On Sore Losers and Steroid Panics

After the Brewers lit up Cubs starter John Lackey for four runs, including three homers, on Monday night, Lackey had some choice words about Eric Thames, Milwaukee’s leading hitter and one of the three men to go deep off Lackey in the 6-3 Brewers victory. From the Chicago Tribune:

“You watch film on recent stuff and try to figure out a way, you know, to get him out. But I mean, really even the homer hit the other way, I mean, you don’t see that happen here very often. That’s kinda one of those things that makes you scratch your head.”

Lackey didn’t explicitly come out and say Thames is on steroids; he saved that for Chicago’s sports radio idiots, according to Brew Crew Ball. But if you watch the video, Lackey’s intention is clear. He gives the reporters in the room a disgustingly smarmy smile and a wink as he says “makes you scratch your head.” Anyone with any sort of understanding of social cues can see the message Lackey is attempting to convey. Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio weighed in with his own similarly wink-wink nudge-nudge comments on a Chicago radio show this week; it sure seems like the Cubs think Thames is a cheater.

It’s amazingly petty behavior from the World Champions. Even great teams like last year’s Cubs lose dozens of games, and you would think they would be able to take a loss with grace. Something about losing to Eric Thames, though, was apparently so distressing to Lackey and Bosio that they felt the need to discredit him in media interviews.

What I find truly disgusting about this is that Lackey and Bosio know exactly what kind of weight these accusations have in today’s league. Starling Marte’s positive test last week stoked the league’s steroid outrage machine. As always, questions were asked about whether or not Major League Baseball’s punishment for drug cheats is stringent enough. Rangers hurler Jake Diekman demanded on Twitter, “You get suspended, you make the minimum for the rest of your career. Take something they care about.”  Sports media may be less hawkish on steroids than it was a decade ago, but a noticeable contingent of players like Diekman have expressed their rage at what they as the scourge that is steroids.

What I find particularly pernicious about the accusations from Lackey and Bosio is how impossible it becomes to prove your innocence. Thames, naturally, was “randomly” visited by an MLB tester during the series. But plenty of known ‘roiders never failed a test, and there are simply too many ways for players to beat the tests for any sort of clean history to be convincing for fans any more. As such, innocence becomes impossible to prove. Then, when ideas like “And when he was here before, his body has changed,” a direct quote from Bosio’s radio interview, get planted in people’s heads, it can be impossible to root them out, no matter how untrue or unproven they may be.

Consider, for example, John Lackey, a pitcher who missed his age 33 with Tommy John surgery only to come back and post some of the best seasons of his career in his late 30s, regularly throwing 200 or more innings per season and contributing to deep playoff runs with his clubs. It’s a late career revival that very few arms with that kind of mileage — over 2,600 innings — are capable of sustaining, reminiscent of the kind of late-career peaks of, say, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. It’s the kind of thing that might, you know, make you scratch your head.

Ridiculous, right? But this is the kind of accusation Lackey and Bosio obviously have no problem throwing around. To me it shows a profound lack of respect for the work Eric Thames has put in to become the player he is today and work his way back to the major leagues after four seasons in Korea. Rather than admit they got beat by a talented player, these sore losers would rather trash Thames, even as he continues to rake. Thames, though, is happy to let his bat do the talking, and for now, it’s speaking way louder than anything come out of Lackey or Bosio’s mouth.

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