Differing Standards: A-Rod, Reasonable Doubt, and Public Opinion


Manager's Note: Recently, we've had a bit of an influx of new writers here at the Pinstriped Bible, thanks to the many great submissions we received in response to Steve's search for writers, and there may be a couple more to come in the near future. It's great to see our staff growing to include more and more talented writers that make our site what it is and what we strive to be -- your go-to place for all things Yankees. Today, another new face joins us in his PB debut. Please join me in welcoming Craig Edwards to our community. - Tanya

Immediately after the news broke that Alex Rodriguez had been implicated in a performance enhancing drug scandal, again, many were quick to vilify him. A little slower to the fore came the more calm, less judgmental arguments, like Tanya Bondurant’s post, asking questions like what do we actually know, how reliable is the information, and imploring everyone not to rush to judgment. I’m not rushing to judge A-Rod, but based on the facts, as I understand them, I don’t believe him.

In the criminal justice system, we are all innocent until proven guilty. We judge our peers and if the jury is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, we can put each other behind bars. We let the arrested party go free if there remains a doubt that is reasonable. Irrational, pie-in-the-sky conspiracy theories are not enough. The reason we maintain such a high standard for criminal cases is because the consequences are dire. If convicted, our freedom, so precious to us, is taken away. If we are going to remove someone from society, we better be damn sure we have the right person. In A-Rod’s case, I have several reasonable doubts about his use of steroids these past few years, but I don’t need to hold myself to that standard.

Even in the court system, there is considerable wiggle room. When we sue each other for injuries or theft, seeking money or property, we do not have to prove our cases beyond a reasonable doubt. We merely have to prove responsibility in order to recover damages. If I were to use that standard in forming my opinion on A-Rod’s alleged steroid use over the past few seasons, I would come down on the side of A-Rod as a user. Here’s what we know:

  • 1. A-Rod came of age in an industry at a time where steroid use was at best tolerated, and at worst encouraged.
  • 2. A-Rod previously denied using steroids. This was a lie.
  • 3. A-Rod was caught in the lie when reports came out he tested positive.
  • 4. When A-Rod came clean, he admitted to very little other than what he had been caught doing.
  • 5. The drug that A-Rod had allegedly bought was HGH, which is not yet tested by Major League Baseball.
  • 6. This is the second "doctor" in the past three years A-Rod has been associated with that has been implicated in providing performance enhancing drugs and HGH in particular.
  • 7. Several other players implicated in this scandal have already been busted by major league baseball’s drug testing policy.
  • 8. Gio Gonzalez's father has admitted going to the clinic.
  • 9. The "doctor" that allegedly provided the drugs is not actually a doctor and has previously been under investigation by Major League Baseball for providing steroids.

Every one of the above, when taken individually, has plenty of holes. The first paints a very broad brush. The facts related to the current scandal are circumstantial. We don’t know if the current sources are reliable. Just because someone has done something in the past doesn't mean they will automatically do it again. Put all of the facts together, and it reveals a different picture. I’m not beyond a reasonable doubt, but I’m quite comfortable with more likely than not. The facts in the current case are circumstantial, but placing them side-by-side makes the whole of the story more convincing. I admit to knowing very little about the source in this case and his reliability, but I had a professor who liked to remind us that if we wanted to know who was dealing drugs in a neighborhood, don’t talk to the local priest. You have to talk to the people who are using and dealing drugs. They might be less trustworthy, but they are the ones with the information. Put another way, an accountant may be more reliable than a dog walker (maybe, it’s a hypothetical), but if I want to know if kennel cough is going around my neighborhood, I’m not asking the guy neck deep in W-2s.

I agree that it is somewhat unfair to assume that A-Rod used again recently just because we know he has used in the past. In court, past crimes and wrongdoings cannot be used to prove future acts for most crimes. For A-Rod, the qualifier is key. The government is allowed to introduce evidence of prior crimes or bad acts when they are crimes of dishonesty. A-Rod’s drug use is not the sole issue. First, A-Rod lied about his steroid use. Second, in baseball terms, he cheated. He may use culture as an excuse or say it’s a victimless crime, but criminals say the same thing about insurance fraud. Dishonest behavior is precisely the type of action that juries are allowed to hear when forming their opinions of an accused when his or her freedom is on the line, and it is most certainly something to consider when deciding whether or not to believe A-Rod has not been using performance enhancing drugs these past few years.

