Steroids in Baseball

Yet again we have two of baseball’s big names being dragged through the muck of innuendo. This week Jose Reyes and Alex Rodriguez are both to be “questioned” in a HGH investigation being run by the FBI. Personally, I do not care in the slightest, nor do I care about the issue of steroids in baseball, and neither should you.

Let us quickly dispense with the main arguments driving the so-called Performance Enhancing Drug (“PED”) issue:

They harm players’ health. Let’s even assume that steroids shorten a player’s life (which is by no means true, in fact there is no proof of this, Lyle Alzado and his medical education notwithstanding). “Abuse” of steroids is far different than the mere usage. It is not for me to say that this is not a worthy trade off; playing major league ball and gaining economically is a choice that many people might make.

That said, there is simply no proof of this. At all. There has never been proof that using steroids shortens a player’s life, and there never will be. Does “usage” harm their health? Damned if I know, or anyone else for that matter. But driving cars harms your health. Most foods harm your health. Working in a city harms your health. Yet, somehow, we do not find it necessary to ban these things. If you think that steroids are more harmful than driving, then you need to think about risk and reward.

You want to point to so-called scientific studies? Fine, but consider the following. These studies use a 95% confidence interval, which means that the results are only 5% likely to be caused by random variations (this is not the same as saying that it is 95% likely to be true, as most people think). If you do one hundred studies, at least five are likely to be wrong just based on randomness.

This is why we always get contradicting information from the media on things like whether Vitamin C helps colds, whether coffee causes cancer etc. There are hundreds of studies on these topics, and even if they are done perfectly 5% will be wrong. But since these 5% rebut the conventional wisdom and prior findings, they are trumpeted as “proof” when in fact that are anomalies with no probative value.

PED’s are different than greenies. Why? There is no reason we should treat Hank Aaron and Willie Mays differently than Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens. Well, aside from the fact that the baseball media tells you that they are different.

The hypocrisy of older players is stunning. It was fine, in their minds, to take greenies by the handful; but let someone provide them with a soapbox on the steroid issue and they may never get down from it. The media creates the story. Then they continue to publish it and raise it as an issue as if there was a vast uprising among the people. Hogwash; we all know that no one even thought of steroids until the media made it an issue.

What about the children? The appeal to “the children” is laughable in my opinion. Yet again the public chooses to prop up a boogeyman rather than confront its own failures, abdicating one’s own responsibilities for the easy out of a straw man. On virtually any political issue “the children” are trotted out as a trump card to play that ends the discussion. Again, trying steroids once or twice is far different than “abuse” and should be recognized as such. But we, in this sad country, want to blame everyone but ourselves for everything that befalls society. McDonalds is to blame for obesity, not parents. Cars are to blame for accidents, not bad drivers. Guns kill people and not morons who do not know how to handle them. Please spare me the hypocrisy and hand-wringing.

Baseball records are not sacrosanct. The day that someone took the first greenie the records were no longer special. PED’s are PED’s no matter how slippery you want to make the slope. Players today have all sorts of advantages, medical and otherwise that have radically changed the game on the playing field. The effect of PED’s is not nearly as large as the effect of not playing against minority players; and that was a deliberate decision on the part of the sport. Let’s negate any pre-Jackie Robinson records first and then we can talk about the ridiculousness of the PED’s issue.

The entire issue is an easy straw man for the easily misled. We can talk about PED’s only with blinders; ignorant of the relatively small effect they have had on the game as compared to racism and oblivious to the fact that players of old used PED’s also. Show me that Hank Aaron would not have taken HGH were it available and then we can talk.

4 comments for “Steroids in Baseball

  1. John
    March 3, 2010 at 7:46 am

    I totally agree and I have been saying this for a long time now. What about Tommy John surgery? I mean, while it takes time, most guys come back stronger and throwing harder than before. Is that not performance enhancing? And off-season workout regimens? When players started getting paid so much that they didn’t need off season jobs, that enhanced their performance.
    And, baseball has always been a sport where people try to get an edge. Spitballs, pine tar, stealing signs, corked bats, maple bats, hiding balls in the ivy at Wrigley. Seriously, the sport was built on cheating. Who cares?

  2. Scott Gilroy
    March 3, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Can’t disagree on any of the points made. It seems many baseball fans have reached their limit on PED stories. While it appears the chemists will always be a step ahead of the testers, i hope the movement for stricter testing continues and reaches something close to Olympic style testing (But i am not holding my breath). The ability to play Major League Baseball is a privilege and not a right. The search for an edge will always continue but the goal should be a level playing field. Even if it is partly an illusion, it would be better for the game to eliminate the cynicism.

  3. March 3, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    A little Devil’s advocate:

    1) “They harm players’ health.” This one swings both ways. No one really understands a lot of the long-term ramifications of many PEDs. We do know that the track record isn’t good and that untested, designer steroids may have short term benefits but long term negatives. We just don’t know, and there’s the inherent and very real risk.

    (It should be noted that I really am starting to exclude HGH from this conversation. It really wouldn’t be surprising to see MLB legalize HGH once its better understood.)

    2) “What about the children?” I largely loathe any argument that attempts to moderate behavior based on the potential ramifications to the hypothetical “children.” However, I’ve always felt that this argument is the one that carries the most weight when it comes to PEDs.

    As I mentioned, we just do not know enough the long-term effects of PEDs on the human body. But we do know that the improper use and abuse of PEDs can do serious damage. If a high school or college player sees the pros doing PEDs and succeeding, they’ll presume the PEDs can only help. Those players, the vast majority of which will never receive a paycheck to play baseball, are happy to risk their health and well being to try anything that provides an edge. And if the players don’t, overeager coaches who run their ships unchecked by appropriate medical advice do. I would. So would most.

    And they don’t have the cash or resources to acquire the designer PEDs or HGH from the doctors/dealers of the pros. They’re trying the cheaper stuff, and they’re putting into body systems that are still developing during the latter stages of puberty. That’s RIDICULOUSLY dangerous.

  4. March 4, 2010 at 7:41 am

    I pretty much agree with Patrick’s article except for one point. I do think people cared about this before the media jumped on the bandwagon. I remember fans chanting “Ster-oids!” at Jose Canseco back in the late 1980s and they weren’t doing it in an admiring fashion.

    As to Matthew’s post, I think we have more information about PEDs than he does. PEDs were in pro football at least back to the San Diego Chargers and the early 1960s. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were around the NFL before then, but I have no proof of that.

    And the 20th Century of the Olympics is basically one of chemical cheating. I remember watching the Olympics during the 72 and 76 Games and hating the Eastern bloc countries because they were cheating. It was only later that I found out that they were just better at cheating than we were and that we had been doing it at least since WW II.

    As for the kids – there is a definite danger here for the reasons that Matthew laid out. It would be nice to see both parents and coaches take more of an educational role here to prevent abuse.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: