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Baseball is not a movie. Stop trying to dramatize it.

Feb 6, 2013, 1:00 PM EDT

Brief Encounter

I think I stumbled upon the single most significant thing said about the entire baseball-PEDs story. The writer, Tom Verducci, likely did not realize he was saying the most significant thing about it all, but he did all the same.

After correctly noting that athlete after athlete has denied using PEDs in the past, only to later be found to have used them, Verducci says we can’t take anyone’s denial at face value anymore. Why?

… but we have seen how the movie ends too many times.

Thinking of this as a movie — or a grand drama of any kind — is why the discourse about PEDs has become so stupid.  When we think of it as a drama we require heroes and villains. We require quick resolution. We require a stunning, conclusive and emotionally satisfying dénouement.

But baseball isn’t a movie or a play. It’s a sport, played without a script by real living and breathing human beings.  We’ve been conditioned to think of it in dramatic terms because the sporting press developed as a means of dramatizing that which most people didn’t get a chance to see in newspaper accounts, but it is not itself a drama.

When baseball gets into the realm of PEDs and law enforcement our tendency to treat it as a drama is even stronger. Sports are often dramatized, but TV shows and movies have featured cops, doctors and lawyers more than anyone else by a factor of a million.  Put that all together and it’s almost impossible not to think of things like BALCO or the Biogenesis story in the same terms we think of “Law and Order” or “House.”

But that’s not how real life works. In real life stuff happens. If that stuff seems problematic or suspicious, it often, but not always, gets investigated. That stuff may have been motivated by evil, but it may have also been motivated by stupidity or accident or a combination of them all. Or there may be a mistake.  When the stuff gets investigated something approaching justice may result. But just as often nothing may come of it because there are dead ends or nothing particularly bad happened or because everyone just loses interest in the stuff. There may be consequences to it all or it may be meaningless.   It almost always takes a long time to determine whether the stuff meant anything or not.

That reality is really problematic for people who are used to packaging three hour ballgames into 800 word chapters and 162-game seasons into a novel, complete with heroes and villains. Which is why people in that world seem to eager to leap into this sports-legal-medical gumbo and begin to hash out plots.  It’s way easier to do that than to sit back and see what happens and what it all means. If it even means anything.

We let them do that with the games because they are, after all, just games. But when someone’s reputation, fortune, career and sometimes their very freedom is on the line, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to expect them to lay the hell off for a bit and let events unfold before they try to stuff them into the little dramatic constructs with which we’re so familiar.

  1. cur68 - Feb 6, 2013 at 1:04 PM

    Craig, I don’t understand how you can talk so much sense and yet lay off a chance at a “Booty Call” joke. Its just inconceivable .

    • fanofevilempire - Feb 6, 2013 at 3:10 PM

      I hate long stories and longer comments.
      Keep it short fellas, you’re boring me.

  2. theolgoaler - Feb 6, 2013 at 1:06 PM

    Well said; the 24/7 news cycle requires comment even when the commenters don’t know enough yet.

  3. abudanroman - Feb 6, 2013 at 1:10 PM

    I used to really enjoy this website, but the constant harping on how bad the coverage of steroids is being handled is, well worse than the actual coverage.

    We get your opinion, we understand, I actually agree with most of it, but I don’t need every other post to be about it.

    • Jason Lukehart - Feb 6, 2013 at 1:20 PM

      Not every post here interests me either.

      But rather than complaining that less than 100% of this free content isn’t personally tailored to my own interests, I just don’t click on those stories.

      • firstand98 - Feb 6, 2013 at 1:47 PM

        and yet you still only pop up now and then to chastise someone for leaving an opinion on an open forum! well played, as i see you do this with regularity. his opinion on the endless flow of writer-critical posts are valid, and there is certainly a contingent here that feels this way, even if they find it easier to move on.

        craig, your blog posts are great usually, it’s why i am here. but you are breaking your back bending over backwards rushing to denounce every article that comes out hastily. you have a blog where it’s fine to write about stuff like mike trout fishing. in a 24-hour cycle, guys like verducci and others do not have such luxury. it’s quite sad that you continually attack these guys every day and, in the process, bringing your own content down. even in an off-season.

