(Note to young sportswriters: Always make your steroid question your last question.)
July 3, 2002 6:50 AM   Subscribe

(Note to young sportswriters: Always make your steroid question your last question.)
Sports Illustrated Übercolumnist Rick Reilly asks Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa if he would be willing to undergo a test for steroids. After all, Sosa has said he would be "first in line" if baseball required tests for steroids. Reilly asks, "Well, why wait? Why not step up right now and be tested? You show everybody you're clean."
Sosa chuckles ruefully, pats Reilly on the back, and replies, "No, sir, that would weaken the player's union, and besides, your question is quite inappropriate."
Just kidding. Actually, Sosa yells and screams. His answer includes the word "motherfucker." "You're not my father," he tells Reilly. Journalists writing to the letters page of Jim Romenesko's Media News disagree on the appropriateness of Reilly's request.
posted by Holden (29 comments total)
But plenty of people wonder: Here's a guy who went nine years without ever hitting more than 40 home runs. In the last four seasons he's hit 66, 63, 50 and 64. Here's a guy who was once a skinny, 165-pound, jet-footed Texas Ranger. Now he's a bulky, 230-pound Mr. Olympus.

No, no, no: he just ate more steak, went to bed earlier and therefore slept longer. I mean, I'll bet all those ball players who look like wrestlers, only bigger and more bloated, are totally, totally clean.
If you doubt their honesty, you're un-American.
And probably, the terrorists will have won
posted by matteo at 7:01 AM on July 3, 2002

Since I just posted this on Sportsfilter...I feel okay about cuttin' and pastin'...

It is reasonable for a professional athlete to add 50 lbs, mostly muscle to his frame in 13 years. Especially between the ages of 20 and 33.

His explanation of eating better and working out more is valid, especially from somebody who came from a poor background in the Dominican Republic.

Now don't get me wrong...if you (we) are going to speculate, with no evidence other than the visual appearance and statistical anomalies, which players are on roids, Sammy would be at the top of my list. But this tactic was chickenshit in my opinion. Not only is Reilly not his father, he's not his brother, his keeper, his lawyer, his agent, or anybody that has any interest other than a story.

Remember when McGwire got busted for using Andro a few years back? People forget that the reporter was snooping through his locker and found the bottle and that's how the story originated. Keeping in mind the pretty close bond between Sosa and McGwire, I don't blame Sosa for telling Reilly to go pound sand.

Apropos of nothing, Bret Boone would also be at the top of my list of juicers.
posted by vito90 at 7:01 AM on July 3, 2002

Sorry...on preview...

Here's a guy who was once a skinny, 165- pound, jet-footed Texas Ranger. Now he's a bulky, 230-pound Mr. Olympus.

I was once 8 lbs, 11 ounces. Now I'm 210 and well built. More to the point, at the age of 14 I weighed 125 and at 24 I weighed 217. My supplements were steak and rice and physical endeavors. I'm far from a professional athlete. People do grow.

Yes, a player all of the sudden bulking up is an indicator - but on its own it's not a trait that one should have to defend with a pee test.
posted by vito90 at 7:06 AM on July 3, 2002

Hey, Sosa set himself up and then babied out. Reilly was sneaky, but this could (as the post points out) have been easily diffused.
posted by dig_duggler at 7:08 AM on July 3, 2002

Yeah, but vito90 you weren't a ball player for the last-however-many years (I'm assuming you weren't a professional ball player, please correct me if I'm wrong). You ever watch those games on espn classic and compare physiques? It's sick.
posted by dig_duggler at 7:10 AM on July 3, 2002

Haha...I WISH I could correct you but you are spot on.

I don't watch ESPN classic much...but my question is...what era are the games they show from? As late as the early 1970's, money in baseball was not what it is today, to the point that most professionals worked jobs in the off season. Players sold cars, worked at banks, did all sorts of stuff to make ends meet. This had two effects. Six months out of the year you weren't working out, and there wasn't as much desire to be a ballplayer because it wasn't as lucrative.

