Steroids in Baseball

Here’s a submission of mine that I am submitting to the MLB Fan Cave Application. Wrote it a few years ago, based on the Steroids issue in baseball back in 2007. Enjoy!

 

Steroids: How they have Hurt Baseball’s Image

Throughout the history of baseball in our country, expectations to succeed have increased throughout the years.  Years ago athletes relied on raw talent to succeed and exercising during the off-season was unheard of.  Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle, players who were notorious for going out at night and drinking, were very serious when it came down to playing baseball and eventually became two of the greatest ball players of all time.

So what persuaded baseball players to start conditioning and weight training?  It was the fact that stats were dramatically increasing each decade and that most players couldn’t keep up.  In the 1980s, players realized conditioning and weight training would help get them considerably improve. Conditioning and weight training could only make someone improve a significant amount, but doesn’t usually create a remarkable size increase. One year in spring training when Jose Canseco showed up at Spring Training a little bigger, people started question his “off-season training”.  What had he been doing in the off-season?  Around baseball Canseco wasn’t the only one who had been making a change in the off-season, many players around the league were starting to use performance enhancing drugs, a decision that will forever haunt baseball.

What makes baseball so interesting is that statistics can link several generations of players together.  Throughout the history of baseball, each generation has had its own specific distinctions.  Back in the 1920s, because baseball hadn’t de-segregated yet, players had never played against the colored players.  This was an unfair advantage in history.  Three of the most distinctive eras in baseball are the Dead Ball Era, the Live Ball Era, and the Steroid Era we live in today.  There also was the Dead Ball Era that lasted from the 1900s to the 1920s; this is the era when pitching dominated. Pitchers could do anything they wanted to do with the baseball to try to fool hitters. This is the era when the “spitball” was once legal in baseball. During the Live Ball Era (Beginning in the 1920s) offensive statistics rose dramatically and many people believed that this increase was due to the introduction of a “live” ball when production of baseball’s remained consistent.  A lot of people wonder if Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, or Mickey Mantle would have been so successful if they had to face Satchel Paige or if Cy Young would have won so many games if he had to face Josh Gibson, considered by many as the “Black Babe Ruth.”  Currently we live in the steroid era, where players have started to use steroids to aid their performance and recovery from injuries.  Steroids have forever changed the way baseball will be viewed and played.  Steroids enhance performance to a degree that we still can’t understand.  For Example, players such as Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa seemed to get better at the age when the majority of ball players start to decline due to age.

Ever since baseball’s last strike in 1994, baseball has struggled to return to the limelight and win the hearts of the American people. The players went on strike because of a labor dispute and money issue.  This ticked off the fans because all they cared about was seeing their favorite players go out and play everyday.  Attendance declined and people have lost trust and respect for a game that is considered by many to be our national pastime.  This was all a direct result of the strike. During the summer of 1998 two sluggers, by the names of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, brought baseball back into the limelight and tried to restore its image by blasting homeruns at an astronomical rate.  These two sluggers had come from two very different backgrounds but they both had one goal, and that was to break Roger Maris’s 37-year-old record of 61 home runs.  While many were astonished at what was happening, others were skeptical. Was all this success the result of honest hard work or had they gotten an edge from steroids or other performance enhancing drugs?  Early in his career Mark McGwire had been a slim guy who had a lot of power and potential, but he was always injury prone.  As the years went on and on, McGwire got bigger and bigger and in the years before he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1997, he was frequently on the disabled list. So how did someone who hadn’t had more than 500 at-bats in a season since 1990, go on to set a career high in every offensive category including homeruns, runs batted in, batting average, walks, slugging percentage, total bases, and strikeouts?  Was McGwire doing something to give him an extra edge? Or was he finally healthy and reaching his potential?

