ever on this, Ben. It’s part of my other WSJ gig to look for other people writing this sort of thing about these ultra-shaky stories, and I have a really hard time finding anything. It’s generally different takes — some aggrieved, some outraged, some mourning on the our-leaker-hero-is-like-a-sniper creep from the Sosa thing. The whole thing’s a bummer.

  2. cp says:

    Yeah. I appreciate your ability to report on these stories calmly, without grandstanding and over the top moral indignation. It’s enervating and unproductive to read the usual overhyped (poorly sourced, poorly fact checked) narrative. Watching well paid journalists tweak up their outrage to “hysterical jackal” levels is really irritating considering how long PEDs had to be staring everybody that closely tied to the game in the face long before anybody was reporting on it. The whole schtick that’s supposed to make “professional journalists” better than bloggers is the access to the athletes themselves. But with all this access nobody was asking too many questions until those questions could be asked pointedly about Bonds, against whom enough paid journalists held grudges that impolite questions could safely be asked.

  3. Ben Schwartz says:

    Thanks for the kind words — I spent my moral outrage on Bud Selig’s finger-pointing and self-congratulatory celebration of greed in the middle of a Depression.

    I did get an earful of the “outrage” via Tim Montemayor on “Sporting News” radio. Whatever. Ortiz is apparently discussing the results with the union today (he never asked before?) and we’ll find out what he says soon. It’ll be interesting to see what Schmidt’s sources can confirm or contradict, if anything. His sources have yet to confirm exactly which drugs are supposedly found in the results, so they only appear to have seen a list of names.

  4. Tom Jolly says:

    Ben,

    Two points about Barry Bonds’s drug tests from 2003:

    1. The 2003 test list has not been discredited. Judge Ilston threw out positive tests seized from the Balco lab because she said the government cannot authenticate them without Greg Anderson’s testimony. The judge is is permitting the government to present the results of Bonds’s 2003 tests.

    2. Unlike Ortiz, Ramirez, Rodriguez, Sosa and Segui, Bonds’s name is not on the anonymous list of those who tested positive in 2003 because he did not come up positive when MLB conducted the test. However, the sample was later seized by federal authorities, who retested it for the designer steroids that Balco used and that’s when it came up positive.

    Here are a couple links to reports on this:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/20/sports/baseball/20bonds.html

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2009/02/20/MN8M161I4R.DTL

    Best,
    Tom Jolly
    Sports editor
    The New York Times

  5. Ben Schwartz says:

    Tom,

    First, thanks for the gentlemanly level of restraint in your response, something I probably don’t deserve, but then, around here, am never expecting. Re your two points:

    1) I’m assuming you mean the judge is allowing the gov’t to present both Bonds’ players union result (negative) and then the govt’s retest (positive) – all from the same sample. The judge’s admission of the govt retest adds up to the same thing – it isn’t enough to nail the Sultan of Surly for something we all “know,” or assume, he did – take steroids. That requires more evidence, something the NYT stories don’t add to the 104 names list. That seems pretty discrediting to me re the Ilston decision, in that the positive results don’t prove anything in and of themselves. So why does it matter what it says about Sosa, Ortiz, etc?

    What Schmidt’s stories argue is that Sosa, Ortiz, and Ramirez are on the 104 list. That’s it. Ok, but that list isn’t helped much by its standing in the Bonds case. Also, apparently, it tests for some steroids but not others. Do you know which steroids? I had an asthma medicine with steroid in it – would that show up on the 2003 test? Has the NYT investigated the specific medical procedures of the test and which steroids it detects? If you want me to believe this list matters, I’d like to know some of that (more on this below).

    2) well, that’s why I included Schmidt’s background stuff on the 2003 tests in my post, to point out that Bonds was positive on the retest, not the initial test.