      • cur68 - Feb 6, 2013 at 1:59 PM

        And yet there are many who agree with Jason. We feel that stupidity needs an answer because silence is often taken as assent. So keep it up, Craig.

        Just please, no one launch into a “Free Speech” diatribe. Being mocked often offends.

      • firstand98 - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:11 PM

        i’m not saying jason’s comment doesn’t command respect. but to beat up the guy who doesn’t agree with craig by saying “ignore it” is essentially creating the same crime he wishes to attack.

        you cannot deny that craig has been hyper-sensitive to every writer who doesn’t happen to be in line with his thinking. and his own musings on such in his own blog means he is willing to accept critique and applaud from commenters.

      • abudanroman - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:29 PM

        I don’t complain for the sake of complaining, but in this case, I felt it appropriate to voice my opinion in the public comments section. Kind of what I thought the comment section was for.

      • Jason Lukehart - Feb 6, 2013 at 3:57 PM

        abudanroman, I wasn’t trying to say you don’t have the right to post whatever comments you want, I just don’t understand why you (or I, or anyone) click on something you’re not at all interested in.

      • paperlions - Feb 6, 2013 at 4:17 PM

        Correct me if I’m wrong here, but hasn’t Craig’s general attitude been to support fairness with regard to those being accused? I don’t recall Craig defending and player caught using PEDs, he seems to defend those that are accused but for which there is not sufficient evidence to convict. A stance that is probably required since 99.99% of the MSM and fan base seems to conclude that if a player is accused, no matter how flimsy the evidence (if any), he is guilty and just got away with it.

        I can’t really find any purchase on a stance against fairness.

      • evanhartford - Feb 6, 2013 at 7:45 PM

        Paperlions, I’ll be glad to correct your wrongness (assuming that’s a word!).

        I used to be a lot more active on Craig’s threads. Now I typically lurk in the shadows, mostly because my office fire-walled all internet forums. But I digress!

        I used to think that Craig actually believed what he wrote. He was relatively “early” in terms of being on the unpopular side of the steroid debate. He’s argued that known steroid users should be in the Hall of Fame. He’s argued that “everyone” did it, so therefore no one should be punished. He’s argued that there’s no proof that PEDs actually enhance performance. He’s vigorously defended some of the most disliked athletes on the planet. He’s argued against the HOF voting process because it has (recently) kept steroid users out and has chastised his fellow sportswriters for (essentially) doing their jobs.

        I am ok with the fact that we are on almost completely opposite sides of the issue. However, I’m not ok with him calling out other sportswriters for doing their jobs. If guys didn’t have articles written (immediately) following this news break, they literally would be out of their jobs!

        Athletes are public figures that are paid a ton of money. Like other public figures (politicians, CEOs, celebrities), they are under a microscope. Everything they do is analyzed, discussed, applauded and/or criticized. Their livelihoods are largely determined by their popularity. No one should feel sorry for them because they are held to a “higher standard” or because their lives are treated like soap operas. That’s the “cost” of money, power and fame. If they don’t like it, they can always retire and get a “real job”.

        Craig, the job of a sportswriter is to get “hits” and sell advertisements. I know you’re not unfamiliar with this concept. Sportswriters will say or do anything to get ratings. They’ll dramatize a story to make it more interesting. They’ll create heroes and villians, because complex characters take longer than 800 words to develop! They’ll do whatever it takes because if they don’t meet their ratings quota, they’ll get fired. If you think there’s something wrong with that, please look in the mirror. I’ve long suspected that your prolonged and consistent support for steroid users (on multiple fronts) has something to do with that, especially when you argued about there being no link between PEDs and performance. Hell, I can’t even write that without LOLing!

