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Monday, May 11, 2009
The Selena Roberts book is about what you’d expectAfter a brief detour to deal with Manny-mania, I finally finished the Selena Roberts/A-Rod book over the weekend. I originally had thoughts of dissecting the sucker, but upon its completion I realized that, despite all of the hype (to which I helped contribute, I'll admit), writing a highly-detailed takedown would represent a massively disproportionate response to a book that is lighter than air and dumber than a bag of hammers.
The big bombshells -- allegations of pitch tipping and expanded steroid use by Rodriguez -- are essentially unsupported. The book cites 19 unnamed sources, but quotes and facts are attributed to these people hundreds of times, most heavily in these controversial areas. If Rodriguez had a "quid pro quo" with opposing middle infielders as Roberts charges, why doesn't Roberts or the anonymous sources name them? If Rodriguez "may have" used steroids in high school, why doesn't she get a quote from, say, Doug Mientkiewicz about it? After all, he was A-Rod's high school teammate and friend. (Oh, that's why. Query: did Roberts ask but simply not like the answer she got?).
In light of these basic journalistic oversights -- and many, many more -- one has no choice but to dismiss Roberts' reporting even if they were inclined to believe her in the first place, and stood willing to overlook the evidence countering these charges that has emerged in the past week. Baseball may go through the motions of investigating Rodriguez over this stuff, but that's only because P.R. demands that they respond somehow. There is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- in this book that could form the basis of even the most rudimentary of disciplinary charges against the guy.
But you know what's even crazier about these anonymous sources? The fact that many of the anonymous sources themselves don't even have the goods on Rodriguez. Rather, Roberts has to resort to innuendo and unearned supposition in order to even support the most anonymous and oblique steroid or pitch tipping claims. Lots of passages read like these:
In reading this book one might be tempted to call Roberts a muckraker, but I strongly caution against such a charge, because no respectable muckraker would use anonymous sources that were so weak and equivocal.
But for all of the anonymous source hoopla, I think the book's biggest failing is Roberts' hackneyed theme in which she argues, time and again, that A-Rod's manifest character problems are attributable to his father leaving home when he was a kid, which led to his subsequent search for strong male role models (coaches, steroids dealers, Boras, etc.). I'd say that whole line of the book reeks of sophomore psychology class, but most sophomores wouldn't beat the theme into the ground the way Roberts does. What's worse, there's nothing to back this up other than (1) the fact that, yes, Rodriguez's father left the family when Alex was a boy; and (2) page after page of Roberts giving voice to what she believes to be Rodriguez's thoughts at given points of his life. She doesn't even go into anonymous source land here. She simply says stuff like "Alex searched for meaning constantly as if the right catch-phrase from a self-help book could ground him in a normalcy he at once longed for and feared." Um, OK, except there's no one who supplies any facts to support a "search for normalcy" or any of the other emotional drama Roberts ascribes to him anywhere in the book. It's all half-wit, pop-psychology invention. As I've written numerous times in the past two weeks, Roberts has not earned the benefit of the doubt with her previous reporting, so she's certainly not entitled to the benefit the doubt with this purported clairvoyance either.
So, yeah, the layers of fail are numerous here, but maybe the best part is when Roberts criticizes Rodriguez with this tidbit:
“Friends say he fanned his breakup with his wife by giving his friends permission to plant disparaging items about Cynthia in the tabloids attributable to ‘sources close to A-Rod.’ “
That's right: Roberts actually criticizes Rodriguez for planting blind items. It was at that moment that I put the book down, realizing that I had a frickin' life to lead.
The best I can say about Roberts' book is that it suggests that Alex Rodriguez is an interesting enough character that someday someone will write a good book about the guy. This one certainly ain't it, though. Not by the longest of shots.
Posted by Craig Calcaterra at 1:39pm
Jason @ IIATMS said...
by “dissecting the sucker”, do you mean the book or the person who actually paid money FOR the book?
Posted 05/11 at 01:46 PM
Jersey Matt said...
That was most professional and surgical take-down I’ve ever seen.
You must be, like a lawyer or something.