Steroids obviously enhance performance, but what really influences players to use them?  Most of the major players connected with steroids such as Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Sammy Sosa were all players who had reached the plateau in their career where they were expected to decline.  Before Mark McGwire had not played more than 130 games in a season in more that seven years and had a history for being injury prone.  In 1997, the Oakland A’s traded McGwire mid-season to the St. Louis Cardinals.  The A’s dealt McGwire because common history has shown that the majority of major league players decline in their mid-30s. Players who haven’t had a decline in numbers at this point were either ageless wonders or had the help of a third party, and in most cases it was steroids.  The major question that many fans were wondering was, “What had helped McGwire transform into baseball’s new Home Run King?”

For a period of time McGwire had attributed his success to a nutritional supplement called Androstenedione, also known by many as Andro. Andro is a natural hormone which is a direct precursor to testosterone.  Andro is a legal drug in the United States but is banned in many sports excluding baseball.  Now Andro is among the long list of performance enhancing drugs that is banned in baseball.  So what motivated McGwire to start to juice (take Andro)?  Many believe that he juiced to prolong is career because the injuries that he had suffered early in his career were starting to come back to haunt him. He would also be able to recover from any future injuries that may come up later in his career and help slow down the decline in numbers that was expected from a player his age.  This was the same problem for Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro.  All were players reaching that mid-30s plateau and quickly on the decline. And because steroids were popular and proved to help players play longer and better, they all took the bait.  The most famous user of performance enhancing drugs is probably Barry Bonds.  What drove him to start using was not the decline in numbers but jealousy.  Some of Bonds’ jealousy was racial; he believed that the no minority player would be able to break the homerun record because our society wouldn’t allow it. And the homerun king would be white, no matter what he did to get there, albeit he took steroids or not.

“’They’re just letting him do it because he’s a white boy,’ Bonds said of McGwire and his chase of Maris’s record.  The pursuit by Sosa, a Latin player from the Dominican Republic was entertaining but doomed, Bonds declared.  As a mater of policy ‘they’ll never let him win’” (Game of Shadows, Fainaru-Wada & Williams, Prologue)

 

Barry Bonds felt as if he was forced into an awkward situation.  He had already put Hall of Fame numbers to this point, but had a decision to make; he was 34 years old and was on the decline in his career.  Should he play out the rest of his contract and retire as one of the greatest players on his generation, or take steroids and prolong his career and have a chance at history.  His ego and jealously of McGwire eventually got the best of him and got Bonds into juicing.  Without Steroids, Barry Bonds was one of the greatest baseball players of the 1990s and was overlooked by many, despite racking up 3 Most Valuable Player awards and 8 Gold Gloves.  This realization came full circle after the trip to St. Louis during the weekend of May 22-24, 1998.  He was on his way to another MVP-type season, .303 batting average and 37 homeruns.  He made the All-Star team and was completely ignored because everyone had their focus on McGwire and Sosa’s assault of the homerun record.

“I had a helluva season last year, and nobody gave a crap. Nobody. As much as I’ve complained about McGwire and Canseco and all of the bull with steroids, I’m tired of fighting it. I turn 35 this year. I’ve this year. I’ve got three or four good seasons left, and I wanna get paid. I’m just gonna start using the hard-core stuff, and hopefully it wont hurt my body. Then I’ll get out of the game and be done with it.” – (Great Wasn’t Good Enough, ESPN the Magazine, March 27, 2006)

 

Barry Bonds was angry, and from this moment on he would begin the change from a great ballplayer to an extraordinary one.  He got back in touch with his childhood friend Greg Anderson who now was a personal trainer.  Within a year, they both had hooked up with Victor Conte, who many consider the brains of BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co.)  Victor Conte put Bonds on a regimen of The Cream, The Clear, and EPO, a series of steroids which would help enhance Bonds performance. This was only the beginning.  He would begin to use steroids aggressively and within 3 years, he had become a monster.