    • jrobitaille23 - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:32 PM

      amen

    • orelmiraculous - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:41 PM

      Exactly how I feel about this blog.  It’s a freaking throw-away line, Craig.  Stop trying prove you’re smarter than everyone else.

    • jmcguirefm - Feb 6, 2013 at 5:01 PM

      Agreed.

  4. jeffbbf - Feb 6, 2013 at 1:11 PM

    like it or not…

    movies = entertainment
    baseball = entertainment

    actors = celebrities
    baseball players (stars anyway) = celebrities

    baseball beat writers = holywood beat writers

    the 2 worlds are not mutually exclusive

    • klbader - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:14 PM

      And also, the press isn’t operating in a court of law. The press does not need to have proof beyond a reasonable doubt to convict someone of having used PEDs. In court, evidence of a past bad act can be excluded if it is unfairly prejudicial. The press doesn’t follow the Federal Rules of Evidence. The press can rely solely on circumstantial evidence. The press can make its conclusions, as long as they aren’t made maliciously or with reckless disregard for the truth.

      The fact of the matter is that Ryan Braun’s name has come up in connection with PEDs on a couple of occasions, and so the press is pretty justified in being skeptical about his denials, especially given the world we live in, where numerous athletes have denied using PEDs, only to have their PED use proven later. The press isn’t being malicious or reckless in portraying Braun as a PED user or a fraud. They are just doing their job, which is to entertain and inform (something that movies do as well).

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:56 PM

        The press can make its conclusions, as long as they aren’t made maliciously or with reckless disregard for the truth.

        I don’t think anyone here is complaining that the press shouldn’t draw conclusions. I think, at least me personally, they should weigh the evidence at hand before drawing conclusions. As I mentioned on another post, the entirety of the evidence in this case that’s been released has been handwritten documents of player’s names with incorrect dates on them. That’s it.

        There’s no package of needles with DNA on them. There’s no record of financial transactions from a bank. There’s no detailed outlook calendar with a doping schedule. A failed drug test is great evidence that a person doped. The authorities arresting a mailman with a box of HGH is great evidence that a person is doping. Handwritten notes that are contradicted by the doctor himself isn’t great evidence.

        Yet that hasn’t stopped both the press and many commentors from becoming judge, jury, and executioner for these players.

      • klbader - Feb 6, 2013 at 3:14 PM

        I understand what you are saying, but at the same time, that is what the press does. Really, they are in the business of writing stuff that people want to read, or will read. So either we want the press to be judge, jury, and executioner in cases such as this, or the press thinks we do.

        I also think that, with respect to Braun, there is his positive test from last year, and a lot of people think he weaseled his way out of punishment. So here is a guy who had a positive test and now appears on a list of players who were in contact with a guy connected with distributing PEDs. If I were a reporter, I’d write a story on that.

        Ryan Braun isn’t going to go to jail here. It’s highly unlikely that MLB would try to suspend him. If he did, the union would have his back, as it should. He isn’t going to get dropped by the Brewers. He is going to make millions in salary. He will likely lose money in endorsements, but his connection with Biogenesis is as much the cause of that (or more) than the press. He’s not going to court, so the standard of proof isn’t the same.

    • nategearhart - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:43 PM

      He’s merely saying you can’t expect heavy shit in the real world to play out neatly like a movie does.

  5. heyblueyoustink - Feb 6, 2013 at 1:14 PM

    “All the world’s a stage.”

    What happened to existential Craig, was he abducted by Aliens and replaced by some kind of Sartre critic?

    • indaburg - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:25 PM

      To elaborate on your point: “I hold the world but as the world, a stage where every man must play a part, and mine, a sad one.”

      I get Craig’s criticism, but me thinks he is taking Verducci a bit too literally.

      (Side note, not all dramas have a clearly defined hero and a villain. The best ones usually have characters who are difficult to differentiate between the two.)