Now that money is huge, ballplayers have to protect their investment year round (exercising in the off season) in order to stay one step ahead of the young turks who want to come in and steal their jobs, because there are so many more little boys that want to be ballplayers. Add in the infuision of foreign talent (which in baseball is a huge percentage of the rosters - hello, Sammy) and advancements in workout technology and nutrition, and much of the change in physiques is explained away.

Do you think Tiger Woods is on roids? Compare him to Sam Snead and Gary Player...Sports always advance, as long as it continues to become more lucrative than the alternatives available (by advance I mean faster, higher, longer, etc.)
posted by vito90 at 7:22 AM on July 3, 2002

Changes in physical appearance of ball players since the era of games on espn classic and now are just as easily explained by the advances in physical training and nutrition technology over the years. There are all sorts of supplements that, in conjunction with proper training, can result in the massive physical differences. These supplements aren't steroids. Andro and Creatin are a few of these.

On the topic of the article, I don't see why he had to spontaneously combust. He could have calmly said "I'm going to wait for the union's decision" he could have even calmly added "...motherfucker" at the end and I would have understood.

(on preview: yeah, what vito90 said)
posted by srw12 at 7:30 AM on July 3, 2002

Classic shows stuff from late 70's on pretty much.
I agree with most of what you say, but people in the 80's worked in the offseason too, and there is quite a discrepancy between then (and even the early 90's) and now.
And Sosa was tiny until the past few years. I doubt he used to be lazy and all the sudden kicked into overdrive in the gym.
Woods is the best golfer ever, maybe it's technology (certainly it has to do w/ the equipment somewhat. And before you talk about baseball technology, bats are still wood and it works both ways (for pitchers too)) or maybe it was just his time. Although it helps his Dad probably glued a club into his hands at the age of 3....
posted by dig_duggler at 7:34 AM on July 3, 2002

Sounds like 'roid rage to me.
posted by Fofer at 7:52 AM on July 3, 2002

It would be interesting to see Sammy's growth chart since he entered the majors in what, 1989? He wasn't "tiny" until recently, that's not quite fair to say. See what his per year growth is. Also...Sosa and Boone et.al. weren't lazy earlier in their careers and has simply reformed, its more a matter of the bar being been raised for what it takes to stay in the major$ and being fit has become a critical success factor (which is what gives roids their appeal).

Baseball technology is there, the bats notwithstanding. The A-V technology coupled with databases allows players to see every pitch thrown to them in every situation by every pitcher, broken down by night/day game, home/away game, etc. Not sure how much of a student of the game Sosa is, but the opportunities are there. They go up to the plate a little bit smarter, a little bit stronger, and most importantly, a little more confident.

Again, I want to reiterate that I suspect Sammy, as well as a lot of other players. But only after looking at the combination of all evidence (body growth, home run growth, allegations of insiders Canseco and Caminiti). But body growth alone is not a smoking gun.

Am I talking too much? I'm really bored at work today...
posted by vito90 at 7:52 AM on July 3, 2002

Tiger Woods is on roids?

He does not look like Hulk, man -- no reasonable suspicion there. But ball players are getting so big it's ridiculous.
Oh, the great Ben Johnson used to say, "it's just good steaks and weight lifting", too

A little caveat: Italian soccer about 3 years ago banned basically everything, even the silliest stuff, and now has Europe's strictest anti-doping testing system.

The result:
No Italian team has won European cups in the last 3 years. Foreign players like Dutch national Jaap Stam and former Spain national Pep Guardiola have been banned for 6 months because of testing positive to nandrolone right off the plane that brought them in Italy (Lazio for Stam, Brescia for Guardiola). In Spain and England (Staam played for Manchester Utd) they never had any problems, different testing methods there
posted by matteo at 7:54 AM on July 3, 2002

I think the larger point to be made here is that a professional athlete, instead of answering a distasteful question with a little dignity and restraint (or simply ignoring it), acted like a spoiled child. He threw a tantrum and left. These are our children's role models? Isn't Sosa supposed to be one of the good guys, not one of the spoiled brats?

Professional sports should be abolished.
posted by RylandDotNet at 8:00 AM on July 3, 2002

Professional sports should be abolished.

