Steroid debate (part 1)

If you have a voice in baseball
that anyone wants to hear, you’ve had something to say about steroids
in the last five years. Now that I have such a huge voice, and
throngs of loyal followers, it’s my time to take the stage and get in
on the publicity train. There’s a few ways to go about it, and in the
press and with players, we have all seen many of them. You can say
records should be erased. You can say players are cheaters and
frauds. You get your name on ESPN or get a book deal if you really
say something harsh and controversial. Now, I’m not going to say
records should be struck. I’m not going to say I personally feel
cheated by the players I look up to, both as role models and as the
guys higher up on the “corporate ladder,” and I’m not going to
say they are harming the integrity or image of the game. I’ll
refrain, not because I’m afraid to do so (although I am), but largely
because I haven’t fully made up my mind yet. I still have questions.

My opinion is just that, an
opinion like any other. I want to share it here because it is a
unique perspective in that it dichotomously comes from equal parts
player and fan, statistical junkie with a vested interest, undrafted
nobody, and “prospect” (the easy-miss variety). From this
perspective, I present you the thoughts and questions fueling the
debate currently going on in my head…

Do I like steroids?

No, not at all. I would go so far
as to say I hate them. When I dropped my arm-slot in 2005, I knew I
wanted to vie for a major league relief role. Realistically, each of
the 30 clubs has about four right-handed relief pitchers. For four
seasons now, I’ve been striving to be one of 120 players in the world
coming out of a Major League bullpen, and if any of those spots has
been occupied by steroid users, they have interfered with my dream.
My one-in-a-million shot may have gotten tilted even more against me.
I have overcome long odds so far and am still in the game, but I
still have a ways to go. I’m sure I have outlasted some PED users
already. I may unknowingly have to do so again to get my big break.
My success functions in the margin of the odds of at-bats and
pitches. My long-term career and livelihood depends on the odds of me
being one of the best 120 pitchers in the world on any given summer
night. As hard as I work to decrease the odds of batters being
successful against me, I’d hate for a competitor to be able to do
something as simple as take a pill or injection and decrease my odds
of pitching in the big leagues.

Why is everyone so against
steroids, though other ways of enhancing performance are admired?

Years ago, players got fined if
the organization discovered they lifted weights. It was presumed that
baseball was a sport for loose, limber players and that lifting
weights only made you tight and inflexible. The times have obviously
changed now; undoubtedly, getting stronger by lifting weights makes
you a better baseball player. But what if the weight lifters were
considered cheaters and performance enhancers? I’m sure some players
lifted weights while others weren’t allowed to. The playing field has
been skewed here, too — are the lifters not enhancing their
performance? “But it’s not a drug,” you may say, “there is a
difference.” Well, yes, but how much? There are many supplements
approved by Major League Baseball through a rigorous NSF
certification process. They are drugs, but have had some magic wand
passed over them making them legal and safe to use. Greenies were
rampant in clubhouses for years because they were deemed legal. As of
last year they have crossed the line into the “banned substance”
category. If the line between legal and illegal performance
enhancement is so defined and certain, how can an the same substance
reside on one side for years and wake up one day at the doorstep of
cheating, shame, and fraud?

Is a guy with the best diet in
the majors cheating? If he eats healthier than anyone else, he is
enhancing his performance through diet. But instead of being on the
cover of Sports
with a
title accusing him of cheating and tarnishing the game, he is likely
down the magazine aisle, in a fitness magazine lauding his
nutritional prowess.

My eating habits are incredibly
healthy. I try to combine the right types of foods at the right times
of the day, in an effort to get my body to produce the most lean
muscle while reducing fat and at the same time repair muscles that
have been broken down during physical exercise. I actively try to do
that through the chemical components of the food I eat. Am I
cheating? No. Am I trying to enhance my performance? Yes. Why are
proteins, amino acids, and L-glutamate legal and honorable methods of
enhancing performance, yet Primobolan and Andro (to name the ones
fresh on everyone’s mind) are dishonorable and cheating? Granted, the
latter method may work exceptionally better than mine, but are we
then condemning solely on the premise of efficacy?

