You may think I’m about to talk about the imaginary thing that people always say winning team’s have: Team Chemistry. The kind of thing that only amazing leaders like Drake LaRoche can bring to your clubhouse. While I’d love to talk about what a bunch of horseshit that is, I’m actually going to talk about real chemistry: PEDs. It’s that special time of year when we look at who may or may not get into the Hall of Fame. So the topic that always comes up is steroids, the dirtiest word in baseball. And my open question to everyone is why do steroids get such a bum wrap? Trust me, I’m not saying your kids should start doing steroids to become major league baseball players. I would never say that, but mostly because they don’t have the talent to play major league baseball. Seriously though, I can’t figure out why we are so selective around what cheating is, what is acceptable PED use, and why steroids cross some moral line with baseball fans. So let’s dig in.
What Do We Consider Cheating?
One of the most famous forms of cheating is scuffing the ball or using some substance to get a better grip on the ball. Pitchers have been doing this forever and for the most part we turn a blind eye. But what if a pitcher were to throw a no-hitter with allegations of mishandling the baseball surrounding it. Keep in mind, in the modern era of baseball there have only been about 250 no hitters thrown. It’s a special thing, so if the scenario above played out, people would lose their minds, right? Well, I give you the Mike Fiers no-hitter of 2015. You can check out a pic of his glove from that night and decide if there was pine tar or not. This got almost no media coverage and even the opposing manager thought it was a non issue. Here’s the amazing quote from Don Mattingly (manager of the Dodgers at the time):
“I think if you talk about stuff like that, it seems like you’re whining,” Mattingly said. “I think a lot of guys use it. It’s kind of accepted unless it’s just blatantly obvious that somebody’s doing it. I had no idea during the game; nobody said anything to us.”
The “unless it’s just blatantly obvious” part gets me. Is that all we care about? As long as it’s not in our face, we don’t see it as cheating? As long as it’s hidden in his glove, it’s cool. At least he didn’t have gobs of pine tar on his neck or have it all the way up the barrel of his bat.
Which leads me to my next topic, amphetamines.
The Need for Speed
The drug that has been with the game the longest and helped the most players get to that next level is speed/amphetamines/adderall/red juice/greenies or whatever other name you want to give it. It’s all the same, it’s all performance enhancing. However, for some reason, we care far less about this than steroids. So much so that former players have been very open about their use of amphetamines and we simply don’t care. Mike Schmidtopenly talked about “greenies” in his book and later admitted he used them. Nobody is questioning his place in baseball history. In 1985 a drug trial unearthed baseball’s dirtiest secrets about amphetamines, under oath. Willie Stargell and Bill Madlock were identified as a source for speed whenever you needed it by Yogi Berra‘s son Dale. Obviously, there were drugs in the Pirates’ locker room over the years.
Later, it was Willie Mays who was named the source of “red juice” for the ’73 Mets. Again, these players’ places in history go unquestioned. My only guesses are that people don’t understand the effects of these drugs or they assume that since some people can get prescriptions for these, they must be ok to use. Speaking of prescriptions, Adderall (a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine) is commonly prescribed to treat ADHD. About 4% of adults in the US suffer from ADHD. The most recent number I could find on baseball players with Adderall exemptions is from 2015, in which there were 112. With about 1200 players in the MLB (40 man rosters), that’s around 9% of players prescribed to use amphetamines. So this tells me that almost 1 out of every 10 professional players in a game that requires a tremendous focus, have a disorder in which they are unable to focus. Are you buying this? Apparently you are if you’re still mad about Barry Bonds, but not about Chris Davis.
