My Confusion with the Steroid Era


In 1998, after a game in which he hit one of his 70 home runs, a reporter noticed a bottle of androstenedione in Mark McGwire’s locker and naturally asked about it.  The reporter caught the 5th degree for asking about a substance that was banned by numerous sporting agencies, but not MLB.

Today, 12 players were suspended 50 games, and Alex Rodriguez for 211, for their links to the Biogenesis lab in Miami.

While it’s unlikely that there will ever be a beginning and end of the steroid era in baseball, to me there’s something about these two events that strike me as similar to the Nazis marching into Poland and the Battle of Berlin.

(I realize it’s a horrible analogy…work with me here.)

I’m torn on the PED issue in sports.  In the 1960’s, if you tore your ACL, your career was pretty much over.  Today it costs you a hear, but your career goes on.  When Tommy John blew out his elbow, his surgeon game him a 1 in 100 chance of pitching again.  Now the surgery’s named after John (I feel like Frank Jobe got gypped there and it’s forgotten that John won 288 games) and kids in high school and college have the surgery done as preventative measures.  Hell, you can get laser eye surgery and have 20/20 vision in a week now.

Can someone explain to me how these aren’t “performance enhancing”?

I get it…drugs are bad.  But are they?  What are the downsides to HGH?  Joint swelling…joint pain…carpal tunnel syndrome…an increased risk of diabetes.  It may also be a risk factor for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which sounds a little shitty, but your survival rate is over 80%.  My question is this: if those are your potential side effects, and using this drug is the difference between being a career minor leaguer and making the big leagues and pretty much set for life, wouldn’t you at least consider taking it?

I think if you say no you’re lying.

I get that steroids are the scourge of professional sports world, but I imagine that most people who get on their high horse about steroids would quickly take a drug that would put them into their next echelon of their given occupation.  If you wouldn’t, you’re a better man than me.

So maybe I’m not torn.

I have no morals when it comes to sports (well, aside from college sports, but that’s a whole other discussion).  I’ve long said that if it meant the Tigers would win the World Series I’d root for a team with Hitler as their ace and Stalin as their cleanup hitter.  So considering the fact that one of the players suspended today was Jhonny Peralta, the All-Star shortstop for my beloved Tigers, one might take this post as excusing Peralta’s behavior.  I’m not.  Whether testing has been in place or not, steroids have been illegal in baseball since at least 1991, and Peralta was selfish and unfair to his teammates and fans.

But I find myself thinking back to 1998.  Baseball was still recovering from a strike that had wiped out the World Series for the first time since 1903.  Cal Ripken chased down Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak in 1995, but it was the home run chase of 1998 that saw the country cheering for Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa to break Roger Maris’s single season home run record.  When they both did so, and both soared past Maris’s 61 home runs (with 70 by McGwire and 66 by Sosa), it was chalked up to unqualified pitchers resulting from expansion (not unlike Maris’s own record chase in 1961).  McGwire hit 65 in 1999.  Sosa averaged 61 from 1998-2001.  Even after that breakout, after seeing McGwire’s physique explode and the banned substance in his locker, people were inclined to think the ball was juiced.  After all, home runs across the game were up.

It wasn’t until an angry, jealous black man broke McGwire’s record a scant 3 years later that the steroid talk really exploded.  Sure, McGwire looks like he’s twice the size of his rookie card, but look at the size of Barry Bonds’s head!  He must be juicing!  (He was, but so was pretty much everyone else.)  It brought us farcical Congressional hearings where Jose Canseco provided the most trustworthy testimony.  It brought us the Chicago White Sox (aka Frank Thomas) threatening to boycott investigative testing to trigger actual testing with (toothless) punishment.  It brought us the Mitchell Report, which found an employee of the Red Sox performing an investigation into steroids in baseball while – shockingly – going light on the Red Sox.  It brought us ridiculously expensive prosecutions of Barry Bonds and Rogers Clemens, neither of whom ever did a day in prison (nor should they have).  And it gave us the absurdity of the Yankees clearly orchestrating an extended suspension of Alex Rodriguez because they signed him  to an equally absurd contract.

It’s all been quite ridiculous.

Does that make it wrong?  Congress called for hearings under the guise of it being a public health crisis.  Apparently teens were watching their heroes take steroids, taking them themselves, and the side effects were causing suicides (never mind the fact that these kids were probably troubled in the first place.  Don’t get them help, blame the baseball players!).  Barry Bonds was convicted of perjury (you can debate the legitimacy of the prosecution all you want, but he was convicted).  There was a witch hunt against A-Rod because, well, A-Rod is a massive douchebag.  And let’s not kid ourselves.  Baseball is cleaner now than it’s ever been.

And to go further, it’s cleaner than every other sport?  The NFL voted in HGH testing during the last collective bargaining agreement in 2011.  The only problem is that they can’t agree on testing, which pretty much means that the entire league is on HGH.  And you’re not going to convince me that hockey and basketball, both significantly more physical games than baseball, have no issues with performance enhancing drugs.  Just because we haven’t heard about it doesn’t mean there’s not an issue.

The dirty little secret about performance enhancing drugs is that they work.  So does Tommy John surgery and knee reconstruction.  Only PED’s aren’t allowed.

And I find that very confusing.

One thought on “My Confusion with the Steroid Era

  1. Pingback: Using Steroids In Baseball | Brian Jay Harris's Blog

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