      • heyblueyoustink - Feb 6, 2013 at 3:04 PM

        I just think the litigator in him has posessed his fingertips. I expect normalcy next week.

      • indaburg - Feb 6, 2013 at 3:39 PM

        Ah… the litigator must be Craig’s dark side.

      • Francisco (FC) - Feb 6, 2013 at 3:57 PM

        Feel the litigator flowing through your veins….

    • nategearhart - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:44 PM

      All the world’s INDEED a stage, and we are merely players.
      Performers, and portray-ers.
      Each another’s audience outside the gilded cage.

  6. jennstergersburnedretinas - Feb 6, 2013 at 1:14 PM

    “But baseball isn’t a movie or a play. It’s a sport, played without a script by real living and breathing human beings.”

    But is is entertaiment that the players receive massive contracts for and while they are unscripted humans, their deification by their respective ballclubs, the media, and fans doesn’t entitle them to making shit decisions and not getting called out for these decisions.

    I, as a fan, get tired of self righteous players (of any sport) wagging their fingers and professing their innocence and then being busted. When players get associated with known dealers what are we to think? Everyone associated with BALCO went down. Everyone. So it was safe to assume from the beginning that EVERYONE was guilty. While it’s nice to reserve judgement Bosch isn’t some “bad guy only part of the time”. Bloated and falsified credentials not to metion that most “Anti Aging” clinics that you can look up are nice ways to saying “testosterone injections” so that their clientele aren’t villified by their peers. It’s not some juxtaposition that links players and known drug peddlers.

  7. vivabear - Feb 6, 2013 at 1:24 PM

    “… but we have seen how the movie ends too many times.”

    Actually this is a pretty common phrase, not to be taken literally that Verducci is talking about dramas and movies.

    • moogro - Feb 7, 2013 at 3:25 AM

      He’s not taking it literally. It was a starting point of an essay. Did 21 people also not read him? It was a critique of (the use of) narrative.

  8. shanabartels - Feb 6, 2013 at 1:27 PM

    I agree with Craig’s point about the media coverage being ridiculous. I’m completely sick of it too and just want everyone to shut up. There are some names scrawled in a failed doctor’s notebook… big deal, let’s all panic or something. Great. Whatever. I’m waiting for it to blow over.

    That said, as much as I’d love for the Verduccis and Passans (and obviously so many others) of the world to shut up and stop feeding the trolls, I don’t think their editors would be very happy if they said, “You know what, I’m not going to write any conjecture until we have more facts. It’s not a good idea to jump to conclusions.” They have to write SOMETHING because it’s their job. I mean yeah, the things they’re writing now are asinine, but I don’t see a practical way to get around that.

    I want to just crawl into a hole and stay off Twitter until this is all over. I have so little patience for it.

    • themohel - Feb 6, 2013 at 10:59 PM

      Then do it – stay off Twitter and quit paying attention. You are so sick of it, yet you take the time to write about it here, on a baseball blog.

  9. Kevin Gillman - Feb 6, 2013 at 1:30 PM

    Why is it that before ST starts every year lately, there is a steroid scandal? Last year, it was Ryan Braun….this year, it’s….Ryan Braun.

    But yey, Spring Training starts less than a week away, yet that won’t be talked about.

  10. ncm42 - Feb 6, 2013 at 1:32 PM

    Right, stuff like this should not be reported. Got it.

  11. dowhatifeellike - Feb 6, 2013 at 1:37 PM

    You’re right, baseball is not Hollywood. In Hollywood, people roid up and nobody bats an eye.

  12. joshtown81 - Feb 6, 2013 at 1:37 PM

    Craig, it’s a phrase people use. In fact a couple of weeks ago while discussing my mother in law’s stance over a political issue, I said to my wife “it’s not even worth engaging her. We’ve seen that movie before.” Do I think my mother in law is a movie? Of course not. Do I think her stance on a political or religious issue is the same as going to a cinema? Not a bit. The phrase, quite literally, means that we’ve experienced a similar recycled story so many time that it loses it’s ability to be original or have an impact.