Well done, Craig.
I’ll take this book off my “to-read” list now.
Posted 05/11 at 01:51 PM
“dumber than a bag of hammers”: from the “Author Bio” on the back flap?
Posted 05/11 at 02:18 PM
Slugger O'Toole said...
Roberts can actually back up the “search for normalcy” bit. She has anonymous sources that saw A-Rod carrying self-help books in the locker room, but no one can confirm that he read them.
Posted 05/11 at 02:34 PM
I actually had the book on pre-order from amazon and in my usual ham-handed way it ended up on the “buy later” thank God.
Posted 05/11 at 02:35 PM
Wooden U. Lykteneau said...
FYI: “Muckraker” is actually a positive term, at least to real (read: newspaper-trained) Journalists. It refers to the likes of Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, and Upton Sinclair and the work they did to expose civic corruption, Standard Oil, and the meatpacking industry. Ironically, the term was coined by Theodore Roosevelt, who went on to address these things as part of the Progressive Movement in the early 20th century.
Posted 05/11 at 02:55 PM
Craig Calcaterra said...
Hmm, thanks Wooden. I’ll admit I’ve always had trouble with that word, sometimes thinking it was a derogatory, sometimes thinking that it was one ironically “owned” by reporters kind of like I do with “shyster.” I probably should have gone with another word.
Posted 05/11 at 02:58 PM
same old said...
of course, it was thanks to her that ARod’s steroid use first came to light. but somehow this fact keeps getting in the way of attacks on her journalistic integrity.
Posted 05/11 at 02:58 PM
Craig Calcaterra said...
Same Old: how does being right about that make any of the many, many shortcomings in her other work any better? She got that story right. This book sucks. Those are not incompatible concepts.
Posted 05/11 at 03:03 PM
Mark S. said...
Same Old: That is true, but you have to wonder why she outed only one name, out of 104 on the list she so clearly had access to. Strange that.
Posted 05/11 at 03:03 PM
She should stick to fiction.
Posted 05/11 at 03:04 PM
bill m said...
the Duke lacrosse players would have liked to have her lack of reporting skills and acumen brought to light when she screwed with their lives.
Posted 05/11 at 04:25 PM
Roberts has done the impossible. made a-rod human and a sympathetic figure. congrats selena! maybe now u can apologize to the duke kids
Posted 05/11 at 05:35 PM
Very good article and a sane and honest look at the contents. Sports “journalism” is so filled with self-righteous hysteria, negativity, and salacious gossip (that’s what the customers want, though) that, for a time, I was worried that the crap reporting was going to be accepted as gospel by the lemming mainstream media and as hate-fodder by the moron fans.
Mercifully, I think that articles like this and a number of others (including Murray Chass and Jason Whitlock) have made honesty conquer idiocy. If only for one time.
Posted 05/11 at 05:47 PM
Sara K said...
Thanks for taking one for the team, Craig!!
Posted 05/11 at 06:23 PM
Selena Roberts seems to have stolen the Underpants Gnomes strategy:
1. Collect one fact.
And we still can’t be sure what the hell she actually did in Step 2.
My advice to all of you: go buy a book this week. Not Selena Roberts’ book, but SOMETHING. Support good journalism and writing.
Posted 05/11 at 08:06 PM
Matt A. said...
It seems to me the only reason ARod’s steroid use came to light is because somebody leaked sealed evidence.
Posted 05/11 at 08:33 PM
Greg Spira said...
For all his negativity, Jeff Pearlman does try to understand the players he writes about in books such as his recent biography of Clemens. Roberts, on the other hand, doesn’t bother going beyond the established ARod psychological profile bs already embraced by the media. I didn’t buy the book; I only read parts in the bookstore, but I doubt the book has any redeemable value whatsoever
Posted 05/12 at 02:39 AM
A good critique of an apparently bad book. How does such a poorly researched book get published?
Posted 05/12 at 05:43 AM
Dan Szymborski said...
I had the opportunity to skim this. I think someone could write a better sourced book about Spiderman being a real person.
Posted 05/12 at 10:09 AM