Why I’m skeptical of Selena Roberts’ new book

This morning I wrote that, while the facts are the facts when it comes to the A-Rod business, and that they will ultimately bear themselves out (or not), we should be mindful of the characterizations and judgments that accompany those facts:

Which in some ways illustrates my skepticism about the book. Not about the facts as such — facts have a funny way of proving themselves right or wrong on their own, and once the book is out and A-Rod and his lawyers and publicists have their say, the allegations in this book will take on either an air of credibility or not. Lord knows after Clemens and Bonds and everything else, no steroid-related fact will shock me.

No, my skepticism involves how any ambiguities in the factual record will be spun and how the biographical fill-in will be slanted in order to make A-Rod out as a generally bad person. That’s not a skepticism borne of some predisposition to defend A-Rod. I admire his talents, but I’m not a huge fan. Rather, my skepticism is based on experience of reading Roberts’ previous work about Rodriguez.

As some people mentioned in the comments, there is more than Roberts’ previous work on A-Rod to be considered when assessing whether she has committed an act of responsible journalism or a drive-by character assassination. For example, there’s Roberts’ work on the Duke lacrosse case. Via Timeswatch.org, here’s what Roberts wrote in March 2006, in a column that Timeswatch says “seethes with the presumption of guilt”:

“The season is over, but the paradox lives on in Duke’s lacrosse team, a group of privileged players of fine pedigree entangled in a night that threatens to belie their social standing as human beings. Something happened March 13, when a woman, hired to dance at a private party, alleged that three lacrosse players sexually assaulted her in a bathroom for 30 minutes. According to reported court documents, she was raped, robbed, strangled and was the victim of a hate crime. She was also reportedly treated at a hospital for vaginal and anal injuries consistent with sexual assault and rape.

“Players have been forced to give up their DNA, but to the dismay of investigators, none have come forward to reveal an eyewitness account. Maybe the team captains are right. Maybe the allegations are baseless. But why is it so hard to gather the facts? Why is any whisper of a detail akin to snitching?”

Later, as the erroneousness of the rape charges and prosecutor Mike Nifong’s perfidies came to light, Roberts took on a defiant tone. After noting how much hate mail she had received for earlier reporting, Roberts continued:

“What happens if all the charges are dismissed? There is a tendency to conflate the alleged crime at the Duke lacrosse team kegger on March 13, 2006, with the irrefutable culture of misogyny, racial animus and athlete entitlement that went unrestrained that night.

“Porn-style photos of two exotic dancers — one of whom was the accuser — emerged from cellphone camera downloads. Heated exchanges between players and dancers occurred. Racial slurs were heard. And in an ‘American Psycho’ reference, a repulsive e-mail message depicting the skinning of strippers was sent by a player, Ryan McFadyen, who, to his credit, has since apologized.

“To many, the alleged crime and culture are intertwined. No trial, all vindication. This microview has some passionate, respectful followers, but also a few loquacious bullies.

“Don’t mess with Duke, though. To shine a light on its integrity has been treated by the irrational mighty as a threat to white privilege.

“Feel free to excoriate the African-American basketball stars and football behemoths for the misdeeds of all athletes, but lay off the lacrosse pipeline to Wall Street, excuse the khaki-pants crowd of SAT wonder kids.

“No one would want an innocent Duke player wronged or ruined by false charges — and that may have occurred on Nifong’s watch — but the alleged crime and the culture are mutually exclusive.”

Roberts concluded the piece by seemingly suggesting that the false rape charges and prosecutorial misconduct were worth it in the end, if it opens up Duke to “change” and positively impacted the culture of spoiled white athletes. Like a lot of people, I wasn’t very critical of the first reports, but post-Nifong, Roberts’ latter article was nothing short of astounding.

But don’t take my word for it. A much longer and scholarly handing of Roberts’ reporting on the Duke lacrosse case can be found in this law review article, the conclusion of which was a real humdinger:

[The New York Times] largely ignored the law of defamation in its reportage on the Duke lacrosse case. Chest-thumping newsworthiness or news creation became its mantra, if not its mode of operations. Maybe this is the unfortunate true legacy of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, the most important defamation decision in Anglo-American legal history: that the media may largely act unconstrained by defamation liability concerns because of the practical difficulty of litigation and the huge obstacles to actually collecting an award.

