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Baggarly, Part 3

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We finish up the Q&A today with Merc beat writer Andy Baggarly by taking on a few big issues: media responsibility, Barry Bonds's image, Cal Ripken's double standard, and Pete Rose's gambling problem. Big thanks to Andy for his participation. If you haven't read them, parts one and two are below. You'll have to scroll down. For some reason my permalinks aren't working.


Q: We recently learned that a BALCO defense attorney leaked the now-infamous grand jury testimony to the Chronicle, then went to a judge and said the resulting stories made it impossible for his client to get a fair trial. Was it wrong to publish it? Should a reporter consider his source's motivations before publishing sensitive information?

A: You'll understand if my response is a bit evasive. Really, there are no easy answers here. I wouldn't want to venture an opinion because I don't know the manner in which the information was obtained. Generally speaking, you always have to consider a source's motivations when publishing non-attributed material. Sometimes it's the only way to get information out there, but people should be accountable for the things they say. In these cases, you have to weigh the value of the information. It's never an easy call. That's why we have assignment editors, sports editors, managing editors, etc. No ethical decision gets made without consultation on several levels.

Q: Has Bonds gotten a raw deal from the media?

A: In many respects, yes. A resounding yes. I'm no Bonds apologist; in many, many, many ways, he's made his own bed. And if you have strong negative opinions about steroid use, as most of the country apparently does, you're not cheering for Bonds to break the home run record. Everyone is entitled to their opinion on that.

But there's a lot of misinformation about Bonds out there, especially from out-of-market columnists. As a brief aside, having written columns myself, I can tell you it's not an easy job. You're putting yourself out there, often commenting on things that you can't possibly know authoritatively. My columnists are great about soliciting my insight, and I try to give them as much information as possible. But a week of writing columns is kind of like starting a big league game. You've got four at-bats, and not every one is going to be a hit. You've heard of players who "give away at-bats," right? Same can be true for some columnists. Let's say you work for someplace like the Orlando Sentinel. You're looking for a fourth issue to write about, maybe the local college team was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, the Magic is out of town, and voila! There's Bonds. Everybody hates Bonds, right? Eight-hundred easy words right there. Mention the giant recliner. Mention flaxseed oil. Mention how he doesn't stretch with the team. Write a witticism about his head size. Morally grandstand. ENDIT. [Ed. note: "Endit" is a reporter's shorthand that indicates to an editor where the story copy ends.]

Problem is, Bonds doesn't have the recliner anymore! He hasn't in two years. The Bonds recliner flap is the biggest overblown story in recent baseball history. Go in any clubhouse and you'll see a veteran with a recliner. When Doug Jones was with the Cubs, his teammates gave him one as a joke. When he left, and for years afterward, the oldest player on the team inherited it.

Another problem: Bonds isn't the only player who skips stretching. A few years ago, there was a guy who stretched by himself, had his own PR team, stayed in a different hotel from the rest of the team and got special treatment from team ownership. His name was Cal Ripken, Jr. That's the stock answer I give whenever anyone asks about a Bonds double-standard. Is it because he's African-American? Because he's surly? Maybe a little of everything, but race is an issue on some level. If you don't believe that some semblance of institutional racism exists in America, you're blind or stupid or both.

I have to interject a little something here: while finishing this Q&A, I overheard two scouts having a conversation over my shoulder criticizing Lou Brock's comments that baseball needs to do more to get African-Americans involved in the game. They thought it was a crock of shit. I think one guy's exact quote was, "Why make them play if they don't want to? Basketball is easier. All you have to do is jump. Baseball takes work."

I got so angry I started shaking. Against my better judgment, I even brushed past them and made a little comment. And some people think we're a color-blind nation...

Back to the answer. One other piece of misinformation that you see all the time in the boilerplate of Bonds stories: he admitted in his grand jury testimony that he unknowingly used steroids. Wrong! He admitted to taking what he was told was flaxseed oil and arthritis balm. When asked if he thought they were steroids, he testified that Greg Anderson was his friend and he believed the substances were what Greg represented them to be. He never said that yes, they were definitely (or probably) steroids. Now, is his explanation plausible? Or laughable? I don't think you'll find many people who believe him. But to misrepresent what he told the grand jury is a mistake the media should take great care not to make, and it's made routinely.


Q: Given the latest revelations from Pete Rose (he recently admitted he's been lying for years about the extent of his betting on baseball), does he deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? Do you see a difference between Rose and Bonds?

A: This is my 10th year covering MLB, so I'll get my first Hall vote this winter. It's a privilege that I'll cherish and take very seriously. I'll just say this: The Hall of Fame is full of people who did bad things. Cap Anson probably kept the game from being integrated for 30 years before Jackie Robinson came along. The Georgia Peach was no peach. I think anyone who made an impact on the game, even if it wasn't 100 percent positive, should be in. In some ways, my definition of a Hall of Famer is a bit broader than just the statistical debates. It includes cultural considerations. (I think Fernando Valenzuela is more deserving of the Hall than Don Sutton, for example.)

One thing I definitely believe is that the Hall shouldn't be a vehicle for punishment, as it's become with Rose. I won't be able to change that with my ballot, since he's not on it. As for the "steroid guys," I'm really torn. Thankfully I have a few months before I have to make a decision on McGwire, and a few years before Palmeiro, Bonds, etc. are on the ballot. My gut on Bonds is that he's in, because he was a Hall of Famer before the era in which he's suspected of using performance enhancers.

Q: Excluding players and coaches, who's the biggest unsung hero in the Giants organization?

A: Gotta be longtime clubhouse manager Mike Murphy. A major league clubhouse is a very political place, and somehow Murph manages to treat everyone the same. He's an advocate for everyone all the time. His favorite saying is "I don't bother nobody." The other day I saw Yorvit Torrealba on the field. The first thing he said, after hello, was "Where's Murph?" That's pretty typical when former Giants come around.

Clubhouse staff work the most insane hours of anyone in baseball. It's not uncommon to work 18-hour days during the year. Lots of ballparks have little rooms with cots because the clubbies aren't done scrubbing shoes until after midnight then have to be at the park at 6 a.m. getting ready for the next day.

Q: If you weren't covering baseball, what would you be doing?

A: Writing guidebooks for Lonely Planet, or maybe teaching English someplace abroad. Something that involves writing and travel, seeing new places. I'm constantly on the move during a baseball season, but I pine for destinations more exotic than Cincinnati and Milwaukee. If the Giants open next season in Japan or Europe, I'll be the happiest guy of all.


Q: What happened to Rich Draper? Life isn't the same without his prose.

A: Rich is happily entering the golden years of retirement. We always bugged him to join us for drinks or dinner on the road, but he eluded us every time. We finally roped him a few weeks ago to fete him and give him a proper sendoff. Rich definitely has his own unique writing voice. (The Marquis Grissom feature, written Dashiell Hammett-style, was my personal fave.) Hopefully he'll continue to drop in from time to time.


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