Steve Phillips Brings It

Tuesday morning, it was Doug Gottlieb’s turn to sub in for Mike Golic on Mike and Mike in the Morning. Tuesday is “Just Shut Up” day on that show, and the just shut up contestants were those who believe Sammy Sosa is a first-ballot Hall of Famer versus those who believe he is not. Gottlieb was adamant in his opinion that Sosa did not belong in the Hall of Fame based on three main points:

1) he obviously used steroids since his body changed dramatically and he went from being a pretty good player in 1997 to a monster player for the next several seasons.

2) he lamed out at the 2005 Congressional hearings, pretending he didn’t speak English and dodging the questions, just like McGwire.

3) he got a huge benefit from playing in Wrigley Field where, Gottlieb noted several times, he hit 350 of his career homeruns.

In an Outside the Lines piece on Sports Talk Radio a few weeks, former Boston Globe columnist and current WEEI radio man Michael Holley said that Sports Radio wasn’t about facts, it was about stating opinions loudly and exaggerating as much as possible. By that standard, Gottlieb did his job very well Tuesday. What’s unusual is that someone actually called Gottlieb on it. In this case, it was Steve Phillips, who subbed for Golic on Monday, but the following day was back in the more familiar role of baseball commentator.

First, what Phillips did not address:  Gottlieb’s repeated claim that Sosa hit 350 homers at Wrigley. This is wrong. Sosa hit 293 homers at Wrigley. That’s a substantial difference. Sosa did gain a clear advantage from hitting in Wrigley Field. In thirteen seasons with the Cubs, he hit 41 more homers at home than on the road, about three per season. But, given that we know that Sosa just passed the 600 mark, the 350 figure makes it sound like he hit the substantial majority of his homers at the friendly confines, which is untrue. Again, on loud and exaggerated, Gottlieb did well here. On the facts, not so much.

But, Phillips really surprised me. As soon as he came on the air and he, Greenie and Gottlieb dispensed with the pleasantries, Phillips was emphatic that Sosa belonged in the Hall. I am less enthusiastic about Sosa’s candidacy than Phillips, though I would vote for Sosa if I had a ballot, as I commented last week. But, Phillips made several great points, including this one:

“He did go before the House subcommittee on government reform. And anybody can say that they want, ‘wel he had an interpreter there, he’s been on the stage for so long.’ If I were an American person playing in the Dominican Republic and went before their House committee on government reform, I don’t care how long I’d been there, I’d want an interpreter there as well, because it’s not about after a game, talking about a homerun you hit….but everything you say being parsed through. I’d want somewhere there to interpret. [And] he did answer the question that Mark McGwire didn’t answer.”

To piggyback on this observation, when I was writing the Sosa piece last week and looking into what he did and didn’t do at the hearing in 2005, I thought back to my time in Russia, where I lived for a year in the mid-1990s when I was doing research. Now, by the time I left, my Russian was pretty good. It wasn’t fluent, but it was fully conversational. I did dozens of interviews with government officials and human rights activists, most of which were in Russian. I lived with a woman who spoke no English, and we spoke all the time. I functioned fully, in other words, in the Russian language. And yet, during one especially stressful episode, when my passport and visa were stolen and I had to deal with the Russian bureaucracy over that mess, I made damn sure to bring a Russian friend with me to interpret because I knew, under the stress, that my language might escape me and I could not afford, in that circumstance, to speak the way I normally did let alone in the deteriorated state that the stress might have provoked. That Phillips could put himself into Sosa’s shoes about that hearing, and show a sensitivity to language issues that we Americans, on the whole, often fail to do, is a highly unusual display of empathy and awareness for sports radio. And, as Phillips noted, Sosa did, contrary to Gottlieb’s assertions, issue a direct denial that day.

Phillips also made an important point about the so-called steroid era: “I understand that, right now, the thing to do is to say that all the guys who hit homers, all those guys whose fastballs gained velocity, are all in the same group. But, within that group, there will be guys we’ll be wrong about.”

