Here We Go Again
February 9, 2009


I have to admit that I was taken a little by surprise when it was revealed that Alex Rodriguez had tested positive for steroids.  I guess I was a little willfully naive after having interviewed him that he would ever use performance enhancing drugs, especially in light of the fact that scouts had praised his ability in high school as being singular... as in this guy was going to be awesome.  But the fact that anyone tests positive for steroids shouldn't come as a surprise any more.  Players of all shapes and sizes and varying degrees of talent use them. 

And I think having a discussion about steroids is a good thing.  What is incredibly annoying, however, is listening to the media on this topic.  One side - led by writers like Jayson Stark and Hal Bodley - say that the game is forever ruined, America is lost and we should all just become Amish because of steroids.  The other side - led by some of the writers at Baseball Prospectus - continue to say that nothing has happened, nothing to see here, there is no proof of any wrongdoing, but hey aren't these the greatest players ever. 

The argument I'm most tired of hearing is that we don't know how much steroids and other PEDs really affect players so until we do, we should stop talking about them.  To me, this is a ridiculous argument.  We don't know how much weightlifting or running or plyometrics affect each individual player either.  We know they help performance when done right.  We don't know the impact individually of nutrition or alcohol consumption but we know that good nutrition helps, and drinking too much booze is probably not a good thing for a career that depends on coordination and keen eyesight.  Call me crazy, but there is probably a reason these drugs are called "performance enhancing drugs".  My guess is that they do something to improve performance, especially if they are used according to their directions.  And according to at least a dozen medical studies, that's exactly what they do for physical performance, even if one doesn't work out.  Those folks out there who say there is no proof that steroids do anything are simply looking up at the sky with their fingers in their ears and shouting "lalala, I can't hear you!".  If it allows you to swing the bat faster or throw the ball harder, then it helps you play baseball better.  And unlike working out or eating right, using steroids is against the rules so until that changes and as long as guys are using them to gain an illegal advantage, then it's going to be an issue. 

But if you want to look, I would suggest putting the terms "Shalender Bhasin" and "steroids" into your Google.  Oh, what the heck - you don't have time to go searching all about the internet for studies on performance enhancing drugs and then sort through which is a legit peer-reviewed study about sterids and which is an ad for Enzyte.  So I'll save you some legwork.  It's the least I could so:

http://press.endocrine.org/doi/full/10.1210/jc.2004-1184
http://press.endocrine.org/doi/full/10.1210/jc.2008-2338
http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJM199607043350101
http://www.svl.ch/files/urn_nbn_se_umu_diva-869-2.pdf
http://press.endocrine.org/doi/full/10.1210/jcem.89.8.9994
http://jp.physoc.org/cgi/reprint/513/1/295
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/115/4/1103
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/101/5/e6
http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/313/7051/211
http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/328/13/922
http://cpj.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/31/12/723

That will get your started.  The last few are about steroid use in middle- and high schools. 

But if you are tired of hearing about this, I know how to make it go away... and almost everyone will be happy by following my suggestion.

First, any beat writer or local columnist who didn't question what was going on with regard to performance enhancing drugs from 1994 to the present... they will be banned from possible induction into the Hall of Fame.  Steroids were banned from baseball in 1991.  They had plenty of time to learn all about them, especially with the work stoppage of 1994-1995.  They also could have spent a little more time learning the definition of "division winner", but that's another story.  All of these sportswriters who are refusing to give their Hall of Fame votes "on principle" to players connected with steroids are not any better people than the players who used them.  It is the reporters' primary responsibility to ask questions and to report the news.  If a guy mysteriously gaining 30 pounds of muscle in the three months of offseason isn't worth at least a few extra questions, then nothing is.  Those writers contributed to the problem by not addressing it when they should have.  True, the players made the decision to use but it is the responsibility of the free press to expose the wrong doers.  If they didn't, they weren't doing their job and because of their negligence the game is what it is today.  So if those sanctimonious reporters who didn't do their job are going to ban the players who used from the Hall of Fame, they should be banned, too.  Bye bye, the ticket office is at the front.

Second, the Player's Union needs to start acting like a union instead of a mafia.  They should order every player who used any kind of performance enhancing drug over the last decade to come forward and tell exactly what they were using, when they started using it and how long they used it.  Does anyone seriously think that Bud Selig has the stones to suspend hundreds of players at the same time?  Back in the early part of the 20th century, Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker were implicated as having connections to gamblers and were going to be suspended for it.  Cobb went to the league president and told him basically if he was suspended, he would release the names to the press of every baseball player who gambles.  That, as they say, was the end of that because he knew there were so many that they wouldn't be able to have a league if they suspended all of them for that violation.  Telling all the players to come forward would not only be incredibly valuable data for determining how much these drugs increase each player's performance, but it would also bring the issue out into the open for it to be examined objectively rather than in a court room where a judge subjectively decides what facts aren't germaine to the discussion.  It would also eliminate phrases like "witch hunt" from the vernacular of steroid testing.  That was an annoying and hackneyed phrase even before the Salem trials and that actually was a witch hunt.

The players would benefit because they wouldn't have to live with that dark secret of cheating any more.  They might be stigmatized initially, but in the long run they will at least have a clearer conscience.  And winning back public favor after absolution isn't that difficult: it only requires growing cool facial hair.

And for the fans, well, this would give them something new to cheer about.  Just like the age old rivalries between fans of the Yankees and the Red Sox, or the Giants versus the Dodgers, fans could now choose sides: root for the users or root for the clean players.  I bet the marketing profile of clean players would go through the roof, even if they weren't the very best players.  And there will always be a segment of the population that adores the bad boys.  Either way, both sides win.  Records will continue to fall and parents, PTA and congressmen can still point to the role models in sports.  It could even work like pro wrestling where good guys switch sides on a whim and visa versa to improve ticket sales.  

This would end all the hand wringing and put the issue where it should be: open for rational, reasoned and informed discussion.  As for the fact that using is illegal?  Well, that's what lawyers are for - plea bargaining down the sentences to community service, which the players need to do anyway in order to more fully reconnect with the fans.  You see?  Simple and everyone wins. 

Now if only someone will sign Manny, we can all start talking about baseball again.

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