The Rob Parker vs. Bob Costas Faceoff

Posted in Baseball, Blogged Down, Sports Journalism, Sports Radio at 12:01 am by

Bob Costas (looking very youthful above) chatted with ESPN Radio’s Mike Greenberg and the Detroit News’ Rob Parker yesterday morning about the matter of Barry Bonds, with the diminutive NBC/HBO mouthpiece calling the Sultan Of Surly, “something of a tragic figure…one of the half dozen best all-around players in baseball history on his own natural merits,” adding, “and then he went the route that he went.”

Things turned a little contentious between Costas and Parker shortly afterwards, a exchange We Suck At Sports’ Hermano described as Parker being “verbally raped.” The Big Lead concurred, opining that Costas “clowned that imbecile Rob Parker”. The Starting Five’s jweiler, however, has an entirely different take on the debate.

Costas phoned in later in the morning, and expressed his feeling that the record had now been diminished, Parker again argued that the fact that baseball has enjoyed record attendance the past few years indicates that the fans don’t ultimately care about steroids. The implication – those who are down on Bonds (and the era in which he played) are making way too much out of PEDs and should, as he said earlier in the morning œget over it.

Costas strongly challenged the premise of Parker’s claim with the following history lesson:

“After World War II, baseball had a tremendous surge in attendance. Baseball was essentially segregated then. A few teams had a few Black players but no one in their right mind would say, ˜well, baseball remained popular so we don’t have to move with greater speed toward justice when it comes to integration of the game.™ I loved baseball in the fifties and sixties growing up; that doesn’t mean that Curt Flood and Marvin Miller weren’t on the side of justice and didn™t have principle on their side because something in the game needed to be corrected and I was able to separate those two things. Baseball was flawed and it was unjust and it needed to be reformed in terms of players rights, but at the same time I loved the game.”

Is Costas really saying that steroid use is the equivalent of the world historic injustice of racism, segregation, and Jim Crow enforced by violence and terror, and manifest in baseball’s color line and its too-slow dismantling? Steroid use and Jim Crow?! In the same breath?! Look, I know Costas would react with horror to such a proposition. But, that his sense of moral outrage about steroid use could so overwhelm his judgment that it did not occur to him – just once during his rant – to acknowledge the fundamental incongruity between use of steroids and baseball’s color line is, in my view, an indictment of the lack of moral compass of much the mainstream of sports journalism and its extraordinary self-absorption.

Compare Costas’ comments to Peter Gammons, who came on a short time later and when asked about Bonds had this to say:

“I don’t get terribly wrapped up in all the morals of this because I think it’s the era of whatever it takes, whether it’s a slandering a politician after he wins a couple of primaries¦or a retail chain wiping out every family business in the country. It’s part of sports, it’s part of life. Barry Bonds is the greatest homerun hitter of his era as Ruth was of his and as Aaron was of his.”

See, now that’s perspective. Costas should dial back some of his self-righteous outrage until he gets a little more of it.

17 responses to “The Rob Parker vs. Bob Costas Faceoff”

  1. Alex says:

    I think Costas is crazy to take sports so seriously.

  2. Bo says:

    Costas is one of the middle aged white guys who cannot take the fact that Bonds the Jerk is taking records.

    If Bonds were a nice guy this wouldnt be an issue.

    But all these writers HATE him.

  3. Thomas says:

    Gammons’ quote is awfully stupid for a supposedly bright man. But then again, I think Gammons has been phoning it in since the early nineties. I don’t have a problem with what Costas said, I think jweiler is trying way to hard to play the race card. I heard Costas’ comments live, and I don’t think Costas was “saying that steroid use is the equivalent of the world historic injustice of racism, segregation, and Jim Crow enforced by violence and terror, and manifest in baseball’s color line and its too-slow dismantling”. Costas was just saying that just because people are going to the games doesn’t mean Barry Bonds should get a pass. People don’t love baseball because Bonds cheated or despite of it, they simply love baseball.

  4. Ap says:

    So now even when segregation and Jim Crow come up its “playing the race card.” Good lord what has our world come to.