Before I go any further, let me make a couple of things perfectly clear:

(1) I don’t dare propose that anything to do with A-Rod rises to the level of seriousness of the Duke lacrosse case; and

(2) I have no idea if the facts reported in today’s Daily News piece or any of the other facts in Roberts’ upcoming book are true or not.

Indeed, as I’ve said three times today, I don’t even think that I care if the facts are true or not, because the facts don’t interest me as much as the way in which they are presented, the context, and the conclusions they cause Roberts to draw. For all I know, A-Rod was eating minotaur adrenal glands three times a week until last Thursday and has been involved in every underhanded baseball operation since the death of Hal Chase. Such matters will be borne out as true or false in a mostly orderly fashion over time.

What I do care about — and the reason I have quoted all of this stuff by and about Selena Roberts — is the culture of character assassination that has become inextricably linked to the subject of steroids in baseball. Every big name who has tested positive has not only been branded a cheater by the media, but a dirty cheater with evil and chicanery in his heart. Every assertion of innocence — even to subordinate allegations — has been met with scorn. In addition to censuring players under the rules of baseball, the media (and the public at large following the media’s lead) has further demanded that high-profile steroids users be ostracized, and that the historical record be expunged, as best it can be, of their very existence. It has been a shameful few years in this regard, and I hope and pray that one day some semblance of perspective on the subject of performance enhancing drugs in baseball prevails. But we’re certainly not there yet.

Enter Selena Roberts. The same Selena Roberts who has already demonstrated a clear interest in making Alex Rodriguez into a villain. The same Selena Roberts who smeared the Duke lacrosse players. Even if we concede that she gets the facts right in her upcoming book, can we have any faith that she presents them with even a semblance of balance, as opposed to surrounding them with innuendo, rumor, conjecture, and false sanctimony?

And before you ask, yes, that stuff is important. It’s important because whatever we think of Alex Rodriguez the baseball player, we cannot forget that Alex Rodriguez is also a person. That he’s a father. That because so few people will actually get to know him personally over the course of his life, books like Roberts’ and the surrounding media storm will forever be his calling cards, whether he likes it or not. In light of this, the man — or any other person who becomes the subject of intense scrutiny — should be afforded some basic fairness in such endeavors. Report the truth for good or ill, but be double damn sure about the character judgments you draw about him in the process.

As I said this morning. It’s one thing to say that A-Rod lied about certain things and broke certain rules. It’s another thing to say that he did so because he’s an inherently evil or damaged person. I have no problem with the former. Based on Selena Roberts’ track record, however, I am extremely skeptical of anything she writes positing the latter.

UPDATE: I have some more thoughts on this here.


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YankeesfanLen
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YankeesfanLen

Well put.

tadthebad
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tadthebad

And well presented.

Ben
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Ben

“Enter Selena Roberts. The same Selena Roberts who has already demonstrated a clear interest in making Alex Rodriguez into a villain. The same Selena Roberts who smeared the Duke lacrosse players. Even if we concede that she gets the facts right in her upcoming book, can we have any faith that she presents them with even a semblance of balance, as opposed to surrounding them with innuendo, rumor, conjecture, and false sanctimony?”

Very very well said Shyster.

bigcatasroma
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bigcatasroma
I think this whole thing stinks of the last great battleground between MSM and “bloggers”—the subjective, “character assassination,” flowery prose of MSM vs. the objective, fact-based rat-tat-tat of the bloggosphere.  Which is ironic, because it is the MSM that accuses blogs of being incorrect, factually deficient, and out to “assassinate character.”  But I think that CC is dead right—the subjective tone given to this story is actually what shapes the story.  The irony (well, not irony, but something) is that this is the one year anniversary (give or take, according to Deadspin) of the Leitch v. Bissinger show down.  That’s… Read more »
GBSimons
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GBSimons

Huzzah to you, Craig.  Well said.

