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On the Wings of a Nightengale

April 26, 2023

Hugh Atkins

After serving an 80-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, Fernando Tatis, Jr. rejoined the San Diego Padres last Thursday night.

There you have it. Simple enough. That’s the way all coverage of Tatis’ return to the major leagues should have begun. But that isn’t the way it happened.

The week leading up to Tatis’ return was filled with reports, Tweets, and posts from a wide range of sources telling us how Tatis was tattooing minor-league pitching. Hardly any of these reports bothered to mention why Tatis was playing in the minors in the first place. Most reports made it sound as if Tatis was merely on an injury rehab assignment.

The morning after Tatis’ return, Bob Nightengale of USA Today could not tamp down his excitement. The headline above his column read, “’At the Top of the World:’ Fernando Tatis Jr.’s return energizes Padres after 564 days away.” I know columnists do not write their headlines, but Nightengale waited until the 25th paragraph of his piece to mention that Tatis was away from the game for a good chunk of those 564 days because he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.


Even though Tatis was 0-5 with two strikeouts in his return, Nightengale somehow managed to give him credit for the Padres’ 7-5 win. According to Nightengale, “Still, it was hardly a coincidence the Padres’ offense finally woke up in their 7-5 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on the night of Tatis’ return.”

Tatis did his time, and now he is back, and I’m O.K. with that. But what I’ll never be O.K. with is how so many national writers and sports networks normalize the use of performance-enhancing drugs by glossing over, or failing to even mention, that certain players used them.

As I see it, Nightengale is one of the worst offenders. Every year during the Hall of Fame voting, he runs something about how great Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were, and yeah, they may have used steroids, but so what, they were still phenomenal players.

ESPN had Alex Rodriguez on Sunday Night Baseball, and it really got tiresome hearing his broadcast partners mentioning Rodriguez’s accomplishments without ever mentioning that he was suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs.

This year, ESPN bragged that their “’Rocket’ Fueled MLB Opening Night Broadcast” would feature “Seven-Time Cy Young Award-Winner Roger Clemens.” Of course, ESPN failed to mention that there is strong evidence that several of those Cy Young Awards were steroid-fueled.

“Artwork” by JHA

I suppose I should just let this go, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. I never will accept that Mark McGwire, and then Bonds, broke Roger Maris’ single-season home run record or that Bonds broke Henry Aaron’s all-time home run record.

Maybe players using performance-enhancing drugs should not be treated as pariahs, but stealing two of baseball’s most cherished records puts McGwire and Bonds in a different category. If someone were to break into the Louvre and steal the Mona Lisa, they would be treated differently than they would if they broke into my house and stole one of my drawings. That’s how I feel about McGwire and Bonds.

Bob Nightengale is a good sportswriter for a national publication, who obviously has a vast knowledge of the game of baseball. I, on the other hand, have a blog and write posts whenever I feel like it. But after reading Nightengale’s effusive coverage on the return of Fernando Tatis, Jr., it seems that I could give him a few pointers on how to begin a column about players coming back after having served a suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.

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