Trolling. As for your other comment, it could also be spun that a professional journalist sandbagged a player and got the exact reaction he was looking for: "Ooh, ohh, come and see the violence inherent in the system. Help, help, I'm being repressed."
posted by yerfatma at 8:09 AM on July 3, 2002

Professional sports should be abolished.

Oh, don't be a dink. Where did that come from? While you're at it, let's abolish Hollywood.
posted by Skot at 8:10 AM on July 3, 2002

it could also be spun that a professional journalist sandbagged a player

Oh, absolutely, it's sandbagging to discuss the biggest issue in sports today. Totally unexpected and uncalled for...what was he thinking?

Anyone who doesn't realize that a significant portion of players in most sports today are using "performance enhancing" drugs is simply in denial. Whether this is a problem or not depends upon your point of view, but to deny the obvious is simply...scary.
posted by rushmc at 8:16 AM on July 3, 2002

Whether or not it's a problem depends on what gets decided (by the union, natch) is a performance enhancing drug. I'm at work on my fifth cup of coffee, and without the java there's no way I could post as prodigiously as I am today. What about creatine, which is just a glamourized weight gain powder with so far no discovered adverse side effects (not for lack of looking, yo!).

The percentage of players actually using anabolic steroids, or ephedra, or andro, supplements with demonstrable adverse side effects is surely much lower.

Finally with respect to Sosa's method of answering the question...he's not a diplomat or a politician. He's paid to hit a baseball. Don't expect him to be something he's not. You wouldn't deride a journalist for not hitting a 95 mph fastball. It kills me when we continue to think that the John Rocker's and Sammy Sosa's of the world should always be polished in front of a microphone.
posted by vito90 at 8:26 AM on July 3, 2002

Vitamins are also "performance enhancing". So is a massage. So is the possibility of a big contract, or a good piece of tail. So that is a faulty definition in my book.

Goddamn vito90 get a life.
posted by vito90 at 8:28 AM on July 3, 2002

it's sandbagging to discuss the biggest issue in sports today

Is that what I said? Sorry for being unclear. The sandbagging wasn't asking Sosa about steroid use. The sandbagging was sticking a cup under his nose and suggesting he pee in it (essentially), knowing that Sosa was not going to do it. Never mind that he might be on steroids; he couldn't take the test given the player's union's stance.
posted by yerfatma at 8:34 AM on July 3, 2002

You ever watch those games on espn classic and compare physiques? It's sick.

it's not really. there once was a strong bias in baseball that muscle is bad for ballplayers. managers would get pissed off if they found out players of theirs were lifting much weight. the thought at the time was that too much muscle stiffens the body, slowing you down and descreasing your defensive range. ballclubs know better than that now; while your body can stiffen up, there's no excuse why you can't stretch and maintain proper flexibility.

And Sosa was tiny until the past few years. I doubt he used to be lazy and all the sudden kicked into overdrive in the gym.

why would you doubt it? he only earned a giant payraise for it. don't you think he had some motivation to work out in the gym?

i think it was inappropriate of reilly. sosa has no responsibility to reilly on this issue. what would sosa prove, anyway? that he doesn't take steroids? i mean, what's the utility of testing one person? did reilly honestly believe this would prove something to the nation, or to baseball? if he did, he's naive; i'm thinking reilly's just an asshole looking for a cheap shot. he found it.
posted by moz at 8:35 AM on July 3, 2002

As a serious amateur athlete I also have found myself hitting my my stride at 30 (muscle mass, endurance, etc.). However, his reaction is a little odd. I agree with vito90, these guys, well, tend to wear their emotions on their sleeves. I have a feeling that an unsympathetic journalist can make most of them look like crap in an interview.
posted by rotifer at 8:37 AM on July 3, 2002

Do journalists have to be sympathetic to be journalists, rotifer? I hope not, otherwise, aren't they just press agents?
posted by tommasz at 9:29 AM on July 3, 2002

Is it possible that Sosa was avoiding testing because he had something more recreational than steroids to hide?
posted by inpHilltr8r at 9:29 AM on July 3, 2002

Nice use of an umlaut Holden!

posted by wsfinkel at 9:30 AM on July 3, 2002

Don't expect him to be something he's not. You wouldn't deride a journalist for not hitting a 95 mph fastball.