Dann
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Dann

Craig I think that’s easily the best thing you’ve written that I have read. No one is willing to challenge the validity of what she has been writing and her moral presumptions about those she writes about also go unchallenged. I have not seen similar commentary on her like this anywhere else and again, it was a phenomenal piece.

Scaets
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Scaets

Thanks for saying what needed to be said. Once again, it’s a blogger who has to stand up for decent standards of journalism while one of the great names in print media is taken down another peg.

Beanster
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Beanster

Well done.

Hoffburger
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Hoffburger
Craig this was great.  I rarely comment on anything because I don’t usually feel like I can add any perspective.  However, I’m a chemistry graduate student and just yesterday gave a seminar to my department regarding Designer Steroids from the Black Market.  In my research for the talk, my perspective was greatly changed.  What I realized is that there is a massive disconnect in media/public perception of drug users when it comes to steroids.  The media and public constantly vilify Bonds, Clemens and A-Rod, but in my opinion, the real villains here are the people who make and distribute these… Read more »
Diesel
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Diesel

We are in the minority. Just like those of us who put on the brakes during the early days of the Duke case were in the minority.

Roberts isn’t a harbinger of the end of the MSM. She’s the only thing keeping it alive. For every person disgusted by writers like Roberts, there are five readers who eat it up. And the former group wasn’t buying newspapers, anyway.

Diesel
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Diesel

Addendum: The former group doesn’t buy books like these, either.

tadthebad
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tadthebad

Apparently, fewer and fewer of the latter buying newspapers, too.

Craig Calcaterra
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Craig Calcaterra
Ben—except as demonstrated above, even after the facts were set straight in the Duke case—after Nifong was being prosecuted for prosecutorial misconduct and the players in question had been exonerated, Roberts was still stirring the pot, still casting aspersions on the Duke lacrosse team and it’s culture, and coming to the conclusion that a false prosecution may have been for the best anyway.  Sorry, that’s more than reporting facts, as you say.  That’s ignoring facts that are inconvenient to her premise (i.e. that the rich White students at Duke are evil and are due their comeuppance) and blasting forward with… Read more »
Mansfield Bob
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Mansfield Bob

A-Rod is a proven cheat.  Ask the Rangers.  Ask his wife.  You cannot assassinate character that isn’t there to begin with.  And kissing his butt at Selena Roberts’ expense doesn’t change that fact.

Millsy
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Millsy
Great article, Craig.  Very well put…and much more eloquent than any response I’ve given to writers with obvious agendas (Mike Freeman over on CBS and his article ‘Deal with the Devil’ comes to mind—an article about A-Rod working with that steroids charity).  As you say, facts are facts, but reporting has reached a level of irresponsibility that actually angers me.  They’re in real trouble, in my opinion, as their competitors on blogs like this don’t charge anything.  The Duke case hit home a little bit and I was appalled at its handling as most were.  As someone who played baseball… Read more »
Craig Calcaterra
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Craig Calcaterra
Bob: Of course you can. What if the book says he was a cheating baseball player and a bad husband, ergo he is a horrible father?  What if it says that he is a cheating baseball player and a bad husband, ergo he hates the poor?  What if the book says he was a cheating baseball player and a bad husband and that made him a wretched and miserable human being?  I’d say all of those things, absent more, are unsupported leaps.  Even if A-Rod has some pretty crappy character in many respects doesn’t make him an abomination. If, on… Read more »
YankeesfanLen
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YankeesfanLen

Now I feel like I’m coming up for the second time in an inning, but I must say once again
Leave A-Rod alone!
I’d much rather read slanted journalism to increase my viewpoint knowing what their opinions will be (NYT, The New Yorker) than sensational journalism (Roberts, O’Reilly) that is there for self promotion.

