Sports Outside the Beltway

Steroids and Gary Matthews Jr.

Gary Matthews Jr. may be feeling the intense scrutiny of the American Sports Media’s obsession with steroids in baseball. Because this doesn’t sound too good.

The Times Union has learned that investigators in the year-old case, which has been kept quiet until now, uncovered evidence that testosterone and other performance-enhancing drugs may have been fraudulently prescribed over the Internet to current and former Major League Baseball players, National Football League players, college athletes, high school coaches, a former Mr. Olympia champion and another leading contender in the bodybuilding competition.

The customers include Los Angeles Angels center fielder Gary Matthews Jr., according to sources with knowledge of the investigation.

Sources also said investigators from the New York Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, which is part of the state Department of Health, recently interviewed a top physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers about his alleged purchase last year of roughly $150,000 of testosterone and human growth hormone.

The revelations about the Pittsburgh Steelers is very troubling. But Matthews is the biggest name, and having just signed a five-year $55 million contract, he is subject to a lot of scrutiny. A sabermetrician friend of mine who goes by the nickname of Valentine was curious enough about Matthews career performance that he looked into the numbers.

Matthews ISO [Isolated Slugging or Slugging Percentage-Batting Average] over the past three years has been remarkably steady at .186, .181, .182. His secondary average (includes BBs) has been in decline at .318, .295, .281. His OPS jumped last year PURELY because he hit more singles, and that is more likely a random fluke than the result of strength training. I would expect his BA to return to the .260-.275 range this year (even without taking park effects into account), which should return his OPS to the .750-.800 range. Steroids or no, he’s not going to be able to keep up last year’s pace.

The real surprise in looking at Matthews career is the jump in power between 2003 and 2004. His BA was steady, but his SLG jumped 80 points! Yes, he moved to Texas (and a good HR park), but that alone doesn’t explain such a large change. Especially not for a player whose early-career power was so thoroughly mediocre.

It is completely reasonable to assume that Matthews used something. Whether it was the then legal HGH or a banned substance is in question. Matthews himself was non-committal when talking to reporters yesterday.

Matthews, speaking to reporters at the Angels’ spring training camp in Mesa, Ariz., said he wasn’t “in a position to answer any specific questions.”

“I do expect it to resolve itself here in the near future. … Until we get more information, I just can’t comment on it,” he said Wednesday.

Matthews clearly can comment on it. In fact, he can clear up this whole mess by saying simply, yes, I used them. Alternately, he can vehemently deny that he did. But he can and should address the issue. Chances are he’ll keep himself clean, keep his mouth shut and let his numbers say what he is unwilling to.

Writers in the blogosphere are not generally as excitable about the steroid nonsense as the more enlightened scribes in the professional ranks of print journalism. And frankly I am not too vexed if Gary Matthews Jr. used HGH or other performance enhancing drugs. What irks me is that Matthews and the other accused dopers are unwilling to acknowledge or even speak forthrightly about what is going on. Two of the prominent athletes who have failed drug tests have accused their teammates of wrongdoing. Some have blamed confusion about supplements. Others have thankfully acknowledged their guilt and gone about their careers or in some cases concluded their careers. Admitting guilt, like Matt Lawton did, effectively ended his career.

Athletes are not obligated to confess to any indiscretion that appears in print about them. However, when athletes play the game of deny what is deniable for as long as it is deniable, it damages the credibility of the clean players. The responsibility to root out the miscreants lies with the Union. The players are demonstrably affected by the misbehavior of a few in their midst. They have the most motivation to police the clubhouse from within.

Until athletes are frank about what they have done, and until MLB management is forthright about what they knew, the sports credibility will remain damaged irreparably. That such stories cannot gain traction against the NFL is mind-boggling. But MLB seems to have a special place as the press’ steroid whipping boy.

Closing on a note of levity, the indispensable Deadspin contributes this comment:

More names are expected to come out in the coming weeks. The investigation focuses on an Internet copy, which means somehow, Jay Mariotti’s gonna figure out a way to blame this on the blogs.


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