This is comment speaks to the basis on which we, and especially the Hall of Fame voters, are going to make their judgments.  As Gottlieb finally had to admit, when Phillips challenged  him in a subsequent exchange between the two, he had no evidence of Sosa’s use except that “it’s visual.” Sammy got bigger – therefore, he took steroids. Gottlieb did make one important point: this debate, over Hall of Fame voting, is not ultimately going to play out in a court of law, but in the court of public opinion, and in the court of public opinion, if relevant people (like voters) believe something  it might as well be true. But, it is, on some leve,l the height of arrogance to believe that you know how a person changed their bodies merely by looking at them. And, I presume, in the case of Gottlieb and Sosa, not even in person, but on television.

During Phillips’ exchange with Gottlieb (Greenberg sat mutely through the entire conversation), the former Mets’ GM asked Gottlieb  whether he would assume that a player who 39 homeruns one year and 61 the next was cheating. Almost before Philips could finish his sentence, Gottlieb said emphatically “yes.” And, demonstrating that baseball isn’t Gottlieb’s long suit, he didn’t realize that Phillips was, as he then informed Gottlieb, referring to Roger Maris, who hit 39 homers in 1960, 61 in 1961 and never hit more than 33 in a season after that. Phillips also noted that George Foster jumped from 29 to 52 in a season (from 1976 to 1977). Gottlieb did respond that Sosa got dramatically better for several seasons, but it would be an absurd standard of judgment to say that if a player improves dramatically in their late twenties and got bigger in the process,  that is all we need to go on,  to accuse someone of steroid use.

Phillips is not naive and he surely has his own suspicions about who was and who wasn’t using. We all do, however well we can or can’t substantiate those suspicions. But, on every key point Gottlieb made yesterday, he was either flat out wrong on the facts, or was using notably thin arguments. But, unusual for the medium, someone was actually there to call him on it, not with even more shrill hyperbole, but with a superior grasp of the facts and context of the situation.


18 Responses to “Steve Phillips Brings It”

  1. I started listening to sports radio pretty late in life, and after about a year I hopped off the wagon. I would end up getting so frustrated at the inanity of the hosts that I’d have to get up from my cube and take a walk outside. Not only is it not informative, it’s really not all that entertaining. Now if the TSF Radio Network ever got off the ground, I’d definitely tune in to that:)

  2. I agree, Diallo. All sports radio does now is make me mad due to such insane viewpoints along with bad manners. I’ve quit it too.

  3. Rasheedionics Says:

    Privet JWeiler,

    I’m from Russia and just curious what type of research you were doing there in mid 90’s.I left the country in 1989 and never been back since. I don’t think I missing much, especially considering that they revoked my citezenship upon my departure. Haters!

  4. D, I feel you bruh. I listened to talk radio for years before I became a writer. I used to call in heated for nothing because I didn’t understand the premise initially. My sister is known in Philly for using their own tactics against them. They bow down to her–which is a funny thing to listen to. The most popular Philly station has a reputation for spitting out uninformed callers and also the shook ones–even though as J states, it’s all about the loud embellishments. Last March, I was so pissed off listening to the station power slam Barry Bonds segment after segment that I wrote a piece called Conversation With Bobby Baseball.

    I called in the show over the course of a couple of weeks and interviewed one of the more popular shock jocks. I happened to see him the next day at a Sixers game and presented him with the piece. He was very cordial–I might add–and suprisingly disparate from his on air personality. He said he would read the piece and told me to call in the next day.

    You know I called but “Bobby Baseball” refused to discuss the piece on air–which disappointed me, but hey I made my point. I haven’t called in to the show for a while but every now and then I’ll call in to make a much needed point. He usually gives me enough time to do so. It’s crazy in Philly, they’ll let the callers go off on a laughable subject. Somebody has to check that shit because it gets so ridiculous. Most fans there get their sports information through talk radio. It’s all about entertainment and most just don’t get it.(For example, most of the callers in Philly wanted Shawn Bradley taken over Chris Webber. I still can’t believe they took Bradley number two.)

