Correcting the record

Alan Wiggins Here’s a graph in need of a correction:

Major league executives, whose teams were often torn apart by drug use, had the least power to act. Ballard Smith was president of the San Diego Padres when they advanced to the 1984 World Series. Two key players on the team, Alan Wiggins and Eric Show, developed addictions. They were let go and later died as a result of their drug abuse.

The cases of Alan Wiggins and Eric Show are completely different.

Wiggins had a drug problem that first became public in April 1995, when he failed to make the starting line up for a series against the Los Angeles Dodgers (assertion based on personal memory). In June of that year, he was traded to Baltimore. Within a year or two, he was out of baseball. He died at age 32, but not from drug abuse. Wiggins had contracted AIDS.

Eric Show, who was a friend, didn’t start using drugs until several years later. Show’s addiction started with a team doctor’s pain killer perscription when he was with the Oakland A’s. He didn’t start abusing illicit drugs until he was out of baseball (or so it was reported at the time of his death; I’ve been unable to find a confirming link).

So, Lee Jenkins has made a few mistakes here. First, he implies that Wiggins and Show developed addictions while they were on the team. Probably true for Wiggins, but not for Show. Second and third, he seems to be saying that both Wiggins and Show were released because of drug addiction. Wiggins was traded (not released, or “let go”) in 1995, but Show was with the Padres for another six seasons before going to Oakland for one season. Fourth, Wiggins died from complications related to AIDS, not drugs. In Show’s case, sadly, it was drugs. Show had been out of baseball for three seasons at the time of his death.

As I was writing this post, I noticed that this story originally appeared in the New York “Never Let the Facts Get in the Way of A Good Story” Times, so I shouldn’t be surprised that so much here is so wrong.
UPDATE: Here is the response from the NYT to this post.

Dear Mr. Owens:

Thank you for your email, which was forwarded to me by the public editor’s
office. I certainly don’t want to quibble over the circumstances of
anyone’s death or their use of drugs, and we don’t want to be wrong about
it either.

As I’m sure you understand, the paragraph that you pointed out truncates
history to get to the larger point of the story. But, despite the
inferences you drew, I don’t share your belief that the paragraph is

After double-checking record books and Internet sites, it seems to me that
it’s fair to say that both Wiggins and Show were “let go” in the sense that
Show was let go as a free agent (and then signed with the A’s for a
substantial pay cut) and Wiggins was traded for a minor-leaguer at a time
when he had one of the biggest contracts in baseball.

Wiggins did die from complications related to AIDS, but it was contracted
through the use of drug needles.

That leaves the question of when Show was caught in the grip of drug
addiction. Frankly, I’m not sure how to prove it one way or another and if
we can find evidence that we were in error, we would publish a correction.
But we can’t publish a correction without certainty that we were wrong and
I haven’t been able to find it.

I’ve attached a link below that gives the best synopsis I’ve seen of their

Best regards,
Tom Jolly
Sports editor
The New York Times

I think with the Times’ resources, resources I don’t have, they could access the archives of the Union-Tribune and maybe even the San Diego Reader to the coverage of Show’s death. Also, Show’s family could clarify the record. Finally, I don’t buy the concision argument. I know journalists do it. I know I used to do it. But it’s never an excuse. Even in concision, you have an obligation to be accurate. The Times may not want to face reality, but the paragraph as written creates a record that leaves a false impression. As somebody who considered Show a friend, I’m particularly offend at the implication that he had a drug problem earlier than has ever been reported before, especially since by the Times’ own admission, they can’t substantiate it. Note: I’ve chosen to leave out the links Tom sent along because they are both easy to find and really don’t add anything to the discussion — the information provided is just the same kind of concision the Times is justifying.