    I really do enjoy going on to HardballTalk and reading about what’s happening in baseball day to day. But this personal crusade you seem to be on to turn every little thing into this mountain of a topic, and go on these rants about drama in sports vs. film and television is pointless. You’re taking a one off line that closes a much larger point about the distrust we have towards athletes and turning it on its head. it’s ok to disagree with people, but your posts seem to be demonizing anyone who isn’t solidly behind you, and you’re using a straw man argument to attack a larger issue.

    I usually don’t comment on the blog, but after reading endless posts about everyone being crazy and then reading your post above, I felt I had to say something. The last few days have been riddled with these, and quite frankly, I’ve seen this movie too many times.

    • Bob Hope - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:25 PM

      My mother in law’s a movie. A HORROR movie! Hey!

      Say, do you know how you stop your mother in law from drowning? You take your foot off her head!

      No, no, my mother in law’s great. In fact her and I have been happy for 20 years…Then we met each other!

      Golly, you know, I never forget a face, but in my mother in law’s case, I’m willing to make an exception!

      Thank you! You’ve been a wonderful audience!

      • nolanwiffle - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:32 PM

        You do God’s work with your USO tours.

  13. shawndc04 - Feb 6, 2013 at 1:41 PM

    . . . seem to eager to leap into this sports-legal-medical gumbo and begin to hash out plots.
    _____

    I’m not sure I understand this phrase or your ire in general. The New Times was made privy to detailed records indicating that prominent baseball players are named in connection with PED use. The head of the “wellness clinic” is a fake doctor with a quickie degree from Belize. From what I’ve seen the press has been posting what is in the documents, the parties and players, and the potential consequences. This reporting, to those of us who are not privy to the documents, and reporting of the potential consequences is what the press does and should do. I have not seen the drama, or the sensationalism that you apparently condemn. It would be irresponsible for the press to sit back and wait and see what happens; readers are perfectly capable of judging if and when the commentary is irresponsible.

  14. eshine76 - Feb 6, 2013 at 1:44 PM

    Speaking of movies, I have one for you – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

    Bud Selig = Art Rooney
    Ryan Braun = Ferris Bueller
    Craig = Ferris’s parents

    I mean this in good fun. Regardless of your stance on Ryan Braun, you know Bud Selig is still steamed about what happened last year. The imagery of Bud Selig chasing after Ryan Braun like he’s Art Rooney makes me laugh. I can also see Craig walking into check on Braun to make sure he’s doing ok with a “go get ‘em champ”

    • indaburg - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:29 PM

      A-Rod = Jeanie, Ferris’ bitter sister who never gets away with anything

  15. Chris Fiorentino - Feb 6, 2013 at 1:51 PM

    How many times have we heard “[Actor X ]makes $25 million a movie so why is [Player A]‘s salary such a big deal?” People compare baseball and entertainment all the time. When it fits their narrative I guess. In this case, it doesn’t fit the narrative, so leave baseball alone!!!!!!!!

  16. paint771 - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:00 PM

    Law and Order is a good analogy. What kills me about these stories are the amount of writers, talk radio hosts, and fans who suddenly spend endless hours asking questions that they don’t even understand as being as meaningless as they actually are.

    “Well how did Ryan Braun’s names end up in Bosch’s records?”

