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Steroids to Heaven

major league baseball, Steroids, baseball, Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants, performanc-enhancing drugs

I think it’s quite healthy to start off every morning with a quick prod of the brain; ask yourself a question, or simply begin to work your way out of a conundrum. After you have trained your brain to be sharp, even at startup, you will be able to tackle the larger issues of the day.

This morning I decided to tackle the issue of drug use in sports--namely Steroids in Major League Baseball. It wasn't simple happenstance that led me to such a thought process, not even close. I cannot turn my television to ESPN these days without drowning in a sea of speculation with regard to Steroid use by some of the game's greatest players.

Did Barry Bonds use Steroids? Probably, but there is no real proof of it. What about Jose Canseco? Undoubtedly the answer is yes, he said it himself. What about Sosa, Burnitz, Bret Boone and others? Here I will posit a resounding "perhaps." But, the name game at this point is superfluous; there are larger issues in play.

As I see it, the issue is two-fold: First, should a substance be banned from use in Major League Baseball simply on account of its adverse effects on the human body? Second, does Steroid use really damage the "integrity" of the game?

(Hopefully I am still resounding...)


The simple answer to both questions is no.

I am not all too sure how it is any of my business what a player does to his body to better swing a bat at a ball. If a player is so desperate for money or fame as to damage his body, often permanently, who am I to stand in his way? Why single out Steroids? Many studies have indicated that supplements like Creatine and HGH harm the body if used improperly—and even properly, at times. In addition to this, there is no shortage of doctors who contend that Steroids can be used safely, coupled with the proper oversight.

I have yet to hear anyone call for the outright ban of the aforementioned supplements that "enhance performance." Perhaps anabolic Steroids simply enhance performance to an unacceptable level. But, who can't accept it? The fans don't seem to mind watching the ball fly out of the yard. The fans aren’t bothered by rising earned run averages. As long as Barry Bonds keeps a steady flow of baseballs flying into McCovey's Cove we'll be just fine. It's the "clean" players, like Mike Greenwell, who are disenchanted with steroids in Major League Baseball. (Mike Greenwell finished second to Jose Canseco in the 1988 American League most valuable player voting.) To these players, the risk involved in Steroids is, apparently, greater than the reward. Far be it from me to question their heart, but they might just be a little low on the competitive juices. If we really wanted to make all competitive advantages illegal, we could start by limiting the number of Dominicans allowed on a Major League roster. (Or, the corollary, the insertion of a minimum number of Caucasians on every roster.)

I will attempt to answer the second question, starting with another question: What would Major League Baseball be without integrity? If there is one thing professional sports cannot succeed without it is integrity.

Well, steroids and integrity that is.

Let's be honest, America's game was reeling after the strikes of the mid-1990s and needed, for lack of a better phrase, a shot in the arm—or in the buttock, depending. This inoculation came during the summer of 1998 in the form of two Herculean superstars, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. This pair was just what the doctor ordered. Baseball, seemingly, gained back nearly everything it had lost from the strike shortened seasons of the past. The great home run chase captivated the entire globe. Balls were flying out of Wrigley Field and Busch Stadium at a record pace. In the end, America's hero and the new Babe Ruth, Mark McGwire, broke Roger Maris' longstanding record of 61 home runs in a season.

I didn't know what to thank first, the syringe, the liquid disinfectant or the adhesive tape.

If it is indeed true that better than half of Major League Baseball players have used steroids, one must only conclude that these two men did not abstain.

Ken Caminiti, the deceased San Diego Padre and former National League most valuable player, brought this controversy to the fore a few years back when he stated in Sports Illustrated that at least half of the League was using Steroids—still significantly less than Jose Canseco's estimate of 85 per cent. There is absolutely no way that Bud Selig, commissioner of Baseball, and players' union representatives like Donald Fehr can claim invincible ignorance with respect to Steroid use in Major League Baseball. They simply overlooked the use of performance enhancing drugs because it was making baseball better for the fans.

Also, at thsy time the use of Steroids was not even illegal—ethics and legality do not always mirror one another. Major League Baseball never acted against the use of Steroids by its players because its players were performing better than they ever had before, plain and simple. (Shortstops and second basemen were hitting .300 with 45 home runs, numbers that were unheard out of the middle infield.) In short, Major League Baseball got out of a rut and regained its license to print money. The health of Major League baseball as a for-profit enterprise trumped both the health of its players and the ubiquitous integrity of the game—whatever that means.

The integrity of any game is contingent, in my opinion, upon its overall fairness and nothing else—including the ethics of its players. Nowadays Major League ball players have equal access to all manner of performance enhancing drugs—no one is discriminated against. The integrity of the game cannot be achieved by removing substances or adding asterisks to record books. (*Just for the record, I think there should be a nice-sized one parked right next to Babe Ruth's name, a fat man who never even stared down an African-American on the mound.) The integrity of the game, its fairness, can and should only be measured by the unadulterated nature of its conclusions. Pitchers pitch and hitters put the same bats on the same balls, end of story. I think at the end of a long, hard, day very few people actually think Steroid use is bad for baseball. So far, it's been good; it's been very good.

So, as fans, if we can stomach oversized heads and short tempers we will continue to be awestruck by the long ball—and baseball will continue to succeed. We love our game and the players who swing for the fences, even if it kills them.
Published: 2006-04-11
Author: Jared Field

About the author or the publisher
I am a graduate student with a BA in Political Science. I am currently about halfway done with my MA degree in Social Science at the University of Michigan in Flint. In my free time, I operate a web-based basketball publication in my home state for which I have received press credentials.

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