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Rushing To Judgment

This post is about the current steroid/HGH controversy involving now-former major league pitcher Jason Grimsley.

And it likely is going to piss some of you off, so I would like to ask you to read it ALL carefully before you comment.

Last Thursday, Will Leitch, proprietor of the terrific Deadspin blog, claimed that he had some of the names named in the Grimsley affidavit. And the key name revealed was Chris Mihlfeld, a former trainer for the Kansas City Royals who has also been the personal trainer for Albert Pujols (as well as Mike Sweeney of the Royals) for many years.

It appears that this claim was false, according to the Kansas City Star:

The trainer said both Grimsley and Grimsley's attorney told him he was not in the document. Edward Novak, a Phoenix criminal defense lawyer representing the pitcher, didn't immediately return a voice mail and an e-mail seeking comment.

And, Mihlfeld had this to say about Pujols:

"I've known Albert since he was 18 years old. Albert won't even drink his protein shakes anymore during the season because he's scared they're contaminated. That's been part of his training for the last five or six years, and all of a sudden he won't even do that. He's tired of it. I'm tired of it. I'm tired of people putting this kid down. He's a great kid. Let him be great. He's clean."

No doubt you have seen the blaring headlines and angst that has come out since then; the implication made, of course, is that since Mihlfeld was named as supplying Grimsley with HGH, then he must, since he is Pujols' personal trainer, have supplied Pujols with HGH or other illegal drugs also -- therefore Pujols, who has had a totally clean reputation up to now, must be dirty along with so many other ballplayers.

Have no doubt: there are many, many ballplayers who are using illegal performance-enhancing drugs, likely many more than we have ever imagined up to now. But the leap that many in the blogosphere and the MSM took, assuming Pujols is dirty because of this claim, caused a bigger furor than the original post. Deadspin, seeing the furor its post raised last Thursday, had to clarify:

  • There is no claim that Albert Pujols has taken HGH.

  • There is no claim that Mihlfeld was in any way a distributor of HGH, or steroids.

  • There is a source -- whose confidence has always been rated at "80 percent" -- who says Mihlfeld's name is in the report. Mihlfeld has denied this, and we, as always, hope he's right. As anyone who has ever read this site knows, Albert Pujols is our favorite player. We own four different pieces of merchandise with his name on it. We are out to get no one, least of all him.

EIGHTY PERCENT? Leitch may not have made those claims, but he sure implied them in his original post. And as a result there is a furor that has caused, among other things, the highly regarded CCD at 1060west to post the following scathing critique of the St. Louis media for defending Pujols:

The newspaper that serves the self proclaimed "best fans in baseball" is about to understand the old saying above. The news that Jason Grimsley has ties to Albert Pujols' trainer comes as very little surprise to this fan, or any fan paying attention. It's just another shoe dropping in baseballs current landscape of cheaters and ass covering. I'm not going to discuss Albie's innocence or guilt. Plenty of more intelligent baseball people will tell you what to think about Pujols.

OK, let's go see one of those "more intelligent baseball people", the greatly respected Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus, has to say about all of this:

With the Grimsley case just beginning, and names--in the words of Dan Patrick, "shocking names"--hiding behind the black marker of Jeff Novitzky, we're only at the beginning of this story. Novitzky's pen is likely to get more use in the coming months, checking names off the list he's working from of implicated players with past positive tests and connections to the illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs.

We just cannot jump to conclusions. We must remain grounded in fact and science rather than wild speculation. The truth is bad enough and getting worse. (Emphasis added)

Will Carroll is exactly right. Maybe Albert Pujols IS dirty. But we do not know that yet. What all this flap is based on, at this writing, is guesswork as to one redacted name on a FBI agent's affidavit -- and that person has been specifically told by Jason Grimsley AND his attorney, who presumably have seen this affidavit, that his name was NOT on it -- rather than hard facts. All of us must calm down and let this story unfold. We have only the very beginnings of it. Here is a reasoned column by Gordon Edes of the Boston Globe examining the entire issue and asking, among other things:

Does there come a point where we turn away in disgust from the whole mess and say, "No mas"? So far, that hasn't happened, maybe because the pill-popping and injecting in sports isn't much removed from the Botox/Viagra/Ritalin world we live in, where there is a pill or injection to address every need.

But with HGH now openly in play, baseball no longer has the luxury of saying that there is no adequate test and therefore it is powerless to do anything. Blood testing appears inevitable, despite the debate over whether a sufficiently accurate test has been developed. Short of that, baseball may have to listen to those who advocate that blood samples be taken and stored until a trustworthy test is in place, that the threat of exposure down the road will act as a sufficient deterrent.

It took until I read "Game Of Shadows", meticulously researched and with damning details, until I absolutely, positively believed -- which I do -- that Barry Bonds is dirty. Did I suspect it for years beforehand? Sure I did. Is it possible that Albert Pujols, and many others, are also dirty? Sure it is. Does it require a lot more in-depth investigation, by MLB (though I wouldn't put too much stock into how deep they really want to dig), the FBI, and Congress, which almost certainly is going to want to get involved? Absolutely.

Show me the proof. Here are some reactions to all this from Cardinal fans, which, believe it or not, strike me as quite reasonable.

The bottom line of all this isn't just to figure out whether Albert Pujols, who has been respected as a player who put up his great numbers without any enhancements, is in fact clean or not.

It's to learn whether or not a respected blogger, Will Leitch, who broke this news last week and had it picked up by quite a bit of the MSM, can trust his sources and go with a story that turns out to be true. If the Chris Mihlfeld story turns out to be false, that not only damages Deadspin, but all of us in the blogosphere who have -- myself included -- broken news before the MSM could get it. Will Leitch says he trusts his source -- but only "80%". That's not good enough. Bloggers have worked very hard to gain respect in the online world. I'd hate to see that destroyed by something this big turning out to be a big "never mind".