By Bill Ordine
August 20, 2005
This week, Major League Baseball was flooded with inquiries from mainstream journalists seeking information about gossip, spread mostly on Internet blogs and message boards, that two prominent players failed steroids tests.
Pat Courtney, an MLB spokesman who fielded 50 to 60 calls from reporters about the rumor, insisted yesterday, "It is 100 percent not true."
"It started with one or two calls a week ago and then the wave hit the shore the last few days," Courtney added.
While it might be less surprising that such baseball gossip persists on blogs and message boards run by fans, still another rumor surfaced about two more high-profile players in a fan posting on the official Red Sox Web site, which is associated with MLB.
A week ago, the crescendo of fan chatter that a substantial number of players had failed steroid tests had reached such a deafening decibel level that baseball and players union officials issued a joint statement that "reports of large numbers of positive tests currently unreported are totally false."
The current swell of reports about players testing positive for steroids - with the results being kept secret - comes after the surprise disclosure earlier this month that Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for steroids in May.
The test results were not made public, though, until after Palmeiro lost an appeal and was slapped with a 10-day suspension Aug. 1.
Sreenath Sreenivasan, a professor of online journalism at Columbia University, said it is impossible to stop all unsubstantiated rumors from circulating on the Internet, but that an organization can blunt negative gossip by being more open.
"The institution actually creates the problem. Baseball is hiding stuff and [the rumors] are the result of that," Sreenivasan said.
"There is a need for more transparency," the journalism professor added. "Baseball could avoid some problems by not having the delay in announcing the test results. ... The more secrecy you have, the more it gives conspiracy theorists something to knock you with."
Sreenivasan, a baseball fan, said sports are particularly susceptible to Internet rumor-mongering.
"We saw it start with sports-talk radio, but even there, the host can shut you off," he said. "The Internet is like having millions of talk radio shows without any filters."
Sometimes, a sports organization doesn't have to look far to find unsubstantiated rumors. One appeared Thursday about two more star players on the Red Sox Web site, which is associated with MLB.com.
The rumor even mentioned by name someone who was supposed to be affiliated with the baseball organization as the source of the information. Courtney said he has not been able to find any evidence that the person named either works or is associated with MLB.
He said that baseball continues to look into the matter and that he would be discussing postings of that nature with personnel who run the Web site.
Bill Stetka, a spokesman for the Orioles, said he noticed the posting on the Red Sox site.
"There's just so much of it that the rumors take off from there and then people wonder why the real media hasn't written about it," Stetka said.
Sreenivasan said that if players' representatives went after every blogger or Internet poster who wrote something unflattering, or even defamatory, that's all they'd do. But in certain instances, when an institution faces a crisis, it can head off the spread of bad information by simply being more candid.
"The fans have felt very frustrated by what's happened," he said, "and you can't blame them for reaching for any information they can get."
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