    Costas made a direct comparison, and did not qualify it whatsoever. Just like baseball fans don’t care about steroids, baseball fans after WWII didn’t care about the segregation…in fact most of them (because the majority of the country did) SUPPORTED the segregation.

  5. GC says:


    I’ve listened to the replay of the same interview, and have trouble understanding how jweiler is the one playing the race card when it was Costas that volunteered an opinion regarding baseball’s color line.

    Nor do I think jweiler is suggesting Bob has a cavalier ‘tude about genuine racism. But TSF’s guy has a point —- while Costas’ analogy is valid to a degree (just cuz something is popular doesn’t mean it isn’t broken), the notion that Bonds’ crimes against the sport are worthy of outrage commensurate with the scourge of Jim Crow (or the denial of players’ rights prior to Curt Flood) is where things have slightly haywire. jweiler suggests that Bob’s moral compass needs a trip to the repair shop, and on the basis of yesterday’s ESPN Radio speech, I’m not in disagreement.

    likewise, I don’t have a problem with Gammo’s take on this. In our society, we’re generally rewarded for achieving success by any means necessary. Unless and until Bonds’ critics express similar scorn for others who might’ve taken shortcuts, they’re being a tad selective in when to whip out the ethics card.

    Why is Barry Bonds a more publicly reviled figure than say, Bill Romanowski? I’m gonna guess it’s because the former’s individual achievements have received greater play —- they’re both considered dicks, but Barry’s the more successful of the two.

    Why, oh why couldn’t The Sultan Of Surly have clobbered HR no. 756 while wearing a yellow Live Strong wristband?

  6. JC says:

    What’s your issue with what Gammons said? He nailed it

  7. Don says:

    I listened to the interview and I don’t believe for one second that Costas is comparing the cultural effect of Jim Crow and Steroids to the players, but merely the fan’s reactions to it. In that case the comparison of fan reactions is totally valid. He’s talking about fan’s blase reactions. Can one not look at things with that level of specificity?

    One of my father’s pet sports theories revolved around which players lost their best years from 1942-1945 by fighting the Axis instead of playing baseball. Could Dom Dimaggio, the little professor, have equaled his older brother’s performance had he not joined the… coast guard I think. Please don’t get me started about PCL teams in the 1930s. If anyone thinks that the analysis of “who stayed pitching” and “who stayed hitting” in the league during that year diminishes the effects of the Holocaust, they just aren’t thinking. But fighting in WW2 was critically important to world history. Should we fault Bronco Nagurski for returning to the NFL in… 43?

    But don’t people also look at the damage that Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin did to their livers as substance abuse that seriously hurt the game? I remember that from my childhood. If only Mickey wasn’t drunk all the time, he could have easily taken Maris, etc. People who aren’t Yankees fans give Mantle a hard time for the liver destruction.

    Another thing which seems to be glossed over in this discussion was who attended segregated league games (I just don’t feel comfortable typing that out). My father never missed a chance to see some key players in postwar travels throughout the country, catching games with the Chicago Giants, Baltimore Giants, KC Monarchs, Buckeyes maybe, let alone exhibition games with aging classic players well into the Korean War era. You could see Satchel Paige play against traveling Cuban teams back then. He said the only people who would refuse to go see these games were serious racists. they were covered in the white newspapers and sports fans always went.

  8. Ben Schwartz says:

    I think Gammons nailed it. Costas will essentially always be a fan who likes trading Mickey Mantle stories with Billy Crystal more than a journalist.

    And if I may bash the Babe again … Ruth was also disliked in his day by lots of baseball cogniscenti. By making the home run the center of the game, he was dismissed as a crowd pleaser who essentially dumbed down the hit and run strategies of the era that preceded him. Now, despite Ruth’s own ethical problems, he’s regarded as a 20th Century genius — for basically reviving baseball as a commercial entertainment industry.


  9. WeWanttheFunk says:

    Thomas, GC,

    The demand for baseball is directly responsible for the steroids era. So long as Baseball continues to generate enough revenue to make the contracts worth what they are, Gammons has it nailed; they’re going to do whatever it takes.
    Anyone disgusted with the drug issues who still consumes baseball is a hypocrite. Costas, too.

