It’s All in the Game

Courtesy of Yankee Analysts

It’s about the purity of the game, we’re told. It’s about correcting the mistake of the past, they insist. It’s about integrity and looking out for those with the guts to not break the rules. These are the pat lines we’re often fed by pious writers, driven by their intense love of the game and desire to right wrongs.

Except, of course, most of it is garbage. Every Hall of Fame piece is an opportunity to promote one’s brand, one’s twitter account, and better represent the company they keep. Jon Heyman is a veteran reporter who catches a lot of crap from every corner of the internet. Sometimes, he winks at us but most of the time it is just breaking trades and half-baked opinions.

Jon Heyman left Sports Illustrated last year to join CBS Sports. Along with his direct line to Scott Boras, Heyman brought his two hundred thousand twitter followers and his notorious trollish persona along with his hard-earned reputation as a good reporter and well-connected baseball personality.

One thing that fell off the moving truck when Heyman made the switch to CBS Sports? His previously held opinions on Barry Bonds.

Barry Bonds doesn’t belong in jail. He belongs in the Hall of Fame.

This is the opening line of a Jon Heyman piece from 2011 on baseball’s all time home run king. Heyman goes to great length to explain why he will be voting for Barry Bonds when he becomes eligible, using reason and thought and rationale like a big boy.

If there’s a reasonable chance that player would have fallen short of the Hall without the extra help, I won’t vote yes. I vote no on Mark McGwire, who I like much better than Bonds. While I believe McGwire’s achievements are clearly Hall worthy (it’s a copout to say they aren’t), I have strong reason to suspect the drugs helped him reach those heights.

As for Bonds, I don’t think anyone could reasonably make the case that he needed drugs to be a Hall of Famer.

Fast forward 20 months and Heyman sings a much different tune, though the only thing that changed is the masthead under which Heyman writes.

If someone wants to point out that steroids weren’t specifically disallowed in baseball before 2002, well, I can buy that, too — to a degree. But I will point out that steroids were illegal even then, and that everyone understood it was a no-no to the point where everyone except Ken Caminiti who took them and was asked about them, even back in those days, lied about it.

Well well! That is a man singing a different tune, indeed. Which is his right. But something doesn’t sit right…perhaps what is really going here is a Heyman toeing the company line.

Heyman’s CBS Sports contemporaries were unanimous in their scorn for “steroid users” in their Hall of Fame votes. Scott Miller wrote a column which fell directly in line with Heyman’s “no drugs” school of thought. Danny Knobler — The Knobler, if you prefer — followed suit, opting for a “not now” on suspected steroid users. Suspected steroid users is a very large umbrella in The Knobler’s world, as it includes Jeff Bagwell (guilty by association) and Mike Piazza.

In the crowded online media world, it isn’t crazy to consider a big spender like CBS taking an official position in the name of eyeballs, getting their high profile talent on-board. Perhaps there is actually nothing to this, just three national reporters who all feel similarly. The editorial oversight enforced here at theScore is pretty much “none”, there is a good chance CBS Sports is no different.

But Heyman’s change of tune is very peculiar. What caused him to take a new position? Is he as shameless as we all want to believe, shifting with the winds of popular opinion and carving out a position with appeal for a certain segment of readers? Is CBS Sports using their big names to stake out some anti-stats nerd ground with inflammatory and public Hall of Fame ballots?

Everybody has kids that need feeding and those pages aren’t going to click themselves. If Heyman arrived at this position all on his own, sure. But if CBS pulls the strings on their big name guys…well that is a conspiracy theory worth investigating.