It was probably inevitable. When you're 37 and you're crushing the ball better than you did when you were 27 - when you're having a career year and leading all National League outfielders in all-star votes - people are going to notice. That's when the wondering and whispering starts.
But here's the problem: these days, wondering and whispering often mushrooms into something bigger and impossible to ignore. Everyone has a blog or a Twitter feed. Everyone pays attention to what everyone else is writing. Something that might have been overlooked two or three years ago is now passed around and fully dissected before you've rolled out of bed and had your first cup of coffee.
Yesterday's blog post du roar? Questioning whether Raul Ibanez is a product of PEDs.
Shortly after the sun was up, a site called Midwest Sports Fans (MSF) posted a piece titled "The Curious Case of Raul Ibanez: Steroid Speculation Perhaps Unfair, but Great Start in 2009 Raising Eyebrows."
There was a time when a small, regional site like MSF could write something like that and no one would notice. Not anymore. Not long after the Ibanez post went up, Hugging Harold Reynolds - a popular national blog - linked to it on its Twitter feed. And just like that, we were off. Less than an hour later, I had several e-mails in my inbox asking if I read the MSF story and whether I believe Ibanez is chemically enhanced.
From zero to heated debate in under 60 minutes. That's both impressive and distressing.
The MSF post, written by the previously undiscovered poet "JRod," noted that Ibanez has bashed the majority of his 19 homers at hitter-friendly parks like the new Yankee Stadium, Great American Ball Park in Cincy, and Citizens Bank Park. It also conceded that Ibanez has taken advantage of some really terrible pitchers - guys like Daniel Cabrera, Scott Olsen and Saul Rivera, all of whom have badly bloated ERAs.
Then JRod dismissed all the evidence of opportunism, pivoted like a second baseman turning a double play, and fired his conclusion into the mitts of conspiracy theorists and amateur drug testers everywhere: "Any aging hitter who puts up numbers this much better than his career averages is going to immediately generate suspicion that the numbers are not natural, that perhaps he is under the influence of some sort of performance enhancer. . . . Maybe the 37-year-old Ibanez trained differently this off-season with the pressure of joining the Phillies' great lineup and is in the best shape he's ever been in. And maybe that training included. . . . Well, you know where that one was going, but I'd prefer to leave it as unstated speculation."
Yeah, except when you put the words "under the influence" in close proximity to "performance enhancer," that's not really "unstated speculation." That's pretty much an updated version of the old "Hey, pal, have you stopped beating your wife yet?" trick.
I'm not a blog hater. I'm not an old-school newspaper guy who fears the Internet the way children fear what's under their bed. Far from it. And I'm no apologist for Major League Baseball or the players who chose a quick way to get better and forever tarnished their sport as a result.
MLB started the fire, but that doesn't mean we have to keep it going by tossing players and their Louisville sluggers into the flames. At a time when anybody's opinion can be quickly amplified and the weakest voices can suddenly make the loudest noise, I worry about fairness.
Ibanez hasn't tested positive, and he's denied taking PEDs on multiple occasions. Until there's proof to the contrary, shouldn't all of us - from the traditional mainstream media to bloggers - be judicious about calling people cheaters? It's easier to sling mud than ever before, which is why we need to be careful when taking aim.
MSF clearly disagrees: "Sorry Raul Ibanez and Major League Baseball, that's just the era that we are in."
Sad but true.
If you're interested in watching tonight's Phillies-Mets clash, the Bridge movie theater at 40th and Walnut will be showing the game on the big screen. Tickets are $12. . . . Cowboys Stadium opened over the weekend with a George Strait concert. Arlington police arrested 21 people. Who knew George Strait has that many fans?. . . . Didn't expect Mike Brown to beat Urijah Faber again and retain the WEC featherweight crown. Brown easily handled Faber and won a unanimous decision in Faber's hometown. Credit where it's due - Brown is the real deal. . . . The New York Daily News reported that NBC executives are less enamored with Tiki Barber than they used to be and that Barber won't be getting as much face time on the network's Football Night in America show when the NFL season rolls around. I bet football fans everywhere are broken up about that. . . . Anyone else hear ESPN baseball analyst Steve Phillips gushing about how good and strong Manny Ramirez looks? During Sunday's game with the Dodgers, ESPN showed Manny, at which point Phillips said "look at those arms." Gee, Steve, wonder how he got so swole. . . . Thanks to TheFightins.com for posting the audio of Phillies play-by-play man Tom McCarthy singing along to Twisted Sister at Dodger Stadium (tinyurl.com/tmtwisted). If you haven't heard it, give it a listen. It's pretty great. McCarthy obviously didn't know he was on air and started rocking out to "We're Not Gonna Take It." Page 2 is holding up a lighter in your honor, T-Mac.