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MLB’s defense in the stolen documents story: “Did anyone prove the documents were stolen?”

May 15, 2014, 10:59 AM EDT

Bud Selig AP

I noted the other day that hardly any national columnist types seemed to want to touch the story about how MLB knowingly purchased stolen documents. Well, one did. Or at least one former national columnist-turned-blogger. That’s right, Murray Chass did what no one else seems all that interested in doing and dug into the slime of that case and the allegations against MLB that arose from the Newsday story.

Chass spoke to MLB vice president and counsel Dan Halem, who said (1) MLB didn’t rely on the stolen documents in question; and (2) maybe they weren’t stolen, did you ever think of that?

“The police had multiple theories; we made a judgment on what we had. They haven’t proven that they were stolen. We operated on the theory that they weren’t stolen . . . Did anyone prove the documents were stolen? Did anyone prove we used stolen documents?”

That’s a subtle twist on old the “you can’t prove it!” defense, but it’s still a pretty damn weak defense.

The part about MLB not even using those documents is weak in that, if they were so useless, why did they even bother to buy them? It’s weak in that, regardless of whether or not they used them, they still engaged in slimy behavior (they didn’t put the Biogenesis employee who slept with an MLB investigator on the stand either. Does that make it OK?) It’s weak in that, if nothing bad happened, why did MLB fire the investigators involved right before the Newsday story came out? It’s weak in that, if a major league player were to float some “hey, those drugs didn’t really help me out” defense they wouldn’t be given the time of day, and rightfully so.

But it’s weak mostly in that, as my readers are so fond of telling me, this isn’t a court of law. No one, not even the Boca Raton police, seem to think it’s worth prosecuting the matter of those stolen documents and thus no one is trying to ascertain whether MLB or any of its employees is guilty of a crime, rendering the “you can’t prove it!” defense beside the point.

Rather, people are noting that MLB willingly got into bed with slime balls — literally and figuratively — paid them off for information that was of dubious provenance and crossed multiple ethical and (possibly) legal lines in order to nab one baseball player it wished to turn into The Face of PEDs. Then they went on a high-fiving victory lap of the talk shows and received all kinds of attaboys for cleaning up the game.

Can we prove that anyone broke the law? Maybe not. But we certainly don’t need much more to know that Major League Baseball’s investigation was pretty damn shady. And, given that a very large part of the steroids-in-baseball conversation involves people making moral judgments about players who may have cheated even if we can’t prove it, it matters.

  1. chill1184 - May 15, 2014 at 11:04 AM

    Im curious would the purchasing of stolen property crime fall under Florida or New York jurisdiction? Im not a lawyer so I’m not going to pretend to know

    • Craig Calcaterra - May 15, 2014 at 11:06 AM

      Florida, as that’s where all the relevant action happened. I’ve seen various arguments from Florida criminal lawyers that even if MLB employees were charged, they’d have a decent defense based on the notion that they weren’t going to re-sell the merchandise.

      But again, that’s the legal argument. It doesn’t make their actions any less shady in a larger sense.

      • ud1951 - May 15, 2014 at 11:51 AM

        I’m no attorney, but receiving stolen goods is a crime in my state–and it is certainly a crime to solicit someone to steal for you. Saying that MLB was not going to re-sell the documents obscures the point that MLB intended to use them for their own financial interests–to clean up the game and therefore increase interest and revenues in MLB properties.

        But really the question I have is where has investigative journalism gone? It was not that long ago that media outlets were highly skeptical of any story or explanation that looked too good to be true and sent in guys like Woodward and Bernstein or Morley Safer and Mike Wallace to poke a microphone in some sleazebag’s face and show him for what he is.

        ARod is not worth defending, but truth, justice and the rule of law most certainly are.

      • anxovies - May 15, 2014 at 12:05 PM

        So if I steal your TV and use it myself rather than selling it on the street I have not committed a crime? Novel theory. I wonder why law professors never mention it?

      • bigharold - May 15, 2014 at 12:33 PM

        No, it’s more like; if I buy a TV off you that I’m pretty sure is stolen, because the police advised not to purchase it because it was likely stolen, I have plausible deniability. That too is a novel idea.

      • [citation needed] fka COPO - May 15, 2014 at 12:34 PM

        So if I steal your TV and use it myself rather than selling it on the street I have not committed a crime? Novel theory. I wonder why law professors never mention it?

        That’s not equivalent. The scenario would be the same if:

        I stole a TV and sold it to you, and you just used it. I’m the one committing the theft, you are just profiting of it. MLB didn’t steal the files, a third party did. They bought those files from said third party. [granted giant caveat that it's possible the guy stole the files on order from MLB, but that's a horse of another color]/

      • Old Gator - May 15, 2014 at 1:03 PM

        Perhaps I am crediting our detestable circus of a legal system with too much logic here, but I was under the impression that criminalizing the receipt of stolen property was designed to discourage the original theft in the first place.

