Ibanez irate over blogger’s PED speculation, but is Inquirer columnist to blame?

A story gaining major national attention over the last couple days is a story that Jerod Morris of Midwest Sports Fans wrote about 37-year old Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez, who has been on a tear (.325, 20 HRs, 55 RBI) to start the 2009 baseball season.

The motivation behind Morris’ article (which you can read in full here) was to prove that Ibanez’s incredible start wasn’t due to the possible use of steroids or any other form of performance-enhancing drugs.

Here’s an excerpt from Morris’ article, although I implore you to read the entire piece because he dedicates most of the post to trying to prove that legit factors (i.e. the ball parks he’s played in, the pitchers he’s faced, etc.) have led to Ibanez’s fast start.

Thirdly, it’s time for me to begrudgingly acknowledge the elephant in the room: any aging hitter who puts up numbers this much better than his career averages is going to immediately generate suspicion that the numbers are not natural, that perhaps he is under the influence of some sort of performance enhancer. And since I was not able to draw any absolute parallels between his prodigously improved HR rate and his new ballpark’s hitter-friendliness, it would be foolish to dismiss the possibility that “other” performance enhancers could be part of the equation.

Sorry Raul Ibanez and Major League Baseball, that’s just the era that we are in — testing or no testing.

The above except was enough to compel Philadelphia Inquirer columnist John Gonzalez to write a piece entitled, “A cheap shot at Ibanez.”

Here’s an excerpt from Gonzalez’s article:

Then JRod dismissed all the evidence of opportunism, pivoted like a second baseman turning a double play, and fired his conclusion into the mitts of conspiracy theorists and amateur drug testers everywhere: “Any aging hitter who puts up numbers this much better than his career averages is going to immediately generate suspicion that the numbers are not natural, that perhaps he is under the influence of some sort of performance enhancer. . . . Maybe the 37-year-old Ibanez trained differently this off-season with the pressure of joining the Phillies’ great lineup and is in the best shape he’s ever been in. And maybe that training included. . .Well, you know where that one was going, but I’d prefer to leave it as unstated speculation.”

MLB started the fire, but that doesn’t mean we have to keep it going by tossing players and their Louisville sluggers into the flames. At a time when anybody’s opinion can be quickly amplified and the weakest voices can suddenly make the loudest noise, I worry about fairness.

Ibanez hasn’t tested positive, and he’s denied taking PEDs on multiple occasions. Until there’s proof to the contrary, shouldn’t all of us – from the traditional mainstream media to bloggers – be judicious about calling people cheaters? It’s easier to sling mud than ever before, which is why we need to be careful when taking aim.

Following Gonzalez’s article, Ibanez went off on the blog post and the speculation that has ever used PEDs:

“I’ll come after people who defame or slander me,” he said Tuesday night before the Phillies played the New York Mets, according to the report. “It’s pathetic and disgusting. There should be some accountability for people who put that out there.”

“You can have my urine, my hair, my blood, my stool — anything you can test,” Ibanez said, according to the report. “I’ll give you back every dime I’ve ever made” if the test is positive, he added.

“I’ll put that up against the jobs of anyone who writes this stuff,” he said, according to the Inquirer. “Make them accountable. There should be more credibility than some 42-year-old blogger typing in his mother’s basement. It demeans everything you’ve done with one stroke of the pen.

“Nobody is above the testing policy. We’ve seen that.”

“Unfortunately, I understand the environment we’re in and the events that have led us to this era of speculation,” Ibanez said, according to the Inquirer. “At the same time, you can’t just walk down the street and accuse somebody of being a thief because they didn’t have a nice car yesterday and they do today. You can’t say that guy is a thief.”

From there, the story grew even more legs as ESPN had Morris, Gonzalez and FOXSports.com Senior Baseball Writer Ken Rosenthal on a segment of “Outside the Lines,” which can be seen below.

It’s amazing the way this story has caught fire over the past couple days and as a baseball contributor for TSR, I feel for Morris because he didn’t do anything wrong. If I were to criticize Morris for what he wrote, I would be a hypocrite given how I have written about the speculation about David Ortiz and PEDs.

If you actually read his entire article, Morris doesn’t come to the conclusion that Ibanez is, or has used PEDs. In fact, most of his piece is dedicated to explaining how Ibanez isn’t on PEDs. All Morris did was simply state that in the end, based on everything that has happened in baseball over the past decade, we cannot as fans (or writers for that matter) dismiss the notion that there’s no way a 37-year old player who already has 20 home runs before the All-Star break could have used PEDs.

What Gonzalez did (and in a snarky way, I might add) was take what Morris wrote out of context. He ironically writes that Morris’s article went “from zero to a heated debate in under 60 minutes,” yet Gonzalez was the one that dumped a gallon of gasoline on the fire. He pissed off Ibanez (who I highly doubt read all of Morris’s article – or any of it for that matter) by basically putting it out there that Morris came to the conclusion that Ibanez was using PEDs, when that wasn’t Morris’s conclusion at all. Morris was saying that there could be many factors that attributed to Ibanez’s fast start, not just PEDs.

What’s funny is that Gonzalez and Rosenthal (who I thought did a fantastic job of coming off as arrogant as Buzz Bissinger did when he attacked Deadspin writer Will Leitch on “Costas Now” a couple years ago) gave Morris this big lecture on how everyone can speculate as much as they want, but once they put it in written word it somehow crosses the line.

Look, what good bloggers do is voice the opinions of fans. And fans are rightfully thinking to themselves, “Gee, I wonder if the guy that just hit the 420-foot home run for the 20th time this year is on something.” And if Gonzalez or Rosenthal want to lecture about something, maybe they should lecture Major League Baseball on being a little more transparent with this steroid topic considering there’s a freaking list out there with 100-plus names on it (which has yet to be released and may never) with players who tested positive for steroids.

Don’t blame Morris – blame baseball. They got themselves into this mess and while Ibanez has every right to get mad if someone questions his character, that’s not what Morris did. Gonzalez made it seem that way, and Rosenthal (who I doubt read all of Morris’s article either by the way he acted on the ESPN segment) hopped on the top of the pile when he saw the opportunity.

Gonzalez and Rosenthal do make a great point that journalists need to be held accountable for what they write. Too many blogs on the web throw crap against the wall just to see if it’ll stick and it’s not fair to the players, nor is it for the journalists who do take accountability for what they write. But not all bloggers have a mission to slander a player just so they can rack up the page hits. And that includes Morris.

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