January 14, 2005
Baseball's new steroid policy

So Major League Baseball has implemented a new steroid policy which includes random testing and suspensions for violations. What reaction I've seen so far has been mixed - King Kaufman approves, while AP's Steve Wilstein disapproves (latter link via Eric McErlain). David Pinto has some more info.

Personally, I'm ambivalent. This is being done primarily for public relations purposes, and as far as that goes I think the policy will achieve its desired result. Until someone shows me a study which shows a link between steroid usage and improved performance on the diamond, though, I'll think it's nothing more than that.

Questions to ponder: Does a player who says the positive result he generated is false get an appeal? How will they differentiate between "cream" and "clear" and legitimate palliatives which contain steroids (as an example, I used to use an inhaler for asthma which was steroid-based)? If BALCO's products had been shown to have use as pain relievers, would we still demonize them? I'm just asking.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 14, 2005 to Baseball | TrackBack

The drug you use for asthma is a corticosteroid, and chemically very different from the anabolic steroids that athletes use to gain muscle mass.

Click here for the details on the drug you referenced.

Posted by: Eric on January 14, 2005 9:59 AM

Eric, thanks for the info. The point I'm trying to make is just that baseball will have to be very careful about how it defines "steroid" or "performance-enhancing drug" or whatever they're calling it, and that it's not clear (to me, anyway) that what we consider harmful today won't be shown to have beneficial properties tomorrow. The devil is in the details.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on January 14, 2005 10:21 AM

The drug you use for asthma is a corticosteroid, and chemically very different from the anabolic steroids that athletes use to gain muscle mass.

It's different, and "very" different in its effect on the body, but no steroid is "chemically" very different from any other, by definition. So I think the question of whether testing can differentiate between the two is still a valid one. I suspect it can, since steroid testing has been used by the NCAA and the Olympics for some time, but I can't say for certain.

A similar problem crops up with alcohol and drug testing. As the TV show "Mythbusters" recently demonstrated, eating poppy seed rolls can indeed cause false positives on drug tests for several hours. In another episode, they showed "you can't beat the breath test," but intriguingly, one of the urban-legend "cures" - mouthwash - caused an anomalously high reading (which makes sense, since most mouthwashes and breath sprays contain alcohol). So if you're under the limit, don't make the mistake of trying to "cover up" whatever alcohol you have consumed with mouthwash or breath spray - it might get you arrested instead!

In short, drug testing is far from perfect, so an appeals process is necessary to preserve fairness.

Posted by: Mathwiz on January 14, 2005 4:15 PM