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Steroids in Baseball

The Great American Pastime, for many there’s nothing quite like it and due to steroids in baseball, again there’s nothing quite like it. Major League Baseball (MLB) is the longest standing historic sport in the United States with a foundation stretching back to 1850’s New York. It is considered by many to be almost the holy entity of sports with legends built of true immortal stature. Even Hollywood has taken notice; think about it, there are hundreds of sports related movies but of all the blockbusters you’d be able to name there are far more baseball related than anything else.

Jose Canseco:

With the revelation brought forth informing the public there are anabolic steroids in baseball and it’s not a small amount has proven to be problematic within the sports reputation and perception. Although it has become apparent, steroids in baseball have existed far longer than most imagined, it was the book “Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big” that gave the snowball from hell its own steroid injection, perhaps more than anything else. When Canseco’s book hit the shelves, steroid use was already in question but after the fact there was no denying, steroids in baseball were a very real thing and had been for a long, long time.  

The Chase:

Canseco named not only himself as an anabolic steroid user but brought to light accusations he claimed to be an outright fact that many others had partaken as well and he named names, boy did he name names. Congress had already taken notice of the potential steroids in baseball “problem” before Canseco’s book; the chase for Roger Maris’ single season homerun record was being eyed by many and the fact so many had a chance raised an immeasurable amount of suspicion. In 1998 Mark McGwire crushed Maris’ previous record and immediately the red flag went up. Roger Maris had held the record of 61 homeruns for 37 years since 1961; McGwire would top it with 70 in 1998 only to be outdone by Barry Bonds with 73 a mere three years later. Bonds would further go on to break the career total homerun record previously held by Hank Aaron as well as become one of the leading poster-boys on the issue of steroids in baseball.

Congressional Hearings:

In 2005 the U.S. Congress had finally had enough and stepped into action; for better or worse, be it a good or bad thing, the 2005 congress felt it imperative to “have a say” and a host of former and current MLB players were called to the stand to discuss and testify regarding steroids in baseball. Never before in U.S. history has such a hearing existed and it would prove to be as expected, nothing short of a circus within a circus. Among the players to testify included most notably, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and Curt Schilling; all four would for lack of a better word “play dumb.” Palmeiro would go as far as to address congress with perhaps his most notable quote of his career, "I have never used steroids. Period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never." But unfortunately for MLB Palmeiro’s words fell on deaf ears and rightfully so; if Palmeiro is telling the truth that’s fine but the use of steroids in baseball, the light was shining bright; or dark depending on how you look at it.

With the 2005 Congressional hearing, questions were raised and a new dilemma was raised within sports journalism particularly. What about the records? This was the cry of many who cover the American Pastime; the emphatic cry echoed from coast to coast; the game had been tarnished, the records weren’t real and as far as congress and the media were concerned, baseball needed to clean up its act and Commissioner Bud Selig agreed, although it’s not like he had a choice.

The Mitchell Report:

In 2006 U.S. Congressman George J. Mitchell of Maine was appointed to the task of finding the truth and determining how deep the rabbit hole truly was. The 409 page report was released in December of 2007, covering such issues as the history of use regarding steroids in baseball; discussing the effectiveness of the MLB’s drug enforcement policy. Further, the Mitchell report went as far as to provide recommendations on how best the MLB should handle past offenders, as well as those who fall prey in the future. George Mitchell’s report would further go to name 89 MLB players who are suspected of anabolic steroid use; not proven but suspected.