In court, some evidence is prohibited. As Lionel Hutz famously said when asked if he had any evidence to present, "We’ve plenty of Hearsay and Conjecture. Those are kinds of evidence." Of course, they are the inadmissible kinds that never see a courtroom, but do you know who does use that kind of evidence? Journalists!

Journalists often rely on evidence that would never pass muster in a courtroom. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. To start with, journalists mainly deal with a person’s livelihood, not their freedom, so we accept a lower standard. Second, in a courtroom, the jury is specifically instructed to consider the facts before them and not consult outside sources. When the testimony and facts are limited, the less reliable but more shocking and prejudicial evidence may be impossible to ignore. There are no such limitations with the media. We can all consult multiple sources to check facts, consider other arguments, and make determinations on reliability. We don’t need the filter. No one fact from a single source is likely to have that great an influence without other supporting information. I find it perfectly acceptable to form an opinion based on evidence that would not be allowed in court. Even if the journalist is wrong, anybody can sue for damage to their reputation and livelihood. Sometimes it works (Lance Armstrong received a libel settlement), and sometimes it doesn’t (Lance Armstrong received a libel settlement).

Journalists have a vested interest in being correct for purposes of reputation and avoiding lawsuits. In addition, they presumably have editors who make sure sources are legitimate and the story is worth running. Even the standards of journalists change depending on the type of work they are doing. Look at issues with the Hall of Fame votes. Part of the problem is that the vote is the opposite of a criminal procedure. Voters are not taking away a right, they are granting one. No player, no matter how great, has a right into the Hall of Fame. The Hall is an exclusive club that decides who receives admission. The Hall determined that writers should decide, with later input from veterans, and that no player banned from baseball for life should be admitted. The Hall could enforce a height limit, or make the vote based on best smile or most likely to be president. With those standards, your autographed baseball might be signed "stay cool" or "HAGS" and the Hall would lose some prestige and give rise to a competitor, but no player has an absolute right to be in the Hall. It would be nice though, if the voters used some consistent logic in their voting. I cannot tell if the writers use less, more or the same journalistic standards when they vote.

The writers have made clear they are not yet ready to vote for any player implicated directly with steroids or even anyone they are not sure about. Analogous to a decision on whether or not to run a story, if they are not sure on their facts they should not actively disseminate the message to the public. In this case, the message is the proactive step of voting a player into the Hall of Fame. While I would prefer all votes be made public, just like their published pieces, the argument that knowing which voters did not vote for a certain player because of lack of knowledge would be considered by many equivalent to knowledge of steroid use. The problem with the proactive standard theory is that they could not vote any player in from the steroid era because they cannot claim to actually know who did and did not use. There are probably voters in this camp, but next year should prove they are a relatively small minority.

A more practical voting theory is that the writers do not apply their typical journalistic standards when voting. This voting method is much more pragmatic and realistic. The writers have their suspicions, but could not write about them because of a lack of sources and credible knowledge. In turn, they use their suspicions to vote at a significantly lower standard than their work. They withhold votes from players who they think might have used, while giving votes to players they think probably did not use. This method may imply the writers take their voting privileges less seriously than the rest of their work, but is more likely the result of confusion. They hope someone will fix the problem and provide greater guidance and clear standards just like they have in their published stories. Unfortunately, the Hall has passed the buck, and the veteran votes are twenty years away.

Using different standards depending on the consequences is appropriate and necessary in all facets of life. We use different standards when buying a hamburger versus buying a house. Telling one person in a bar what you think about A-Rod is different than telling a thousand people on the internet is different than telling thousands more in a newspaper is different than sending A-Rod to prison. I fully admit I rely on circumstantial evidence and reports that are less reliable than others in reaching my opinion. When I provide my opinion, it is important that I make whoever I'm speaking to aware of my standards so that everyone can draw their own conclusions. It doesn’t matter what standards you use in determining A-Rod’s guilt, discussing Hall of Fame credentials, or your feelings on whether you are prepared to find out Luke died on the Death Star and you are about to watch three movies you think are real but is actually Luke just learning he is dead. Just make sure your audience knows your standards so the conversation can be continued.

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