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Morris wrote a long post that included charts and statistics. He wanted to prove that Ibañez's hot start is more likely explained by factors other than PEDs—the size of the Philadelphia ballpark, a history of Ibañez's early hot streaks, the quality of opposing pitchers. In the end he did not find the numbers persuasive. While he said that he was withholding judgment, he admitted that he could not eliminate the PED possibility. "It will be a wonderful day when we can see a great start by a veteran like Ibañez and not immediately jump to speculating about whether steroids or PEDs are involved," he wrote. "We certainly are not at that point yet, however."
What followed was the 2009 information dance. Shades of gray were darkened. Morris's careful analysis was reduced to a few words on Twitter. Philadelphia Inquirer columnist John Gonzalez saw the blog and felt it was too hot to be ignored. His column appeared under the headline A CHEAP SHOT AT IBAÑEZ. The paper's Phillies beat writer, Jim Salisbury, asked Ibañez how he felt about a blogger speculating that he was juicing. It's fair to say Ibañez didn't like it.
Then, suddenly, Morris's blog was hit tens of thousands of times, and Morris found himself on ESPN's Outside the Lines getting beat up by mainstream reporters. "We're all skeptical," Fox Sports's Ken Rosenthal said on the show. "We all have these feelings. That doesn't mean you simply go write which players you think might be using, whether he's hot or not. It's ridiculous."
The shame of it was that the conversation reignited the tedious mainstream-media-versus-bloggers conflict when, instead, it should have been about how Morris was simply wrestling with the same thing we all wrestle with. Four weeks earlier Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times led off a column with, "Sorry, Ryan Theriot, you're a suspect"—after Theriot had hit his fifth home run. In May, Rosenthal himself wrote a FoxSports.com column about how irresponsible it is to pin David Ortiz's plunge on steroids ... while adding, "For all I know, Ortiz might have been a user; the Steroid Era, sadly, has taught us to view all players skeptically."
This is the Twister game sportswriters play now. We are skeptical but hopeful, cynical but cautious, vigilant but docile. In other words, we are lost. Nobody can ignore the PED issue or the fans' mistrust, not in these times. Yet to merely bring it up is to unfairly smear someone like Ibañez, who has beaten odds his entire career, who has had remarkably similar 60-game streaks before and who is so adamant about the PED issue that he says he will return every dime he's ever made on the game if he ever tests positive.
So now what? Maybe what we need are code words. Baseball writing has always been filled with code words, compliments that can mean two different things. Fans know crafty probably means can't throw hard. Grizzled veteran can mean washed-up old guy. Gamer might be a polite way of saying can't hit, and talented player can mean doesn't hustle.
So—PED code words. Brawny? Vibrant? Ageless? Or maybe we could just start writing that players are drinking milk again.
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