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 …