We’re Selective About Who the Bad Guys Are
Steve Dilbeck recently tweeted out his HOF Ballot. It contained only 3 names. Obviously this is Dilbeck’s Tiananmen Square Moment in the war on steroids. However, the 3 names are Trevor Hoffman, Tim Raines, and Vladimir Guerrero. Now we do know that Hoffman was vehemently against steroid use, so no problem there. But now we get to Tim Raines. Let’s assume he never touched steroids or HGH. We do still know that he did more cocaine than Tony Montana and was high during games. I love this comment from @wrigleyrat about this “i can assure you Cocaine is not a PED–unless you are masturbating”. But really, cocaine is a stimulant and if I’m looking at the Mets of the mid ’80s, they were pretty incredible and extremely coked up. But regardless, Dilbeck, we’ll give you a pass. Now to Vlad. I love Vlad. He would swing at anything and most likely make contact and it would probably be a two bagger. But why are we so sure he didn’t use steroids? He’s been linked to Angel Presinal, who is banned from MLB clubhouses. Let’s just take a look at the guys Presinal has worked with: Juan Gonzalez, Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero, Bartolo Colon, Miguel Tejada, Adrian Beltre, Moises Alou, Jose Guillen, Ervin Santana, Ruben Sierra, Francisco Cordero, Jose Mesa and Juan Guzman. Oh and also A-Rod. Are you kidding me? How can you be so sure that this guy didn’t use roids or HGH?
But it’s not just Dilbeck. We all do it. Look at David Ortiz. He is beloved, but he is also reported to have failed a drug test in 2003. While he’s not named in the Mitchell Report, it’s worth noting that George Mitchell was a director in the Red Sox organization. Now I’m not trying to shit on Papi’s career, which is a great one. I’m simply using him as an example of someone who likely used PEDs, but is such a nice guy, we all just shrug it off. His teammate Manny Ramirez, however, is hated and considered a huge drug cheat. If you look around, the guys we vilify for steroid use are guys you probably didn’t like anyway: Bonds, A-Rod, Canseco, Manny. But we give a pass to the Giambis and Ortizes of the baseball world. Why?
To me, it seems there are 2 reasons that we get so upset about these particular drugs. First, because there is a real love for Home Runs. If you don’t believe it, think about how you rank Ty Cobb against Babe Ruth. Also think about what you’re most upset about in the steroid era: the Bonds asterisked HR Records, McGwire/Sosa HR battle, Brady Anderson‘s 50 HR season. Second, is that it was obvious. Barry Bonds’s head grew like 10 sizes, he looked like god damn Simpsons character by the end of his career. Roger Clemens was like 75 years old and pitching better than he had in 10 years. It’s similar to when you’re a teenager and your parents give you a free pass on drinking as long as you don’t throw up on the new carpet. The other items mentioned above speed, scuffing the ball, and some i didn’t mention like corking bats are not as obvious, so we can pretend they don’t exist.
So What Do We Do?
Much like the war on drugs, this is not a winnable war. Guys get suspended every year, but there are still guys using and we continue to turn a blind eye if it benefits us. You know, like attributing huge increases in muscle mass to pilates.
In my humble opinion, we should not try to prohibit PED use in Major League Baseball. For a few reasons:
You can’t actually accomplish a prohibition. And like any other prohibition, you make criminals out of guys like David Segui or Jim Parque that are trying to recover from injury and make the kind of money that will support their family for the rest of their lives.
PEDs would begin to come from reputable sources. Meaning teams would devote resources to safer and better performance enhancers. Much like the amount of money that has gone towards repairing knees and elbows, you’d see it spent on this type of research. Which may have a positive downstream effect on the general population. The reason your knee surgery was successful and recovery was so quick wasn’t because doctors decided that there is an epidemic of knee injuries among fat guys trying to play racquetball, it’s because professional sports teams have paid a shitload of money to make sure we never again lose a Gale Sayers after 5 seasons.
Baseball was fun as hell in the late 90s. Are you really against your favorite players having extended careers and guys hitting the ball 700 ft? I can say that I am all for it.
I am sure you won’t fully agree with me and I am sure there are arguments against me that I have intentionally avoided. But I hope after reading this, you’ll at the very least give more thought to who you condemn as cheaters.