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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mike Piazza and Murray Chass' Recklessness

I am probably doing Mike Piazza a disservice by addressing Murray Chass’ recent blog post on Piazza’s alleged steroid use, as it continues the dialogue, but his post screams for a rejoinder. As most of you know, Murray Chass was a respected baseball writer for the New York Times for decades until he was unceremoniously “laid-off” in an apparent cost-cutting move. Following his dismissal, Chass started a blog that addresses various baseball and baseball-related issues. I had the greatest respect for Chass while he was at the New York Times. Our paths crossed a few times, mainly with respect to clients of mine who were accused of performance enhancing drug use (and some other baseball-related issues). I found his reporting to be fair, balanced and thoughtful. Chass’ writing for the Times (not his blog) eventually landed him in the writer’s wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Regrettably, now free from the shackles of editorial contraints, Chass fills his blog with reckless vitriol. His most recent post on Piazza is a prime (if unfortuante) illustration of Chass’ willingness to throw journalistic principles to the wind. In the post, Chass takes Piazza to task for refusing to make himself available to the press on Piazza’s most recent visit to Citi Field. Chass writes that its “obvious that that Piazza’s rendered himself invisible so that none could ask him the steroids question”. Chass conveniently leaves out the fact that Piazza flatly denied steroid use in a 2009 interview with the New York Post’s Joel Sherman. Evidently, Chass left the notion of "fair and balanced" at the Times. Sherman asked the “steroids question”, and Piazza answered it. Piazza was under no obligation to answer the question in 2009 (but he did), and he’s certainly under no obligation in 2010 to answer a question he’s already answered. (And Chass fails to indicate how or why the question or answer would change in 2010.)

Prior to his most recent post, Chass penned a 2009 blog entry titled “Mike Piazza: His Bat and His Back” in which, on the basis of back acne alone, he accused Piazza of steroid use. To buttress his "acne-sation", he then claimed that Piazza's back acne "cleared up" when testing was introduced in 2004, confirming the inextricable connection between acne and steroids. Yep, you read it correctly: Chass’ reckless allegation concerning Piazza’s steroid use boils down to the appearance and disappearance of back acne. In defense of his “back acne” theory, Chass flippantly writes, a “district attorney could probably get a murder conviction on circumstantial evidence of similar strength”. I am grateful that I have never appeared in whatever courtroom Chass is describing. I am equally grateful that Chass is not my dermatologist.

I do not know if Mike Piazza used steroids (nor, quite frankly, do I care). Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. What I do know is that on the basis of: (a) refusing to make one’s self available to the media as a retired player; and/or (b) back acne (or absence thereof), a reasonable person would not accuse someone of steroid use. Allegations such as these are irresponsible, indecent and lack journalistic integrity. History may bear out Chass’ iniquitous allegations, but that will not vindicate his gratuitous accusations of today. I expect more from a Hall of Fame writer.

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