    Here’s some other stuff that’s come up since I posted this piece: Nomar Garciaparra’s interview, wherein he further questions the credibility of the 104 names list as false and rigged by players:

    http://www.cantstopthebleeding.com/?p=18466

    If Michael S. Schmidt is in the mood to make some calls, I hope NG is on his list. Garciaparra specifically states players from the White Sox lied and said they were positive. That’s a lead, right? A day later (the same day?) White Sox mgr. Ozzie Guillien said he wants the whole 104 list released instead of the drip-drip-drip list of names. As a Cubs fan, I definitely want to know which Sox are on the list and how many played for the 2005 WS championship team. I would forgive Schmidt everything on a purely partisan level if he publishes that list. Again, though, Nomar raises questions about the testing process – what was it? How does a player just put himself down as “positive?” You could opt out of physical testing if you just put “positive?” Is that the list you want to damn these players with?

    Secondly, here’s a timeline that bothers me: 1) the A-Rod/steroids story broke in SI as the gov’t's case v. Bonds crumbled and A-Rod was on a long, off-season PR binge of Madonna, money, and sex workers. 2) When Sammy Sosa announced his retirement he smarmily said he planned to wait by the phone for his call from the Hall of Fame. A week later (?) Michael S. Schmidt ran his Sosa story, handing Sosa a timely comeuppance. 3) Manny Ramirez gets busted for steroids, does a 50-game suspension, and comes back to standing ovations from LA fans and seemingly no dent in his career. Within a month, Schmidt ran the Ramirez/Ortiz story. Why the coincidence of Ramirez/Ortiz’ names doled out at once, btw? That’s as nice a built-in an angle as the Sosa take down, as both were on the Curse Breaking Red Sox team. Nice of those anonymous lawyers to provide your angles, I guess.

    Given the timing of all three stories, whose agenda is the NYT on? I realize you can’t reveal sources, but whoever leaks these stories sure has it in for smug, unapologetic players who your sources know to be on that 104 list. This is why I think Michael S. Schmidt looks like he’s being played (unless he’s calling the lawyers first in order to knock the players down a peg). After Garciaparra’s public statement, I fully expect Schmidt to get a call about him. Or, that the next player the NYT outs will have some similar recent public hubris some anonyous lawyer feels he needs to pay for. Are you at least confident that the lawyers familiar with the case aren’t all the lawyers on the same team with the same agenda? Schmidt looks like he’s taking dictation on these stories, and not asking around for information to balance anything beyond what’s given him. I mean, thanks for the press release, but does the NYT have anything to add to anonymous lawyers attacking players, or is a sensational leak really news enough? I think Schmidt’s stories serve people with a nasty, petty vendetta of some sort.

    Why are all the 2009 stories about Latinos? I ask not because I believe the NYT has a problem with Latinos – Selena Roberts wrote her A-Rod story for “Sports Illustrated,” not the NYT – but who ever doles out the names for you has offered up only Latinos.

    Finally, is Schmidt looking into which steroids these players tested positive for? So the players tested positive on this creaky list – for what? how much? Is the test just +/- like Garciaparra says, or is there more detailed information that would give us a clear picture of abuse, severity, or possibly legitimate use of medicines prescribed by doctors (again, like my asthma medication). Players’ careers and reputations are getting permanently damaged by the NYT, so it’d at least be considerate to ask such questions or make clear some limitations on what you know – adding context and the possibility that not all these players are dead to rights cheats because of a questionable list and shady leakers.

    All in all, if Obama had me and Michael S. Schmidt over for a beer, I might not call him names, but I’d still have some real issues with how the NYT handles these stories. Thanks for writing in – as a freelancer myself, I doff my hat to any editor who sticks up for his writers.

    Ben

  6. Ben Schwartz says:

    PS — the clarification my post needs: when I linked to Judge Ilston tossing out evidence, it was in a column citing her insistence (and that of other judges) that the federal prosecutors return the 104 test results to the players union. Tom is right that Judge is allowing the Bonds 2003 retest in as evidence. But my questions with the 104 list, the stand alone importance of the Bonds tests (why the lengthy delay if they’re so vital), and my problems with Schmidt’s one-sided reporting, still stand, as you can see in my response to Tom. But, I did get a fact wrong about the judge tossing the Bonds results out of court – my apologies.

  7. Concerning the 2005 World Champion White Sox: Let the record reflect that Bobby Jenks repeatedly tested positive for tacos.

  8. David Williams says:

    Amazing work, Ben. Inspiring. Seriously. Bravo.

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