  10. Ben Schwartz says:

    I believe, btw, it was Costas who said that pre-Jackie Robinson baseball should have an asterisk next to it as a segregated era. Why not apply the same logic to the steroid era?

  11. Alex says:

    So that would leave what – 35-40 years of un-asterisked baseball statistics at most? Might as well throw out all of the MLB records, or instead just assume that most sports fans as savvy enough to compare and distinguish different eras without punctuations attached.

  12. Don says:

    Sorry, no, accepting Gammons’s commentary without condemning the philosophy they choose to apologize for is wrong. The concept of “Whatever it takes” is not a concept worth defending because, like any pyramid scheme, “whatever it takes” quickly runs downhill and you have continuous rounds of WWE deaths. Like unnecessary labor strikes that killed off casual baseball and hockey fans, continuing this process will kill casual interest and no team can live off the core fans alone- sports as a business just doesn’t have that many non-fair weather friends as baseball and hockey can attest. Brushing this off by pointing out how many other people have been busted and kicked off the tour de france really doesn’t make sense.

    Did all of you throw up your hands when the hair metal bands brought alcoholism into every aspect of the rock world or did you, you know, not listen to that crap? When cocaine abuse created the Corporate Rock scene of the 1980s (think Mick Jagger’s solo career, Starship, Robert Palmer, etc) did you sign right up, saying that it was of the era? When in the late 1980s all sitcoms became the blandest Wings and Cheers and Blossom feel-good nothings, did you accept that nothing was better or did you seek out the Simpsons?

    That’s why Gammon’s dead wrong. He is defending the proliferation of pigeons because pigeons are common, rather than seek out toucans, who have totally awesome beaks.

  13. WeWanttheFunk says:


    Do you still watch baseball on TV? Go to games? I’ll bet you didn’t buy the Robert Palmer box set.

  14. GC says:


    I do not believe that Peter G. is personally a proponent of “whatever it takes”. His baseball writing over the years and his occasional flashes of social / cultural consciousness lead me to believe his voting record in the last several general elections compares favorable to that of the average sports blog reader. (and before anyone writes in, yes, I do know that Buffalo Tom fans can vote republican, too)

    Rather, I think (if he were slumming here) Gammons would argue that Barry is as much a product of a culture that buys in to “whatever it takes” much the way Ruth and Aaron were products of theirs. And again, it isn’t so much that Bonds deserves a free pass, it’s just that he’s become (for americans, anyway) the convenient target when talking about ethical lapses in sports. Not only are there other targets worth of examination (how many ballparks were built on the back of the modern longball era? Is Barry Bonds a bigger fraud than Peter Magowan?), but I don’t think Gammons is remiss in reminding us that a ruthless, unromanticized worldview is hardly confined to Barry’s giant leather recliner.

  15. Don says:

    I don’t think Gammons is remiss in reminding us that a ruthless, unromanticized worldview is hardly confined to Barry’s giant leather recliner.

    Fair enough. I can see myself coming down on the side of, “Didn’t you realize society would react like that and cause you trouble?” so I’ll buy your comments.

    At some point, though, every status quo when pushed to it’s limit, cracks and breaks. Whether it was Abba -> Sex Pistols, Corporate Rock -> Grunge, hit parade -> Bill Haley or political or social scenes or financial bubbles.

    Dock Ellis is perversely beloved and the Mets cocaine thing isn’t- basically because the acceptance of that burst.

    I see Barry Bonds (frankly I’m more annoyed with Mark McGwire than Bonds, but Barrence has the spotlight these days) as the high water mark of this situation and everything from this point on will be rethought or at least done with some guilt. It has to suck to be Bonds but he was the only person who could have solved the situation and everyone I know has their own plan of how he could have been either contrite or friendly in the press.

  16. GC says:

    I knew it would take 15 comments before someone brought up Abba.

  17. Don says:

    That’s known as Tesco’s Law.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *