Saturday, June 10, 2006

MediaCreature: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me.

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.

The newspapermen in St. Louis have long had a reputation for being a little soft. Before the news broke that Grimsley and Pujols were connected columnist Jeff Gordon was already making a case for Pujols on Thursday:

Some folks have even blamed the media for turning a blind eye to the obvious. Author Jeff Pearlman, a former Sports Illustrated staffer, ripped sportswriters -- and the Post-Dispatch in particular -- for not trying to uncover a massive human growth hormone scandal centering on Albert Pujols. Why did he suggest Albert could be juiced?

Because Pujols has added 20 pounds of muscle since 2001. Twenty pounds! In just five years of intensive, year-round training! According to Pearlman, he must be cheating! Since Albert is subject to steroid testing now, along with everybody else, Pearlman pointed to HGH.

Here is an excerpt from Pearlman’s piece in Slate Magazine:

“Is Pujols abusing steroids or human growth hormones? I don't know. But what's alarming in this era of deceit is that nobody seems interested in finding out. A little more than one year removed from congressional hearings that produced the most humiliating images in the game's history, baseball writers have a duty to second-guess everything. Instead, everyone is taking Pujols' (steroid) test results at face value. Have we forgotten that Barry Bonds has never failed one of Major League Baseball's drug tests?”

Pearlman painted sportswriters as the lapdogs of big league stars, afraid to ask the hard questions or do the difficult reporting. It’s an easy accusation to make . . . and every bit as ridiculous as besmirching Pujols’ reputation because he somehow, against all odds, managed to add TWENTY POUNDS OF MUSCLE IN JUST FIVE YEARS.

(Pearlman needs to focus his outrage on football at the high school and college level and ask how a 230-pound 17- year-old can “blossom” into a monstrous 300-pound lineman with proper diet and exercise.)

Fact is, sportswriters realize most baseball players have used some sort of training supplement, allowed or disallowed by Major League Baseball. They could probably identify, with 90 percent accuracy, the most aggressive users.

But without hard, “smoking gun” evidence, what are we supposed to write?

Something tells me the smoking gun could hit Jeff in the head and he wouldn't notice. Woodward and Bernstein need not worry. Jeff Gordon's not gonna get off his butt to uncover anything. If he actually were to write something critical of Albert Pujols and the Redbirds, they may not talk to the poor guy. What a shame that would be. I have a suggestion for Mr. Gordon, if things ever go bad for him in St. Louis and he loses his gig, he should send this column to the Green Bay Press Gazette. I have no doubt they'll make room for this "lapdog" on their team Packer coverage.

Now in today's Post-Dispatch writer Joe Strauss goes right to the source. Strauss talked to Albie's trainer Chris Mihlfeld:
"This is criminal. It's absolutely not true," Mihlfeld continued. "Albert Pujols needs to be left alone. He is what he is, a great Christian and a great family man. He's not a cheater. That goes for Mike Sweeney. That goes for me."

Maybe, Mr. Milfeld should be careful using the term criminal.

Here's more from the Strauss story:

Pujols also spends much of his offseason in Kansas City, where he attended high school and junior college. As an assistant coach at Maple Woods Community College, Mihlfeld successfully recruited Pujols before accepting a training position with the Dodgers.

Mihlfeld said he has worked with Pujols since the reigning National League MVP was 18 and insisted that the Cardinals first baseman is clean.

"Albert does not like the situation at all," Mihlfeld said. "He doesn't like being ridiculed because he cares a lot about what people, especially kids, think. If Albert's name is being thrown around and his picture pops up in connection with a steroid allegation, what happens when these kids see it?"

Sports Illustrated recently detailed Pujols and Mihlfeld's relationship. Mihlfeld not only does strength and conditioning work with Pujols, but also feeds him batting practice regularly.

Said Mihlfeld: "There are times I throw batting practice two hours to this guy without stopping. He's crazy. He's that unbelievable. I'm not blowing smoke."

Sensitive to questions pertaining to Pujols' age as well as his training habits, Mihlfeld suggested that the sport's current environment creates open season on any hitter who enjoys extraordinary success.

Reminded of his practice not to query clients about possible steroid or human growth hormone use, Mihlfeld said, "I'd probably drop dead on the spot" if he learned that Pujols was involved with either substance. Pujols, disabled with a strained muscle in his right side, did not accompany the Cardinals on their six-game trip. He did not return phone messages Friday.

Here's some more from Jeff Gordon's column dated Friday:
And here is where it gets tough for Pujols: Grimsley claims that a personal trainer (and former team employee) referred him to an amphetamine supplier. That supplier set up Grimsley with “amphetamines, anabolic steroids and human growth hormone,” according to the affidavit.

In the affidavit, the name of the personal trainer is blacked out. But out here on the Internet, there is already much speculation that the trainer is Mihlfield.

With Mihlfield getting dragged into this mess, Pujols is likely to become tainted by association. That’s the way this blame game is going to play out. Albert’s the biggest name in the game now and even a whiff of impropriety is big news.

Mr. Gordon has already decided Albert is just a victim of circumstances. Amazing.

Now onto another Cardinal apologist in the Post-Dispatch(I'd like to find a writer for that paper that isn't) the great Bernie Miklasz. Bernie too has decided that he would like to take the opportunity to poke fun and blame the media for talking bad about Albert. This from his column today:
It isn't news that Pujols is friends with Mihlfeld. I'm chuckling at media personalities and outlets who are reporting the Pujols-Mihfeld friendship as if they've discovered a deep, dark secret that was hidden away until their digging began. Please. The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated quoted Mihlfeld extensively in recent cover-story profiles of Pujols. Mihlfeld has been talking about Pujols to the media for years.

This would be news if legitimate evidence or credible eyewitness testimony surfaces to proves any number of things. That Mihlfeld supplied Pujols with illegal or banned performance-enhancing drugs ... that Mihlfeld served as a middleman to help Pujols procure those banned or illegal drugs ... that Mihlfeld had direct knowledge of Pujols incorporating those outlawed drugs into his training regimen.

This story is just now starting to blow up. Credible reporters are beginning to examine the connections in an attempt to provide firm information. Let's see how this all shakes out before we jump to conclusions, either way.
When a "credible reporter" from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shows up we'll have a real story.

The softness in the St. Louis media is funny yet alarming to me. They were a party to one of baseball biggest shams the 1998 McGwire home run show. They didn't question anything at that time, so eight years later why start now. It looks to me like the writers in St. Louis are more concerned with keeping their lips attached to LaRussa's behind than actually uncovering a story. In a sport that looks increasingly guilty of cheating across the board, they took Albert Pujols at his word with no questions asked. What happened to "no cheering in the pressbox"? What happened to writers trying to break stories?

The rumors that have floated around Pujols --both his age and his increasing size-- for years, just might finally be coming home to roost. Somebody might wanna tell the St. Louis Post Dispatch about it.

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