Although the Mitchell Report provided numerous conclusions and recommendations, the brunt of the report can be broken down into four main themes:
  1. Performance Enhancing Drugs carry with them serious health risk for those taking them
  2. Those who use Performance Enhancing drugs influence others in order to remain competitive
  3. The use of Performance Enhancing Drugs alters a players ability/talent in-turn corrupting statistics
  4. Performance Enhancing Drug use by professional athletes influences and encourages children to emulate the athlete(s) as they are often role models for impressionable minds
You can make strong arguments disputing the above four conclusions but the Mitchell Report for all intense purposes was viewed as gospel truth; after all, it served the purpose congress intended it to. One could easily make a strong argument against conclusion number three; as we understand; baseball is more about the speed of one’s reflexes as well as hand-to-eye coordination. Anabolic steroids do not improve either of these; no amount of performance enhancing drugs will improve coordination. No matter how muscular you become, the ability to hit the long ball will not be there unless your reflexes fall in line. No one can deny, one’s power will greatly improve the ability, in this steroids can aid but as we’ve seen over the years, hitting the long ball has less to do with power, far less and more to do with the after mentioned abilities.

As it pertains to steroids in baseball and Mitchell’s conclusions number four may be the weakest point of all. It is universally accepted, children have no business using anabolic steroids but is this a serious problem, are that many children using anabolic steroids? Further, do children view these men and elevate them to the status implied by Mitchell? If so and we’re not saying they do, are there not many other things many baseball players do that might be more damaging to an impressionable adolescent? Tobacco use comes to mind; many MLB players still chew tobacco for all to see on national TV, a drug proven to be far more dangerous than anabolic steroids yet is allowed. However, tobacco use, although known to take many lives is considered a personal choice protected by the advent of personal liberty; could you not make the same argument for performance enhancing drugs? In the end, Mitchell’s report largely revolved around fairness and it’s true, performance enhancing drugs will give one an advantage over another not using them and if the rules of the MLB state they are banned, a player should not use them; same as with a corked bat but this doesn’t seem to be the manner in-which Mitchell developed his report but it was enough to provide a wallop of a blow to the MLB.

BALCO:

Beyond the Mitchell Report, beyond the 2005 congressional hearings and Canseco’s book there was another event of equal importance that shown a dark light on steroids in baseball; you’re quite familiar with it, at least to a degree. We are of course talking about BALCO. The “BALCO Affair” first came to light when journalists Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada investigated the West-Coast operation and determined the owner Victor Conte had provided an undetectable performance enhancing drug known as “The Clear”, first developed by chemist Patrick Arnold, as well as human growth hormone to many high-profile athletes including MLB players Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Benito Santiago, Jeremy Giambi, Bobby Estalella and Armando Rios. Following the leads of Williams and Fainaru, BALCO would soon find itself under investigation in 2003 by the U.S. Attorney District Court.

Although the BALCO scandal would not prove to be as damaging to MLB on the whole as the Mitchell report was, it did have a far more reaching negative effect on several players, most notably the reigning homerun king Barry Bonds. Bonds became the star suspect in the case, he was eventually charged with perjury and although the outcome is still unknown it has forever tarnished his name as well as the single-season and career homerun records. Of all the scandals revolving around steroids in baseball it is perhaps that of Bonds that has been the most dramatic and far reaching. Supporters of Bonds have stayed fast by his side, however it appears he is still riding the never ending ride and at great distress. "Can you get my son [on camera) too, just not on me? So you guys can show the pain you're causing my whole family." Barry Bonds - MLB.com, Mar. 23, 2004

The Bottom Line:

One has to wonder if the steroid era of baseball as it’s known is truly accurate. Anabolic steroids have been around a long time; their history stretches further than the time frame allowed for the “Steroid Era.” It’s hard to imagine many ball players weren’t using the same drugs long before Canseco’s book broke, before BALCO or the any of the other events transpired. One must also question, is it cheating if everyone is doing it, well is it? Granted, if the rules say it’s cheating, it’s cheating, just as if the rules so no drinking water during a game; although most would agree that’s ridiculous, if it’s in the rules so be it but questioning the legitimacy of the rule, questioning the legitimacy of the witch hunt that has gone on and on; these are good questions and make for a healthy debate. Even so, we must be slow to rush to judgment; steroids in baseball are real and have been for a long time and the sooner people understand this, the sooner we can play ball.



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