“Actually, with his massive, pumped-up musculature, his shaven head, his fierce game face, and the diamond earring dangling from his left ear, the Bonds of 2001 didn’t look like any baseball payer you had ever seen.  Bonds looked like a WWE wrestler, or a toy superhuman action figure, but not a ballplayer.” (Game of Shadows, Fainaru-Wada & Williams, Page 111)

 

The signs were clear of his steroid use: the loss of hair on his head, the back acne, and change in attitude.  During the 2001 season, Bonds went on to break Mark McGwire’s record of 70 homeruns, the same record he had envied 3 years earlier.  Now that he had the record, he could put his ego to rest for the time being.

“But there was a muted feel to baseball’s reaction to Bonds’s home run march, a sense of anticlimax.  It simply wasn’t as big a deal as it had been in 1998 when McGwire was breaking a 37 year-old record and saving the sport besides.”  (Game of Shadows, Fainaru-Wada & Williams, Page 111)

 

Devin Davis, a young baseball fan, believes “Bonds is a cheater and has destroyed baseball’s integrity.”  Mr. Davis hasn’t been a fan of baseball for long, but he believes that this type of scandal could turn a new fan away from baseball and make him distrust it.  He believes that baseball should adopt a similar drug policy to one that the National Football League has, one that suspends a player for one year for the third offense.  When asked whether or not he would use steroids if he was in the same position, Devin said that he wouldn’t because he knows of the health risks and would want to obtain success the honest and old fashioned way.  I asked Willie Senoran, a Giants fan, whether or not he believed that Bonds used steroids, and immediately he said yes.  He was confident enough to say that steroids contributed to his physical change over the last few years and that this changed Bonds’s career significantly.  He believes without steroids, Bonds’s would have been respected just as much, and still thinks his numbers would have put him in the Hall of Fame.

Recently, these steroid allegations have given the public a sour view of the ball players we have all grown up to love and envy.  On the other hand, these players have deserved the fate that they are all receiving.  They sacrificed the integrity of the game by deciding to cheat and use performance enhancing drugs.  The issues with steroids brought scandals upon us and eventually provoked the United States congress to step in and hold congressional hearings to uncover the truth.  This was one of baseball’s lowest points since the last player’s strike in 1994 because baseball was under the microscope and on the verge of a major scandal.  What made this image more disturbing was many popular players we grew up idolizing were at these hearings and were forced to testify about steroids and if they used them.

On March 7, 2005, professional baseball players linked with steroids were subpoenaed to court.  Frank Thomas and Curt Schilling, 2 players who had been subpoenaed to court, had never been accused of using steroids but had publicly spoke out about their views about steroids in baseball and the effect it would have on the game.  The Congressional hearing achieved nothing.  Out of the 7 players that were subpoenaed, there was never a straight answer about their involvement in steroids out of any of them. McGwire seemed to avoid every question that he was asked and eventually broke into tears when responding to questions.  What most people will remember about the hearings is how nothing was really accomplished.  Baseball still doesn’t have any names of players or doctors who were involved with steroids.  There is a new drug policy in place which, according to MLB.com, will penalize the player 50 games for a first positive test, 100 games for a second and a lifetime ban (with reinstatement possible after two years) for a third. The previous penalties are for violation of the drug policy was 10 days for a first offense, 30 days for a second, 60 days for a third and a one-year suspension for a fourth.  This steroid policy seems to be much stricter than the previous one and will make everyone realize that Major League Baseball is trying to put the steroid problems in the past and prevent them from happening again.

We have now endured most of the steroid era, and baseball’s image hasn’t seemed to change much.  For the most part, the sport still has most of its respect intact and its fan base is still spreading.  Fans of all ages still love baseball and still support it, despite the many steroid scandals.  Many players from the steroid era who have retired are starting to come out and reveal secrets of their career. One player in particular, Jose Canseco, has captured the headlines for his book Juiced, which is a detailed account of how players in the league including himself used steroids to get an extra edge.  It’s a realization of all baseball fans that steroids are taking over the sport, but it’s in the hands of baseball players to change this fate.

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