    This was also around the time that DWil’s boy Whitlock 😉 stood up to Lupica–which spawned the interviews I conducted with Jason and Scoop (the first one).

    Anyway, the fact that Greenberg kept his mouth shut during the exchange speaks mad volume. The players, coaches and front office folk–for the most part at least–have supported their own. Phillips obviously loves the game and doesn’t want to see it trashed on such a ridiculous platform. He could also be campaigning for another front office stint, I personally think he’s being genuine. I don’t agree with everything Phillips says, but he gets a high five from me this time.

    D, TSF talk radio is definitely something I would be interested in doing. We’ll see.

  5. Mizzo,

    It would be nice to have some balance on the airwaves. And by balance I mean intelligence:)

  6. DWil’s boy Whitlock

    LOLOLOL….Chitlin’s anyone?

  7. Greenberg’s silence means his perfect for his Dream Job – Commissioner of MLB.

  8. Nice column. Gottleib is an idiot, and a perfect example of the stable of know-nothings who’ve managed to find jobs at ESPN and other top sports media outlets.

    And like Diallo, I can’t deal with sports radio. Stupid people spewing stupidity at top volumes. No thanks.

    Keep up the great work, guys.

  9. Phillips is absolutely right. Its a shame the way the MSM has pushed the steroids issue on a few guys and their eyewitness testimoney. The biggest shame though? The fans eat stuff like this up.

    But these are the same people that reelected Bush in ’04 so what can you expect?

  10. No one reelected Bush in ’04 since he was never elected in ’00. Jes fa tha reckit.

  11. As I strike the deceased Equine again today.

    Doug Gottleib knows college basketball…he MIGHT even know PRO basketball, But wasnt he still BRICKING IT UP AT OSU in 1998 and 1999 when Sammy Sosa was allegedly juicing it?

    SURELY he was too busy going to college and playing a D-I sport to be an authoratative ANYTHING on any subject short of OSU co-eds and maybe the odd stolen credit card.

  12. Steve Phillips Brings It

    We have collected some news about ‘job’

  13. DP-
    You mean, after Gottleib was caught stealing at Notre Dame? Oh yeah, after that he was working on his master mason’s card at OSU (I can see, the “What’s in your wallet” commercial, starring Gottleib standing under “Touchdown Jesus”).

  14. I think one of the biggest things that gets swept aside by the “consider all of them or none of them” argument is that we’re blowing smoke until five years after these guys retire, when – because they’re going to be in groups of two-to-(maybe)-four – they’re all going to be scrutinized, and heavily. People are going to dig.

    Once Clemens, for instance, finally really retires, and his Hall candidacy is approaching, questions are going to be asked. The focus right now is on Bonds likely because he’s aiming at the long-cherished 755 (perhaps quite unfairly, though that’s a different argument). Clemens, while he’s won a lot of games, isn’t making a run at Nolan Ryan’s strikeout record or Cy Young’s 511 wins. And he’s genial enough to play the media game. So no hunt now – there’s a better villain available.

  15. Even before the record chase Bonds has been the best villian available.

  16. MT

    Quiet in everything going otherwise in the land of sports. Bonds is STILL the best hitter in the National League.

  17. That fact is nullified with every anti Bonds piece. Look at his walk total compared to the rest of the league. He’s still a ridiculous hitter.

    Without all the walks the record would have been shattered long ago.

    They have to put him on the All Star team right? The game is in SF. That would be a travesty of great proportions if somehow he’s left off in a record breaking year.

    I hope he does it before the game so he’ll get his proper respect.

    Doesn’t look like we’ll get Bonds to put it down for TSF. Trust…I tried hard and will do so until he gives us a shout.

  18. MT

    Dude is 2nd in slugging, 1st in OPS and OB and 8th in HR’s in the league while batting .306. To leave him off would be more than a travesty.

    Too bad about getting him here. Keep trying though, he’ll come around.

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