ralphdibny
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ralphdibny
If the Times had a Sports Op-Ed page, would we be having this discussion?  It seems that the problem people have with Roberts’s articles is that they are opinion pieces, not traditional sports reporting.  Her Duke articles, for example, were very clearly not about the specific case as much as they were about how sports, misogyny, and racism in America intertwine.  And to be honest, that’s a conversation worth having.  Pointing out the differences in how people reacted to the Duke case versus Kobe Bryant’s rape allegations, regardless of the validity of the charges, and how those differences just might… Read more »
Ben2009
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Ben2009
Craig, you said the following:  “Indeed, as I’ve said three times today, I don’t even think that I care if the facts are true or not, because the facts don’t interest me as much as the way in which they are presented, the context, and the conclusions they cause Roberts to draw.” Now, in response to my comment, you say that we should be “skeptical” of the factual assertions in Roberts’ book because, in other situations, she hasn’t backed off factual assertions once proven wrong. So which is it?  Do the facts not matter at all, as you said three… Read more »
Craig Calcaterra
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Craig Calcaterra
Bob:  In case I was unclear, my last comment was not that we should be skeptical of her facts. It’s that we should be skeptical of the conclusions and judgments she draws from them. She may have a stack of certified and notarized receipts establishing that A-Rod never tipped more than 15% at Hooters.  I am skeptical, however, if she uses those facts to conclude that A-Rod is cheapskate misogynist. She may have sworn affidavits from 132 people establishing that A-Rod did steroids from the age of 17.  I am skeptical, however, if she uses those facts to conclude that… Read more »
Craig Calcaterra
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Craig Calcaterra
Ralph—there’s no requirment that someone’s opinion be a good one, but I do believe that someone’s opinion—at least someone who’s going to publish stuff for the world to see and comment on—should be a fair one.  There’s a difference.  If someone is the biggest sonofabitch the world has ever seen, it’s not being fair to act like they’re nice.  That’s simply not being accurate.  At the same time, if you’re going to call someone the biggest sonofabitch the world has ever seen, you had better have the goods to back it up, lest your opinion be seen as a transparent,… Read more »
Grant
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Grant
Several thoughts… 1. Well done, Craig. Very good piece. 2. Interesting that Craig writes this the same day that the Baltimore Sun cuts a third of its remaining, already bare-bones newsroom. This includes virtually every sportswriter not named Peter Schmuck that they’ve got left. 3. Ben, I think you’re being a little too obtuse here. What Craig is saying, I think (he can of course defend himself, and almost certainly will) is merely that in this case specifically and in her career overall, Selena Roberts has proven that she is unreliable, especially by the standards of the journalistic profession that… Read more »
kendynamo
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kendynamo
since i dont care if players used steroids theres pretty much nothing shocking here.  the tipping off of batters would REALLY piss me off if i was one of the pitchers he was screwing over, but as a fan its not a big deal.  as neyer pointed out in one of his posts, stuff like that goes on and no one cares. when farve and the packers o-line conspired to give strahan the single season sack record (and man was that ever blatant), it wasnt a scandal. people need to get off a-rod’s sack.  yes hes a spaz and a… Read more »
LM
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LM

I’m with you Craig. Must be an attorney thing! smile

Bob S
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Bob S

Craig-
Your legal background is showing…and I mean that in a good way.  This is the most intelligent and well presented review of this story that I’ve seen. If you continue to write objective and well thought out pieces like this…well, you will never be welcomed in the mainstream media.

themarksmith
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themarksmith

I still like how no one wants to call Rodney Harrison, Shawn Merriman, etc. bastards but will torch any baseball player.

Anyway, I’m still torn between skepticism of a biased reporting of ARod and the feeling that I might want to criticize Roberts because I don’t want to believe ARod really did it. I know that baseball players aren’t perfect (no one is), but in some way, I still want to think the best of them. I wonder if that colors my vision of Roberts and others who might be quick to judge baseball players.

Vin
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Vin
Selena Roberts gives all appearances of somebody who has an agenda, and will twist or play up information to suit that agenda. She may, at times, fall into something that is more or less correct, but that does not make her any more accurate as an author, a reporter, or even an opinion columnist. There’s a big difference between: A) Gathering information B) Verifying it as best you can C) Drawing logical conclusions based upon that information This is what good journalists do. Frankly, they do not do it enough, instead falling back on the he-said-she-said “objectivity” sheen, or, even… Read more »
Jay Jaffe
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Jay Jaffe

This one’s a keeper. Nice work, Craig.

