Jeff Pearlman

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Marlon Byrd Nonsense

Photo by SLGCKGC

Photo by SLGCKGC

I recently paid a visit to the clubhouse of the New York Mets. It was to interview LaTroy Hawkins, the team’s long reliever, for a Wall Street Journal piece.

While there, a rock walked past. Literally—a walking rock. One with tattoos. One dressed in a Met jersey.

It was, upon closer inspection, Marlon Byrd.

A starting outfielder for New York, Byrd is having the year of his life. Through 85 games, he’s compiled 17 home runs (his career high is 20), 56 RBI (his career high is 89) and a .277 average (he’s a lifetime .278 hitter). He is not merely a good hitter—he’s the team’s most dangerous slugger, and it’s not particularly close. In 2013, you don’t pitch to Marlon Byrd. You just don’t.

Last year, Byrd’s season was interrupted when he was suspended 50 games for testing positive for Tamoxifen, a medicine that blocks the effects of the estrogen hormone in the body. Byrd’s statement was predictable nonsense—”Several years ago, I had surgery for a condition that was private and unrelated to baseball. Last winter, I suffered a recurrence of that condition and I was provided with a medication that resulted in my positive test. Although that medication is on the banned list, I absolutely did not use it for performance-enhancement reasons.” Blah, blah, blah.

He cheated, he was caught, he was suspended, he lied about the story. Happens all the time.

Here’s the thing: Why isn’t anyone questioning Byrd’s season? Why are we all so accepting of a slugger who’s so clearly full of shit? Is it really believable that a guy goes through a pretty mediocre career, then gets caught using drugs, then gets suspended, then returns (presumably clean—though I’m uncertain why we presume such things) and … is better than ever?

Uh … really?

I don’t know, for a fact, that Marlon Byrd is cheating. I suspect (strongly) he is, but I don’t know. But where, oh where, are the questions? We in the media are so quick to jump all over Ryan Braun, because it’s easy and most of the heavy lifting has been done on our behalf. Yet, simultaneously, we speak of Bartolo Colon’s Oakland rebirth—one year after he, too, was suspended. We hail Byrd as a Comeback Player of the Year frontrunner … when he was coming back from being a fraud.

I just don’t get it.

Actually, scratch that—I do get it.

Back in the day, the people who asked the tough questions were newspaper reporters. Not always, obviously (Sosa and McGwire slipped through, clearly). But often. They went after Bonds in San Francisco; went after Lance Armstrong overseas. Now, however, with the decline of print and the mass layoffs at papers nationwide, the guy covering the Mets or Orioles or Padres or Cubs or Blue Jays is (generally) 24 and fresh out of college. He can turn a quick phrase, and is filled with ambition, but doesn’t know how to ask the tough questions; how to dig beneath the surface. I’m not insulting anyone—I was the same way as a youngster.

Yet here we are, watching Marlon Byrd slug away, asking nary a question about it …

  • Riff

    This is a crappy article and you are a jerk.

  • Tom DeLuca

    Jeff,

    Aren’t these players tested during the season? If so is it pretty easy for them to know when the tests are coming or is it random?

    You never hear of anyone tested positive as the season is going on, only players like Braun or ARod who either were investigated or tested positive before the season even starts.

    How come no players have teseted positive during the year or does MLB just not announce it?

    Would love to get your opinion on this.

    Thanks,

    Tom

  • Rob G.

    What is the “tough” question, Jeff?

    It seems like Marlin’s been asked to explain himself many times:

    http://www.nj.com/mets/index.ssf/2013/02/mets_marlon_byrd_says_hes_an_i.html

    http://www.nj.com/phillies/index.ssf/2013/04/former_phillie_marlon_byrd_has.html

    He’s also never denied he took what he was banned for. You can certainly doubt his reasons for taking that drug — and for his relationship with Victor Conte — but at least he’s admitted he was an “idiot”.

    If there’s no evidence, I would say reporting that you “suspect” someone of continuing to cheat is reckless. I would be ashamed if any of the Mets beat writers suggested as much without any proof or evidence.

    BTW, Byrd also played 4 months of winter ball in 2012-2013 — I don’t know, maybe the combination of hard work, motivation for a contract after 2013 and a pathetic Mets lineup (pitchers having been pitching to anyone but Wright in the lineup) has contributed to his success this year. Isn’t that just as plausible?

  • Chris

    Who the heck is Jeff Pearlman???

  • Tony

    You have entirely too much time on your hands Mr. Pearlman.

  • http://sheanomore.blogspot.com Nate R.

    Ok. You write an article online with the underlying message being that “real reporting is dead.” Well, Jeff, do something about it. Forget the fear of crossing a line or losing your job – take a risk and ask the tough questions. I’m not sure why you are picking on Mr. Byrd, though it is convenient that YOU HAVE ACCESS TO THE CLUB HE PLAYS FOR. Maybe you should stop making a blanket accusation “He’s cheating” and listen to your own criticism:

    “Yet here we are, watching Marlon Byrd slug away, asking nary a question about it”

    Ask the fucking question.

  • http://sheanomore.blogspot.com Nate R.

    That is, Jeff, you are in a position to ask the question. So go for it! Don’t write an article full of innuendo and outright accusations – that happens all over the internet and I could just as easily name players that I would suspect are or used to be doping. If I had the sort of privileged profession you hold, I would talk to these players. But I would also look into the wider system of athletes and illegal substances. The recent/upcoming Biogenesis revelations are no doubt the tip of a very broad, deep, and chilly iceberg

  • freddyS

    You were in there to see this rock, why dont you convince the WSJ to let you do a piece on him then? I’m a little annoyed this article was posted in the ESPN Mets Blog, therefore giving this website and your name some attention. You are certainly entitled to your opinion, especially being your own blog and all, but I personally think your comments are irresponsible. All these players get tested regularly and if Byrd fails a test, it’ll leak at some point and then it can be a story. Are you just putting it out there now so that in the event he does test positive, you can say “i told you so”? I’m annoyed at your choice of words on so many levels that i don’t even know where to continue articulating my thoughts. Yet, here i am, dumb enough to read your blog today, giving your site a hit and a fraction of the publicity and attention I feel like you are looking for.

  • T

    Effing troll. Go back to your mother’s basement.

  • Harry

    Byrd has been a nice surprise, but you’re doing a disservice to Wright by calling Byrd the more feared hitter on the team. And you make it seem like he has a lab in his apartment where he is concocting cheating potions. I’ve watched Byrd’s games all season, he has been far from dominant, more streaky than anything. At times he clearly is getting beat and look 35. Cheating a second time for someone that old is a career death sentence, that’s why I don’t think he is back on anything.

  • Jeff

    The media reserves most of their PED criticism for the surly or arrogant characters that remind them of the guys who used to steal their lunch money. If you don’t want to be treated like Barry Bonds, act personable. It seems to work for Andy Pettitte and David Ortiz.

  • George

    Wow, Marlon Byrd is NOT a nice person. I have seen this SOB walking into Citi Field and is completely unapproachable and is colder than ice. He shows no remorse for the mistake he made and I also feel he is up to something as well. Jeff, you are of course entitled to your opinion and I agree with you 100%. He is the one guy on my team that I can’t and won’t root for.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

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