Deadspin: Dead Wrong?

Categories: News
Jennifer Silverberg
Albert Pujols
Eighty percent. That's the confidence level Will Leitch ascribed to an unnamed source who helped propel his sports blog, Deadspin.com, into the national spotlight this past summer.

In a June 8 entry, the 30-year-old Leitch reported that his source placed Mihlfeld's name in an affidavit that journeyman relief pitcher Jason Grimsley provided to federal investigators. That affidavit, a redacted copy of which had recently come to light on the Web site TheSmokingGun.com, allegedly included the names of pro ballplayers alleged to have taken anabolic steroids, human growth hormone (HGH) and amphetamines.

Wrote Leitch:

"How reliable are these names? We feel pretty confident in them, but we can't go 100 percent, since the information is secondhand. We'll say this: If Bud Selig issuing a press release naming the names is a 10, and picking a player at random out of the Baseball Encyclopedia is a 1, we're at an 8."

Leitch's blog entry that day asserted that Chris Mihlfeld, who'd been Pujols' personal trainer since 1999 and had helped Grimsley recover from surgery on his pitching arm, had been fingered by Grimsley as a "personal fitness trainer to several Major League Baseball players" who had referred the pitcher to a source who could provide amphetamines. Later that source allegedly provided the pitcher with steroids and HGH.

Chris Thomas
Chris Mihlfeld
Though Pujols' name was not alleged to have appeared in the affidavit, Leitch named the Cardinals slugger in the blog as a client and friend of Mihlfeld, and a photo of Pujols accompanied the post. Leitch, who lives in New York City but grew up rooting for the Cardinals in Mattoon, Illinois, concluded the post by saying he hoped his source was wrong:

"We are not claiming that Pujols has taken HGH. We are simply pointing out that Mihlfeld is reportedly mentioned in the affidavit, and that the he has connection to Grimsley and Pujols. Now, if you'll excuse us, we're going to go back to our silent screams of pain."

But the damage was already done. The national media ran with the story, with MSNBC's Keith Olbermann discussing Mihlfeld on his TV show and Web sites, including Sports Illustrated's, quoting Deadspin. Lengthy stories ran in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Kansas City Star.

Several weeks later, Riverfront Times ran a profile of Mihlfeld that included the fitness coach's vehement denials as well as those of Pujols, who stood up for his friend. (The story was written by Ben Paynter, a staff writer for our sister paper in Kansas City, the Pitch.)

This past Sunday the Los Angeles Times reported that the "personal fitness trainer" whose name Grimsley had dropped is Brian McNamee, a former trainer for the New York Yankees and the personal strength coach for Houston Astros pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. The Grimsley affidavit, according to the Times, also names Miguel Tejada of the Baltimore Orioles.

On Monday Leitch posted an apology on Deadspin. "As evidenced by the Los Angeles Times this weekend, our source was, sadly, wrong. And therefore, so were we: Mihlfeld appears not to be named in the document.... We apologize to Mihlfeld and deeply regret the error."

Reached by e-mail, Leitch declines to reveal the identity of his source but says he will no longer use the person for information. Leitch says he penned his apology not because of the L.A. Times story but because his source had admitted he or she was wrong.

"I really felt [the apology] was the most I could do," Leitch writes. "It was the first post of the day, prominently displayed. Obviously the word has gotten out."

Meanwhile, yesterday the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco issued a statement asserting that the Times report contained "significant inaccuracies":

"In view of the recent reports purporting to identify certain athletes whose names had been redacted from the government's search warrant filing in the Grimsley matter, and in the interest of justice, please be advised that these reports contain significant inaccuracies."

Mihlfeld declined a follow-up interview Monday with Ben Paynter. "I will make no further comments," Mihlfeld wrote to Paynter. "I want to thank you for your positive support." -Chad Garrison

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