    There are so many levels of ignorance packed into that. You, person asking that question, have no idea what those records are – who recorded them or what for or how many names are in them or whatever. You have no idea, but think you do, of who Bosch or the larger organizations in which he was embedded are. These dudes aren’t back-alley trenchcoat wearing “psst wanna buy some steroids?” cartoon villains. But you think they are, because you also have no idea how modern athletics works, in which there are hundreds of thousands of dudes like that who in aggregate have every single name of every single professional athlete in there. Biogenesis itself has worked for entire generations of franchises (seriously, look it up – about half of the NFL and probably a third of MLB have used Biogenesis’ services for all kinds of things, and it’s just one cog on a multi-billion dollar “performance enhancement” athletic industry that covers everything from vitamins to rehabilitation equipment to bulk-building powders you’d find in the GNC a mile from your house right now). Which leads to maybe the biggest naivety – YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT A PERFORMANCE ENHANCING SUBSTANCE IS OR WHAT IT DOES. Seriously, you don’t. You think you do – “oh, it’s those syringes labeled “steroids” that suddenly make you a 250 lbs beast that hits home runs, right?” – but you are, in fact, an idiot.

  17. missingdiz - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:03 PM

    What if it were a movie–a detective story? What would Sam Spade ask (except, how come there aren’t any dames in this movie?)? I think he’d want to know: who is “anonymous” who leaked the private medical records? Why did anonymous do that, and why did he (I guess) do that at that moment?
    Sam Spade would see that there is no evidence that can be used in court and evidently nothing that matters with respect to MLB’s procedure for handling these cases. So, all that could be expected is what actually happened (evidently somebody, M. Python notwithstanding, could expect the Spanish Inquisition): hysterical, self-righteous media frenzy. Who benefits? I don’t know–I’m still trying to figure out The Big Sleep.

  18. allisonhagen - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:17 PM

    A+ on the photo. You’re so romantical.

    • Chris Fiorentino - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:41 PM

      I wouldn’t call Brief Encounter the most romantical movie…I would probably have chosen this picture myself.

      http://snarkerati.com/movie-news/files/2008/01/casablanca.jpg

      But I’m sure there’s a back-story that I don’t know about regarding a very small 70 year-old British film. Or maybe Craig just googled “movie” and picked the first picture he saw.

      • allisonhagen - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:54 PM

        It’s a movie we watched when he first visited me. Cue “awww” and/or “barf”.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Feb 6, 2013 at 3:00 PM

        Yeah, I figured it was something like that. Good for Craig for having a little class. Them movie I chose in the same situation was “The Departed”.

  19. natslady - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:25 PM

    It’s not a movie it’s non-fiction soap-opera like Watergate or the OJ trial–and everyone gets an opinion.

    A point that was raised is why do these athletes go outside the clubhouse for remedies when they have the best medical care from their teams? They must be cheating, right? Or, maybe, they don’t trust the medical staff.

  20. nolanwiffle - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:33 PM

    B-b-b-b-b-but……..Moneyball and stuff.

  21. thebadguyswon - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:47 PM

    Baseball is entertainment, hence there will be drama. Accept it and move on.

  22. deadeyedesign23 - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:49 PM

    Jesus it’s a turn of phrase. Grow up.

  23. Beezo-Doo-doo-Zippity-Bop-bop-bop - Feb 6, 2013 at 2:56 PM

    You sure do love your cheaters.

  24. sdelmonte - Feb 6, 2013 at 3:07 PM

    No. The Muppets told me that life is a movie. And the Muppets never lie. Or use PEDs.

    Well, except Snookums.

    • umrguy42 - Feb 6, 2013 at 5:10 PM

      Actually, they said it was LIKE a movie, not that it IS a movie.

      “Life’s like a movie, write your own ending, keep believing, keep pretending…”

      • sdelmonte - Feb 7, 2013 at 9:19 AM

        I stand corrected. Thanks.

      • umrguy42 - Feb 7, 2013 at 9:21 AM

        No worries. I still thumbs-upped anyway :D

  25. jmcguirefm - Feb 6, 2013 at 5:05 PM

    The interesting part is that Craig is becoming just as sanctimonious as those he disagrees with. He just has a different target for his sanctimony.

    Both sides need to be willing to accept the fact they don’t have a 100 perfect monopoly on the right way to feel about steroid use.

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