So you are suggesting that basic politeness and self-control result from inborn genetic advantage perfected by years of training and practice?
posted by rushmc at 9:34 AM on July 3, 2002

inpHilltr8r, That is not only possible but plausible. Under Reilly's plan Sosa would not have been able to control what was being tested for. When the union and baseball collaborate on the methods of testing it will be specific. As somebody pointed out on Poynter.org what if he had a poppy seed bagel for breakfast?

So you are suggesting that basic politeness and self-control result from inborn genetic advantage perfected by years of training and practice?

Good point, but....Sammy is one of the good guys, for the most part he is pretty engaging and happy-go-lucky. So am I. I'm sure you are alos basically polite and have much self-control. Do you ever lose it? In your car when you get cut off? When somebody accuses you of something you're not guilty of? When somebody tries to trick you to their advantage? When it does happen, is there somebody there to film it, report it, write about it? Have you ever read any other Sosa incidents where he lost his cool? He's no Ryan Leaf or Dan Quizenberry. He was put on the defensive and reacted. Also, while politeness and self-control are not a result of genetic advantage, they are a result of upbringing. Sosa grew up poor in the Dominican Republic. I grew up white-bread privileged Catholic. Where did you grow up?
posted by vito90 at 9:44 AM on July 3, 2002

If we allow socio-economic upbringing to excuse impolite and inappropriate behavior, the terrorists have already won.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:23 AM on July 3, 2002

I'm sure you are alos basically polite and have much self-control. Do you ever lose it?

Not in front of a reporter over something so potentially damaging to my image in the media and among my fans, when there was nothing to be gained from such a reaction and much to lose. I'm not suggesting Sosa be tarred-and-feathered; I'm simply saying that his transgression was far worse than that of the reporter in this incident. I'm sure that many people who grew up poor in the Dominican Republic would be offended by any suggestion that they are unable to comport themselves as mature adults.
posted by rushmc at 10:24 AM on July 3, 2002

Rushmc, you first made the suggestion that it was a genetic advantage. I recognized the facetiousness in that remark and didn't call you on it. Then I suggested that maybe it had something to do with environment and you make it sound like I'm making a socio-cultural-racial statement. And I'm just dumb enough to take the bait because I have some passion for this topic.

Take a poor kid from the Dominican Republic who has had to work his ass off for everything he's got. Take a member of the media (a media who already totally shit over his friend McGwire for Andro use) who seems to think it's his responsibility to root out the users from the non-users. Have said media representative basically accuse (somebody is going to come back and say he wasn't accusing, he was giving an opportunity to exonerate himself, but from what, isn't he innocent until proven otherwise?) him of steroid use and ostentatiously write down a testing facility phone number in front of his friends, other media, etc. As far as I'm concerned, Reilly fired the first salvo, and Sosa replied the way he knows how, which was an inappropriate verbal attack. Reilly responded the way he knows how, which is to write a column. Maybe you would prefer Sammy to come to Metafilter to defend himself because that's how we would do it?

One final thought...Sammy said right off the bat when baseball requires it he will be first in line. He has not backed off that statement, Reilly's tactics notwithstanding. As of today baseball is not requiring testing.
posted by vito90 at 12:14 PM on July 3, 2002

Rushmc, you first made the suggestion that it was a genetic advantage.

Actually, I didn't. I asked whether that was what you were implying with your analogy with being able to hit a 95 mph fastball, which is a combination of genetic ability and training/practice. I knew it wasn't what you meant, of course; I was trying to gently point out that it was a poor analogy.

Your efforts to get into Sosa's head are admirable, and you may have his motivation pegged exactly for all I know. My point is that none of it excuses his response. If he is such a "good guy" in baseball, then it seems to me that he should be even MORE concerned about the issue of performance enhancers in his sport than the average Joe (or reporter) and should have a more proactive--and considerably less defensive--take on the subject.

And I still think that the presumption that poor people or foreigners necessarily don't know how to behave is insulting. One doesn't have to learn to drink one's tea with one's pinkie sticking out to pick up the fundamentals of acceptable public behavior.
posted by rushmc at 1:29 PM on July 3, 2002

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