Thursday, August 8, 2013

Beware Innuendo, Even With and After Biogenesis

By Jeff Kallman

I'm not exactly sure, but I could have sworn the hoopla over the Biogenesis 13 didn't include as much discussion as it should have regarding those first suspected who've been shown to be clean. I have in mind specifically Gio Gonzalez, the effervescent pitcher for the Washington Nationals.

Gonzalez didn't have to wait until Monday, Bloody Monday. Not only did ESPN uncover the fact that the lefthander never received a single actual or alleged performance-enhancing substance from Biogenesis, but Gonzalez passed a drug test shortly after the scandal broke in the first place. And, we must presume now, all since.

But you had to read almost to the bottom of most of Monday's stories to know that. My own referenced Gonzalez about a third of the way through. It was still insufficient, and for that I apologize.

So how on earth did Gonzalez find himself on the Biogenesis hit parade? By the thing which most of us tend to forget even as we record proper outrage over those fools who continue dabbling in actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances despite the tightening of baseball's program against them and the consequences for those previously caught.

Gio Gonzalez got onto the hit parade by innuendo and inference, because his father had been a Biogenesis client going to the clinic for the reason it purported to exist in the first place: a wellness center with a particular focus on weight loss. Neither innuendo nor inference is the same thing, ladies and gentlemen, as evidence. But that is what the drug issue in baseball has come to. And it's as wrong as are the players who actually do indulge.

It was evidence, not innuendo and inference, that finally bagged Ryan Braun and the Biogenesis 13. It was the absence of evidence that cleared Gonzalez weeks if not months before the hammer dropped Monday and, oh, by the way, let's remember that Gonzalez (and Baltimore Orioles infielder Danny Valencia) aren't dirty in any way, shape, or form.

"We believe," Edward R. Murrow once intoned, in an earlier era involving a different issue, "that the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, even though that iniquity be proved — and, in this case, it was not."

Murrow spoke of Milo Radulovich, a lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve and a University of Michigan student, whom the Air Force discharged not for any Communist sympathies or leanings of his own, but for those purported to be held by his father and sister. His father, a Serbian immigrant who worked in the auto industry, subscribed to Serbian-language newspapers, including one thought too favorable to the regime of then-Yugoslavia's Tito; his sister picketed a Detroit hotel that refused lodging to music/theater legend Paul Robeson, who was an unapologetic admirer of Joseph Stalin.

"The Case of Lt. Milo Radulovich A0589839 aired on Murrow's fabled See it Now in October 1953. (Famously, CBS wouldn't promote the installment, edgy because regular sponsor Alcoa depended on military contracts; Murrow and his co-producer Fred Friendly paid for their own ads.) The show provoked the Air Force to reinstate Radulovich, who eventually moved to California to make a career with the National Weather Service. (He died in 2007.)

The question of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances in sports probably sits as a minor one compared to the question of citizens or military personnel supporting a totalitarian regime and its international political arms whose survival depended upon tyranny and murder. But the question of taint by mere suspicion or association shouldn't.

"My son works very, very hard, and he's as clean as apple pie," said Gio Gonzalez's father, arguing remarkably like John Radulovich half a century earlier, though it's possible the elder Gonzalez might have no idea of what was the Radulovich case.

"I went to Tony [Bosch, former Biogenesis chieftain] because I needed to lose weight," he continued. "A friend recommended him, and he did great work for me. But that's it. He never met my son. Never. And if I knew he was doing these things with steroids, do you think I'd be dumb enough to go there?"

His son could have uncorked a venomous rejoinder knowing he'd been cleared well before Monday, Bloody Monday. But the pitcher took a road higher than a certain blue whale among the Biogenesis 13's anchovies has been known to take since becoming suspect himself:

"I am very pleased that Major League Baseball has cleared my name. With this process now complete, I have no lingering sense of animosity, as I quickly realized that the objective of this investigation was to clean up our game. This is an ideal that I share with both Major League Baseball and the MLBPA. I would also like to acknowledge the unwavering support of my teammates, [Nationals owners] the Lerner Family, [general manager] Mike Rizzo, [manager] Davey Johnson, our coaching staff and Nationals fans everywhere."

Gonzalez could have delivered a kind of up-yours! to baseball government and he'd have been wholly justified in so doing. That he didn't says even more for him, against the Biogenesis 13, and on behalf of the continuing battle against actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances.

A battle that deserves to be fought with evidence, not innuendo; facts, not inferences. Say what you will about how heavy-handed baseball government may have been in pursuing Biogenesis, but in the end they moved with evidence and facts and 13 players came up tainted and duly disciplined.

But there are times enough when it seems too much to ask of Joe Fan that he allow such evidence and facts to get squarely in the way of a delicious innuendo and of guilty-until-proven-innocent.

We don't know for dead last certain what actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances have or haven't done for given players. (Even if we could and should point to how many of the actual guilty experienced few if any statistical spikes during their usage periods.) We do know that their characteristics and, especially, their health risks, are questionable enough that baseball finally took the matter dead on, after years of denial, and moved against them, while enough of a minority of players still continued to indulge them.

The tainted players, of course, have brought the guilt presumption too full forward, to the point where we are compelled to swim in ridiculous debates over what is "supposed" to be, or what a player is or isn't "supposed" to do in the field, on the mound, or at the plate. Which is one major reason why there has been a gradual but profound swell of opinion among players themselves and their union on behalf of rooting out the tainted.

But they know, too, that the rooting out must be done with evidence and facts, not innuendo and inferences. And if the U.S. Air Force could and did restore a young man when the evidence and facts outweighed the innuendo and inferences, once upon a time, so can and must baseball world, from the fans in the stands to those who play, govern, report, and analyze the game.

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