White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko is a soft-spoken, thoughtful man. So much so, that when he makes a point as he did on Wednesday in the cramped quarters of the visitors clubhouse at Wrigley Field, you can almost miss it if you’re not paying close enough attention.
It was the kind of statement generally accompanied by a pointed finger or a raised voice. But when Konerko brought it up before the White Sox defeated the Cubs in the first game of their rain-shortened series, he did it in his typical quiet fashion. But his words packed quite a punch.
Konerko was asked if the New York Times’ report that Sammy Sosa tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug in 2003, suddenly makes players such as his former teammate Frank Thomas, look like a stronger Hall of Fame candidate.
Thomas, one of the top sluggers in the game, was dwarfed in comparison to the seasonal home run numbers later put up by Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds. But Thomas’ body never changed dramatically in proportion like the others, and his numbers elicited admiration but never suspicion.
One would have expected Konerko, who has also developed a reputation as a “clean” home run hitter during his career, to issue an impassioned statement in support of players like Thomas. Instead, he chose to address those who created and carried the message to him.
“Unfortunately, today it’s just not a story for me,” Konerko told reporters. “Some guy writes an article, the sources aren’t public. One of two things needs to happen for me. . . . Sources need to put their names behind it and put [their] faces out there and tell people who [they] are. Or Sammy admits to it . . . .
“That’s the only two ways this becomes a story. I know, obviously if you guys are standing here, it’s a story. But I just think it’s sad that it has come to the point that news comes out of reports of unnamed sources. It gives a bad name for you guys . . . It’s not very American.”
Clearly, Konerko, who rarely ducks a question, put some thought into his response and was genuinely disturbed with the way the steroid reports have leaked out through unnamed sources. We all should be disturbed on some level.
But he’s picking the wrong time for the wrong argument.
It isn’t just that a reputable news organization “broke” the story, though that’s a good place to start. Because there are so many disreputable outlets of information, it is understandable that everyone gets lumped in together. Also, the New York Times is certainly not infallible (they may never fully recover the credibility lost over the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal in 2003).
There was a time when newspapers almost never printed stories with unnamed sources unless it carried national security concerns like Watergate did when the Washington Post broke perhaps the story of the century. Certainly sportswriters were never allowed to cite unnamed sources, a practice used with regularity now for the most mundane stories.
But when a newspaper like the Times prints a report with unnamed sources, that does not mean that they do not know the source or that the source is not credible. In fact, the veracity of the source in all likelihood passed stricter standards because it was not identified.
If Konerko doesn’t know this, he probably should by now — if only because this is a story that a player of his stature should comment on, rather than come across as if he is defending Sosa.
By taking one of the most important Chicago “sports” stories in years and turning it into a debate on whether it passes the credible journalism test, Konerko, for all of his sincerity, is deflecting attention from the real issue.
And while he is surely allowed his opinion, this was simply a poor time and the wrong place to inject it. Read Melissa’s column on Crosstown Classic on ESPNChicago.com.