  2. plmathfoto - May 15, 2014 at 11:09 AM

    Soooo…using the it hasn’t been proven they were stolen isn’t ok for mlb, but perfectly ok to say it isn’t proven that the guy used peds…

    • plmathfoto - May 15, 2014 at 11:10 AM

      And to be clear, I firmly believe (but am consistent) that they purchased stolen documents and the guys did use peds.

    • stlouis1baseball - May 15, 2014 at 11:52 AM

      Great point Foto!
      For what it’s worth (and admittedly it isn’t worth much)…that’s my take as well.
      It’s pretty simple really.
      MLB can NOT say “it hasn’t been proven” as a defense.
      Whereas, MLB Players CAN say “it hasn’t been proven” as a defense.

    • Craig Calcaterra - May 15, 2014 at 11:57 AM

      The difference: here the Boca Raton police are making the accusation. They actually have investigated the matter, and even if they aren’t prosecuting, they at lease have some reason to believe what they’re saying.

      When a BBWAA writer says that Jeff Bagwell took steroids, he’s pulling that out of his ass.

      • plmathfoto - May 15, 2014 at 11:59 AM

        100% agreed…on Bagwell, not ARod, Bonds, etc, Bagwell is conjecture imo, the others are obvious.

      • plmathfoto - May 15, 2014 at 12:01 PM

        Not to forget Piazza as well, to me Bagwell and PIazza are both very similar cases, although Piazza is more the slam dunk for the HOF imo. Bagwell however didn’t have any power in the minors then all of a sudden is a major power threat, Piazza very low draft pick (as a favor to Lasorda) then becomes one of the best hitting catchers of all time. I do understand where the questions come in regarding those two

      • [citation needed] fka COPO - May 15, 2014 at 12:37 PM

        Bagwell however didn’t have any power in the minors then all of a sudden is a major power threat,

        Bagwell’s last full season in the minors was at age 22, where he had a .457 SLG (not sure what kind of park New Britain is hitting wise, when I used to go to games there it was a bit before my “pay attention to that type of stuff). His next year in the majors he had a .437 SLG, then .444 and the .516. When he won his MVP in the strike shortened ’94 season, he also happened to be 26 years old. Which is when most hitters reach their peaks.

        So no, his power didn’t “come out of nowhere”.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - May 15, 2014 at 12:07 PM

      The difference is that ARod was punished (and harshly) by MLB without real proof, while MLB will avoid punishment because of a similar lack of proof. Or in other words, MLB thinks the burden of proof is on the accused when they are the accuser, and on the accuser when they are the accused.

  3. clydeserra - May 15, 2014 at 11:17 AM

    I cannot tell you how many times I have had this argument with my clients.

    • clydeserra - May 15, 2014 at 11:19 AM

      Quick question. Does Bud Selig smoke a lot of meth like them?

      • koufaxmitzvah - May 15, 2014 at 5:23 PM

        Going by the hairdo in the photo, Yes.

  4. sdelmonte - May 15, 2014 at 11:28 AM

    Every time anyone ever says “you can’t prove a thing” on Elementary, Holmes proves it in less time than it takes for him to say something biting. Maybe we need Holmes on the case.

    • mikhelb - May 15, 2014 at 3:58 PM

      I would rather have the Holmes from Sherlock investigating instead of the americanized (“idiotized”) version in “Elementary”.

      • sdelmonte - May 15, 2014 at 6:51 PM

        Those are fighting words, but as this is not The AV Club, I am not going to have it out here.

  5. DelawarePhilliesFan - May 15, 2014 at 11:32 AM

    MLB should be prosecuted to full extent of the law. A-Rod should be able to use all of this to clear his name.

  6. golfrangeman - May 15, 2014 at 11:43 AM

    Based on that did anyone PROVE that arod took PEDs

    • DelawarePhilliesFan - May 15, 2014 at 11:54 AM

      (sigh….)

      As has been documented 157,264 times, they don’t need to prove he took them. He can not obtain a prescription for PED’s. Really, it’s true. And it turns out there is no exception for illegal prescriptions

      And before anyone retorts back with “Bud Selig is SCUM!!, MLB are Nazi’s!!! argle bargle pluu’n’puff…” I never once have thought highly of MLB

      • stlouis1baseball - May 15, 2014 at 12:10 PM

        Thumbs up for the “pluu’n’puff.”

      • mikhelb - May 15, 2014 at 4:03 PM

        Uh… sure they need to prove he took PEDs, if they are going to punish players for crimes (obtaining drugs without a prescription is a crime), because they really have no proof he took them, maybe he was selling PEDs, maybe he has a stash of ‘em.

        Then… why does MLB doesn’t punish other criminals in MLB like:

        Miguel Cabrera driving drunk and being detained more than once by police.
        Miguel Cabrera hitting his wife and later his girlfriend.
        Buccholz for his criminal past.

        Or if they punish based on association with criminals, all those who train in the DR with Presinal, and there are A LOT, or Puig and other Cubans ties to the Zetas drug cartel.