The spitball was banned from the
game in the ’20s. Was this because it was so effective? You could say it was banned because it was altering
the playing field and giving one player an advantage over the other.
For me, functional training in the weight room, in addition to yoga
and Pilates, alter my body to give me an advantage over other players
in terms of my stability and balance. This allows me to throw strikes
from a crazy arm angle. Am I going to be banned because I’m
effective? If not, could I be forced to throw overhand to keep me
from altering the playing field?

If there are hundreds of
methods for improving your performance, why are a select few illegal?

If steroids did nothing to help your performance, would they be such a
big issue? Seriously, think about it…would they? You can say yes
because kids look up to big leaguers and it’s unhealthy for kids to
emulate steroid use. But do we hold press conferences and sell
magazines by revealing another player who chewed tobacco? Chewing
tobacco is a horrible example for kids and I wish this on no one, but
I assume there are numerous cases of cancer related to chewing
tobacco in America. Chewing tobacco is rampant in baseball, so you
can’t claim a purely moral reasoning. So what is it exactly that
makes steroids illegal? It’s a fine line — a line that,
ideologically, I struggle to distinctly define.

I strongly wish I could more
certainly justify my gut feeling telling me to condemn steroid use.
I have arguments to help in this justification. Steroids are
chemically engineered, they are a detriment to your health, and it’s
unfair to impose a choice between long-term health risks to “keep
up” or stay clean and perhaps get overlooked. They are valid
points, but I still have too many questions and the debate rolls on
up there in my 7 3/8” head (it’s been that size ever since I’ve worn a fitted hat, by the way).

Again, I’m not saying I like
steroids. I don’t like them. I don’t like the fact that people may
use them to get an advantage on me, or the idea that I’m trying to
break in to the majors at the end of the steroid era. Well, here’s
hoping we’re nearing the end…

(More to come soon, but it’s probably time you get back to work)


  1. juliasrants

    Chris – there needs to be a distinction between doing “natural things” – eating right and exercising – and putting drugs in your body in the hope of getting better. And as bad as steroids are, I have a further problem with the drug A-Rod has admitted to using. (Boli) That drug was not legal in the US and it was not legal in the Dominican Republic. The only way it could be bought was through illegal means and the only way it could be brought into the US was through illegal means. I am the mom of two teen-aged boys, I HAVE to stand up and loudly protest what A-Rod did and to protest anyone else who uses illegal drugs. If not, what sort of example am I setting for our boys? And I agree with you on the chewing tobacco – that is just plain nasty. Thank you for being so honest and offering us your opinion.



    Good article Chris. The real question is, over the course of a career, do steroids actually make someone better? I think there is evidence of the immediate effects of ‘roids. But the long term effect of steroids is largely unknown. Players could be cutting their careers as a whole, and thus their numbers, short of what they could do naturally by using steroids.

    Granted, you could also argue that, for monetary purposes, steroids would be the way to go in the above case, as one dominant season is really all anyone needs anymore to get the long term contract worth millions.

  3. redbirdchatter

    Excellent analysis. I have been rather quiet on this subject because I, too, am not sure how I feel about it. I am amazed how people can boil the whole complicated ethical/moral/legal/historical delimma into a single unqualified statement of “these players are bad”. I just do not think it is that simple. Thanks for tackling the tough question!

  4. Brian Legentil

    You?re right, it?s not as black and white as the media makes it out to be. Jim Kaat even said in reference to the original obliviousness to steroids: ?If I?m throwing 90-91 MPH and the guy next to me is throwing 95-96 and a trainer tells me ?hey, you can throw faster if you take some of this stuff, it?s not illegal? I?d be the first one on line to get some.? There are players that used it viciously in my opinion like Barry Bonds and some other players who just used them out of stupidity. You can?t charge them with the same crimes.
    Anyway, fine blog, I look forward to reading more, and most importantly good luck playing!

  5. iliveforthis

    Chris- I definitely respect your opinion and I appreciate you sharing it with us. However, I am in agreement with Julia. It seems most arguments you brought up, specifically for yourself, are more natural ways of doing things. I mean, Tim Lincecum can contort his body which is why he’s so effective, but it’s him being double jointed and flexible. Using something like steroids is the quick and dirty way of trying to bring yourself to the top, not the way that takes dedication. I mean, when you think about it, you would want the title of Home Run King because you knew you were the home run king, not because you knew that you and some substance got you there. If you want to be the best, it’s something you should achieve by your own means, not by cheating to get there.

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