What I find incredibly galling about the latest set of revelations is that there isn’t a single name to stand behind them. Given A-Rod’s unpopularity and the jealousy that surrounds him, you could probably find anyone who under the cloak of anonymity would claim that A-Rod sold nuclear secrets to Iran while partying all night with transvestite hookers.

Rick Silver
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Rick Silver

Great work.

I read another superb deconstruction of Selena Roberts’ hatchet jobs yesterday at the site below.

He excerpts all her pieces on A-Rod, which evidently stretch back two years before the article Shysterball exposed as little more than cheap yellow journalism. 

http://theyankeesrepublic.blogspot.com/2009/04/selena-roberts.html

I think this guy is a lawyer as well.

largebill
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largebill
Oddly enough, we may look back at this book as a key turning point in the perception of players tainted by the steroid mess.  Roberts, presumably out of a need to fill pages of a book, went from writing about factual matters to filling a book with innuendo and rumors.  When you include crap like how much a player tips you (meaning Roberts) make the antagonist of the story (A-Rod) into a sympathetic character.  The sympathy revolves around the fact that normal folks wouldn’t want their tipping to be examined and criticized. Couple points on the tipping BS: 1.  It… Read more »
Craig
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Craig
“In case I was unclear, my last comment was not that we should be skeptical of her facts. It’s that we should be skeptical of the conclusions and judgments she draws from them.” Case in point: the “suspicious” 25 pounds he apparently put on between his sophmore and junior years of high school.  Well, I played high school baseball and I gained at least that much muscle weight during those years.  So did just about every other athelete I knew.  It’s called puberty.  You sprout a couple inches, your body naturally fills out, and, for most kids, it’s when weight… Read more »
Seattle Zen
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Seattle Zen

What an outstanding piece of writing. As a fellow attorney and crazed baseball fan, I tip my hat to a superb argument.

Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider
I object to the “MSM” bashing I see here.  It’s become fashionable for bloggers to take a sanctimonious high ground versus the MSM without acknowledging the real value that the MSM provides to society.  Obviously, the NYT and other mainstream media make mistakes but it’s pretty obnoxious to see bloggers apparently gloating over the demise of institutions like the Times.  MSM bashing has become the sport from both ends of the political spectrum.  But are we really going to be better off when blogs are the only source of news?  And, are you really going to simply write off the… Read more »
Craig Calcaterra
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Craig Calcaterra
Marc—I actually agree with most of that, and you will rarely if ever see me making blanket statements about “the MSM”—at least not serious ones—even if I do go after specific reporters, writers and some newspaper conventions. I appreciate, based on experience, that blogging is an inherently reactive medium.  No “MSM”? No blogging. It’s that simple. Indeed, I spend a great part of each day going through the websites of the newspapers that cover Major League teams looking for stories on which to opine. If they weren’t there, I’d be toast. I don’t think that the mainstream press provides anything… Read more »
Dabullett
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Dabullett

Craig, been catching you through Neyer, and I am really impressed. I knew abut Roberts earlier work on A-rod this year, but not her work on the Duke Lacrosse team. So with the limited information I had, I was still worried about so many “unnamed sources.” I believe that if a person is going to be vilified as A-Rod is being in this book, the sources better be iron clad. I don’t believe it is happening in this case, or in many stories in general lately.

Keep up the smart work

Craig Calcaterra
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Craig Calcaterra
Dabullet—thanks. Anonymous sources are an interesting thing. Someone with a journalism background may have greater insight into this than I do, but I certainly think they have their place. I think that place is limited, such as when the information is truly sensitive or the person providing it could truly be compromised if their identify was known.  I gather that there has been something of a tightening of anonymous source standards at big newspapers in recent years, but you still see it a lot more than may be necessary. In a newspaper setting, a reporter has to (at least in… Read more »
House
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House
I agree with your general sentiment, especially as regards the culture of character assassination—but as far as I can tell, there are no “conclusions” drawn in the Newsday article, and if there are, they’re not drawn by Ms. Roberts.  I would at least wait until Ms. Roberts has had her say on these particular allegations before you start questioning her motivations and bias.  Maybe she deserves it, and she certainly hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt, but maybe her book ends up being a balanced and nuanced view of all the pressures on A-Rod and how he reacts to… Read more »
Ben2009
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Ben2009
Talk about killing the messenger.  If the reporter gets the facts wrong, then she should be critisized – see Duke lacrosse, where any critisism of Roberts is well deserved.  But if she gets the facts right, then what, exactly, are you critisizing?  That she had the gall to report the facts?  That can’t be her fault.  That some people care about those facts?  That’s not her fault, that’s the book publisher’s and book buyers’ fault – blame them, not the person who brings them their facts.  That, in addition to reporting facts, she seems to have a perspective about those… Read more »
James K.
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James K.

I don’t want to inject politics into this or offend those who are on the political left, but can anything display the follies of modern society better than the deadpan line “she was raped, robbed, strangled and was the victim of a hate crime?” It makes it sound as if (had this crime been real) the bias of the perpetrators was somehow a separate (and possibly worse) than the horrific actions that constituted the real crime.

James K.
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James K.

Missing word: I meant “a separate (and possibly worse) crime from the horrific actions that constituted the real crime.”

chris K
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chris K
This is some vintage Roberts from back in 2004 I found quoted in an old BP article: ————————- In mid-March, New York Times columnist Selena Roberts hacked and mocked her way through a piece on Beane and Moneyball, including this car accident of a paragraph: “At 42, Beane didn’t invent sabermetrics, a sci-fi word formed from S.A.B.R., the Society of American Baseball Research [sic] (a k a The No-Life Institute). But with its philosophy filtered through his Ivy League predecessor in Oakland, Sandy Alderson, Beane applies the tenets of numeric efficiency found in the stapled baseball abstracts of the 70’s… Read more »
alskor
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alskor

This makes me question the motives of a Mr. Calcaterra much more than that of Ms. Roberts, frankly.

Pretty ironic to write a piece trashing Selena Roberts… accusing her of trashing somebody else…

Tom
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Tom
Every big name who has tested positive has not only been branded a cheater by the media, but a dirty cheater with evil and chicanery in his heart. Every assertion of innocence—even to subordinate allegations—has been met with scorn. That may have become the case in the last couple of years as the extent of the steroid problem was gradually exposed. But for years many years previously, it was precisely the opposite. The “culture of character assasination” directed its venom at anybody who dared to suggest that steroids were prevalent in baseball (Jose Canseco, anyone?). It was all kill the… Read more »
Craig Calcaterra
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Craig Calcaterra
Alskor—ask me any question about my motives you’d like. Anything not clear from the post I’d be happy to illuminate for you.  I don’t think anyone is getting the same offer from Roberts, whose reasons for so obviously hating Rodriguez are oblique at best and her sources wholly anonymous. And it’s not ironic to “trash” Selena Roberts for her trashing of someone else. Indeed, it’s quite appropriate, as she should not be expected to be held to different standards than anyone else. But like I said, the offer is open: ask me anything you’d like about my motives.  I have… Read more »
bogeball
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bogeball
Alex Rodriguez has admitted to cheating the sport while in the midst of a guaranteed $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers.  He lied to 60 Minutes and never would have voluntarily admitted to cheating without being outed by SI researchers.  In fact, NO MLB player has admitted wrong doing in this matter until either caught or out of the game. Thus, reporters have every reasonable cause to question his veracity.  He could have been viewed as baseball’s clean savior coming to take some hallowed records, but he proved to be a cheater, like many others in his era, most… Read more »
Jorge Costales
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Jorge Costales

Thanks for the institutional memory on the issue of Roberts and Rodriguez – great post

Terry Meinberg
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Terry Meinberg

I am a 60 year old man and I think Selena is a disgrace to her profession. She should be called the “B” word. I hope she has nothing in her closet because if she does someone should go looking and bring her down to earth and bury her with her own style.

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