Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Kettmann takes a victory lap

In 2000, Steve Kettmann wrote an article for the The New York Times which created quite a firestorm at the time. Until Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti got into the act in 2002, it was the go-to reference piece on steroids in major-league baseball. A couple of years later he was the ghost writer for Canseco's book. Now Kettmann is playing the "see, I told you" card in a letter to the editor in today's New York Times:

Roger Clemens has been added to the ranks of those linked to steroid use — despite his most recent denial Tuesday. This is hardly a surprise to those of us who have worked the steroid beat over the years. In fact, as the ghostwriter for Jose Canseco’s tell-all memoir “Juiced,” I can now reveal that serious thought was given to including Canseco’s recollections of golf course conversations with Clemens about steroids. At the time, we decided to focus on players Canseco injected — since those revelations would carry the maximum impact.

Being more right about PEDs, and sooner, than most of the rest of us, Kettmann is probably entitled to his victory lap. But as is the case with Clemens himself, discretion should form the better part of Kettmann's valor.

Why? Because while Kettmann doesn't mention it in his letter, in June 2002 he wrote an article in the New Republic in which he raked Canseco over the coals, calling him a traitor and a money grubber for his then-recently announced plans to write a tell-all book outing the players he knew to be juicing. The same book, it must be noted, that Kettmann himself ended up writing.

While the article now seems unfindable online (if anyone can find it please shoot me a copy), the tone was pretty unctuous. True, he was dead on about many things in that piece (he nailed the then-unknown Brian McNamee to a tree and was naming Clemens name over five years before George Mitchell did), but he wasn't exactly sober, measured, reasoned, or graceful about it. He labeled anyone who differed from his view on the subject a "weasel." Most preposterously, he blamed steroid use on "the Bill James school of sports analysis," essentially suggesting that the sabermetric observation that home runs are more valuable than hit-and-run singles actually encouraged steroid abuse. I wondered at the time* if Kettmann also believed that a criminologist's observations encouraged crime. I still don't know.

Certainly Kettmann was annoyed in that old New Republic piece, but that annoyance seemed to be based just as much on the fact that the story that summer focused on steroids rather than his own reporting on steroids. Indeed, just as he does in this letter to the editor, Kettmann took quite a bit of space to remind people that he was the first man to out ballplayers for taking steroids, not amateurs like Canseco and Caminiti.

But I suppose that's just quibbling, and I suppose congratulations are in order to Mr. Kettmann. And we can all provide them just as soon as Kettmann is done doing it himself.

Update: It's worth noting, upon 24 hours of reflection, that most of what stuck in my craw about this piece was the "see, I told you so" headline. It's also worth noting that it is almost always the case that the writer -- especially in the case of a letter to the editor -- doesn't write the headline. While I stand by my negative feelings about the New Republic piece from 2002, I would like to apologize to Kettmann for what may be an overreaction on my part.

*I fully cop to the fact that my 2002 piece bashing Kettmann was extraordinarily naive when it came to steroids, as was most of what I wrote that year. That doesn't change the fact, however, that Kettman's New Republic piece was fairly obnoxious.


Anonymous said...

A search of EBSCO Host turns up two other articles by Kettmann in TNR, but not the one you're looking for. Lexis/Nexis might have it (I doubt it), but that costs $$$. My best guess is that, for whatever reason, this is the one article for which he decided to retain the copyright.

Hank said...

I just asked a friend on another site who is with The New Republic and he said
"Our website switched platforms a few weeks ago, and the archives are not available online yet, to our great frustration. We can't get them ourselves. We have to go grab bound volumes and photocopy them."
the implication is that at some point in the future they will be available on line again. don't know if that helps but may explain why it disappeared from the web.


Ethan said...

Yeah, I remember that article. It's when I taught you the difference between flak and flack. See, I was on to this whole 'flack v. flak' controversy years before anyone else had figured it out. It's nice that subsequent sportswriting has vindicated my early work on the story that will define this era of baseball.

Ethan said...

May I also add that I love the fact that Google, in their wisdom, will allow me to write a blog post to my own blog simply by logging in with username and password, but to leave a comment on your blog, I also have to type a nonsense word. Because comments are oh so much more dangerous than blog posts!

Shyster said...

We have higher standards around here than you have at your blog.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go find more pictures of Pete Rose in his underpants.