November 17, 2003
Baseball on steroids

I probably should have written about baseball's new steroid policy last week, but I punked out on it. Honestly, I see this as more of a PR thing than anything else. Thanks to the Ken Caminitis and Jose Cansecos of the world, we've become convinced that every other player in Major League Baseball is one pill away from turning green and attacking tanks. On that score, you can put me among the unsurprised that the total number of 'roid users was in the 5-7% range.

I suppose the current bit of roid rage is a natural outgrowth of the cocaine scandals of the 1980s. Again, it was a fairly small number of players involved, but the perception of the problem was that it was rampant and threatening the integrity of the game. But once the sportswriters and announcers started bleating about it, Something Had To Be Done in order to ensure that baseball did not appear to be condoning drug usage.

All sports leagues are well within their rights to test for whatever substances they want and to make it a condition of contest that using those substances will lead to penalties. I'm not surprised that most players are fine with this - if nothing else, it tends to confirm my belief that the perception of usage is much higher than the actual usage. I can't help but think that once you start to go down this road, you're going to get entangled in an ever more complex web of definitions, exceptions, borderline cases, and eventually lawsuits. What happens if a banned substance is later shown to be beneficial to players rehabbing from an injury, or players suffering from an unrelated problem, like asthma? Good luck writing rules for that which are fair and consistent.

I'm curious about one thing. Back in the day when media was less pervasive and sportswriters tended to keep players' secrets anyway, a lot of players abused alcohol, to the point where it affected their on-field performance. Read any of Mickey Mantle's biographies, such as Whitey and Mickey, for a feel of what I'm talking about - he once hit a pinch-homer while so hung over he could barely see. Would the game have been better served by a harsh anti-alcohol policy back then, one that involved random testing and suspensions for violations? It's not an exact analogy, since booze can't realistically be considered a performance enhancer, but the principle is simlar enough and both involve health risks. Would the threat of suspension have sobered up Mickey Mantle? Would he have found a way to skirt the rules and avoid detection? Would his superstar status have insulated him from sanction anyway? I don't know, but it's worth consideration.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 17, 2003 to Baseball | TrackBack

There is a difference between the alcohol abuse from the beginning of the major leagues until the 1960's, the "greenies" that were popularized in "Ball Four", the cocaine scandal of the 1980's and the current steroid issue. The players taking steriods are not necessarily getting high, but rather are looking for a competitive advantage.

You mention the days of Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle, however, if you look at the alcohol abuse (among other things) of Babe Ruth, you can see how the press protected the players. The only real scandal of the first half of the 20th century was the Black Sox of 1919 and gamblers such as Hal Chase being thrown out of the game.

Posted by: William Hughes on November 17, 2003 2:41 PM

The players taking steriods are not necessarily getting high, but rather are looking for a competitive advantage.

True, and I did note that the analogy is imperfect, but the rationale for taking stern action is the same: the belief that the game is being harmed.

It should also be noted that we used to have some incorrect beliefs about certain legal substances like alcohol (remember when people justified drunk driving by claiming that a few drinks "relaxed" them and thus improved their reflexes?) and even tobacco, which was once thought to be a performance enhancer. Who's to say that the common beliefs about THG and its relatives won't turn out to be equally wrong?

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on November 17, 2003 3:07 PM

You could well turn out to be right about THG and the other steroids that have been brought up. It took a long time for people to accept what science has shown about tobacco and alcohol, especially since Mickey Mantle endorsed Camel and Joe DiMaggio endorsed Chesterfield cigarettes.

Posted by: William Hughes on November 17, 2003 3:19 PM

"...the belief that the game is being harmed."

Ah, for the days of Bowie Kuhn. Fritz Peterson and Mike Kukich of the Yankees announced they were trading wives in a one-for-one swap (presumably no cash or players to-be-named) and Kuhn expressed dismay at such a thing because it wasn't good for baseball.

Posted by: Linkmeister on November 18, 2003 12:22 PM

Didn't they swap families, too? Talk about weird. Yet somehow, the game survived.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on November 18, 2003 1:27 PM

I'm not sure about the children and dogs; Roger Angell didn't mention that aspect of the deal. (Which isn't to say I wasn't aware of it at the time...grins).

Posted by: Linkmeister on November 18, 2003 2:52 PM

Why is PR needed for baseball?
Players using steroids… how does it affect the fan? ratings?other sports? old skool vs. new (babe ruth vs. bonds)? not fair
Baseball has the weakest drugs check… baseball has the biggest union… as of right now 5-7% of players are using steroids…penalties are weak....

Posted by: Mark Aragones on April 30, 2004 12:53 AM

I think if you have to use a steroid than you shouldnt be able to play baseball if caught useing them

Posted by: mike on November 9, 2004 11:51 AM

like it or not people use steroids. that dosent mean that there a bad person, it means that they made a bad choice.

Posted by: katelyn on November 15, 2004 12:07 PM

The bottom line is, players are going to find a way to use steroids or other performance enhancing supplements because guess what? They have MONEY, and lots of it. They might as well just back up the fences another hundred feet, and things will even out.

Posted by: Pistol Pete on January 27, 2005 1:17 PM

hey i really like to read what you guys have to say. plus im doing a reaserch paper on baseball and staroids and how it evolved. i just would like to say thanks becuase i got some good thoughs and ideas for my paper from reading your website.

Posted by: Cris Beutler on April 6, 2005 12:11 PM

It's a disgrace to the game, mike is right, if they think they have to use steroids then they shouldn't be in it at all. They need to have more random tests and suspend anyone who they catch using roids. the players who are using them are weak, if they can't perform without them they are weak end of story. America's pastime is a joke.

Posted by: Meaghan on April 10, 2005 8:52 PM


Posted by: NORK on May 3, 2005 9:45 AM

Steroids are deystroying what the game use to be. Or what it was thought to be. As you have all said the game has hit its bumps in the road. With the alcohol , cocaine and white sox scandal. But how do those relate to what game is changing to now. Did those incidents increase the muscle mass and strength of the player. Did drinking beer help a player smash a homerun. No , none of those improved the player performence. Thats why i believe steriods are more of a problem then those because the fact is its cheating. If they players cant play fair they shouldnt be allowed to play. Rules are there for a reason and stricter rules should be put in place. Some day I hope to play or atleast watch others play in a game when if they loose they will know that the players on the other side played fair. So that each one of them could respect each other and be able to play the game the it was meant to be played.

Posted by: Jarad on May 12, 2005 10:56 AM

steriods, there are so many issues on this topic how do we kno all of barrys homers are from his skils our from using steriods? if this soon does not come to a stop and they do not put the hamer down on this nothing will be ever true about baseball there will always be that thought of cheatin

Posted by: Darrell on May 16, 2005 5:17 PM

How can anyone say that using steroids is worse than taking greenies? Greenies are just as much of a performance enhancer as steroids, probably more so. Mantle with a hangover, half asleep in the batter's box, would benefit more from greenies than from steroids.

Posted by: Kevin Smith on September 14, 2006 10:27 PM