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - May 15, 2014 at 4:52 PM

        (double sigh) Google the topic. It is a violation of the JDA to have a prescription for a banned substance. You don’t have to believe me, Google it. Other players before Biogenesis were indeed suspended solely on paperwork, not failed tests. Again – Google it

  7. ditto65 - May 15, 2014 at 11:51 AM

    Was Biogenisis the only place in the USA that engages in this behavior?

    • bigharold - May 15, 2014 at 12:08 PM

      That’ll be the next scandal in MLB.

  8. HitsDingers - May 15, 2014 at 12:00 PM

    Don’t you mean, “King Blogger Murray Chass, O.G. Pimp Daddy Blogger Par Excellence”?

  9. scoutsaysweitersisabust - May 15, 2014 at 12:28 PM

    I have obtained the lawyer’s first draft at an explanation. It is as follows:

    “Well, when you think about and how many people there are on the planet, and the size of the earth, and how many stars are in the galaxy, and how many galaxies are in the known universe, and how little the known universe we actually know about, do we all really even exist? Maybe we are all just a figment of someone’s active imagination and are in reality all just players in someone’s television show. So by that logic, the documents don’t really exist, and as such weren’t actually stolen.”

  10. bigharold - May 15, 2014 at 12:29 PM

    As a result of all the negative press from MLB’s having purchased “evidence” from crooks Bud Selig has determined that in any future “investigation” MLB will manufacture its own evidence so as to avoid any apperance of impropriety.

    It still makes me wonder how nobody in sports media is pointing out that what MLB did in this instance is EXACTLY the same thing that got George Steinbrenner banned in the 90s except Steinbrenner didn’t beak any laws. The ethical lapses with regard to the purchasing of stolen evidence, underhanded, overbearing and unprofessional investigators, subverting the civil court system to coerce individuals to testify against ARod and the absolute disregard of the confidentiality of the CBA/JDA is astounding. But, as long as Selig and the rest of MLB get to high five each other who needs rules, ethics and adherence to signed contracts. MLB would never go too far and take unfair advantage of players.

  11. jimmyt - May 15, 2014 at 12:35 PM

    Sometimes it takes the help of “slime balls” to catch other slime balls.

    • [citation needed] fka COPO - May 15, 2014 at 12:39 PM

      Sometimes it takes committing felonies to catch a misdemeanor?

      • jimmyt - May 15, 2014 at 12:47 PM

        Cops do it all the time but that’s a whole different story. I don’t think it applies here.

      • clemente2 - May 15, 2014 at 3:38 PM

        Maybe we should consider if the cops should be doing it….

    • scoutsaysweitersisabust - May 15, 2014 at 1:01 PM

      So, two wrongs make a right? I’ll keep that in mind the next time the government wants an illegal wire tap, or to illegally plant evidence to catch a “slime ball”.

  12. thepalehorse775 - May 15, 2014 at 1:02 PM

    “I noted the other day that hardly any national columnist types seemed to want to touch the story about how MLB knowingly purchased stolen documents.”

    Perhaps they realize that baseball has improved its PED testing, has stiffer penalties, and those who cheated are never getting into the HOF? Most people are satisfied and really don’t care about a story like this anymore.

    • unclemosesgreen - May 15, 2014 at 1:59 PM

      Hmm – nope, that’s not it. Not at all.

      The fact is, when it comes to this issue, things haven’t changed that much on the national media scene since 1998, when Steve Wilstein broke the story that Mark McGwire was openly using the testosterone precursor Androstenedione. The rest of the media buried the story and castigated Wilstein. Bernie Miklasz was first in line with a torch and a pitchfork, saying that Wilstein had invaded Big Mac’s privacy by looking into his open locker.

      Sports Illustrated named McGwire and Sosa co-Sportsmen of the Year without so much as mentioning andro.

      They’re complicit and they always have been. It’s all in the game, pale horse.

  13. denny65 - May 15, 2014 at 1:42 PM

    [yawn] Craig, you seem to be the only person on the national sports-writing scene who cares about this.

    Why?

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - May 15, 2014 at 2:00 PM

      Because MLB broke the law in an effort to punish someone who was out of compliance with company policy. And the the BBWAA MLB are still the good guys here.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - May 15, 2014 at 2:01 PM

        let’s try that last sentence again: And the BBWAA says MLB are still the good guys here.

  14. moogro - May 15, 2014 at 2:01 PM

    There should be a mechanism for privately funding public prosecutors that avoid prosecution due to lack of funds.

  15. blabidibla - May 15, 2014 at 2:06 PM

    Pretty much the same argument true steroid apologists make when they say “Have they ever been proven to use?” “Did they fail a drug test?” etc…

  16. trbmb - May 15, 2014 at 2:18 PM

    Why in every photo ever taken of him, does Selig look like such a total confused dork?

    On the other hand, going rate for dorky confusion, $18 million per year.

  17. musketmaniac - May 15, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    Theft the True American way, and Bud Selig does not look like a meth head. A free baser maybe, a little crack probably. But Meth?

  18. hbegley6672 - May 15, 2014 at 4:22 PM

    Shady? Hahaha… They are not law enforcement. They did what they needed to do. In this case, the end result absolutely justifies the means

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