Over the past few years a terrible trend has been encroaching on what is normally a joyous time of year. At Spring Training, before each new baseball season, another Major League Baseball superstar is releasing a statement or having a press conference owning up to past steroid use. Last season it was Alex Rodriguez and the season before that it was the Mitchell Report. Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz are among current superstars in the game who have had to face the music as well. The lists are long and continuously growing. You hear many fans stating how they wouldn’t be surprised if “so-and-so” came up positive next, but then when it’s their favorite player they give him a free pass.
This year it is Mark McGwire’s turn in a never-ending spotlight that seems to shine down like the Florida sun. McGwire is back in the game, returning after a 9 year absence to become the hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. This is the man who literally lifted the game up on his hulking shoulders by hitting 70 home runs in one season, breaking Roger Maris’ 38 year old record. Now he has to apologize, not so much because he is sorry, but because he wants a job in the game again.
The issue is that the public is quick to accept these apologies and dismiss the fact that all of these players cheated and then lied in an effort to gain an advantage in the game, then to cover it up so that they could go on making millions of dollars. I don’t blame the players, because we’re letting them get away with it. To see figure out the solution to the problem, we need to ask some questions to see how we got here in the first place.
When did the “Steroid Era” begin?
The “Steroid Era” in baseball began right around the end of the “Mustache Era” in the mid-to-late 1980s. In 1980 there were 3,087 home runs hit in Major League Baseball. A decade later in 1990 there were 3,317 home runs hit as the numbers slowly increased with each season. However, by 1996 that number had jumped up to 4,962 as the steroid era was now in full swing. From 1998 to 2006 the league had over 5,000 home runs hit per season.
It’s much easier in hindsight to see that something may have been up with the powerful “Bash Brothers” led Oakland As teams. The players began to get bigger and the baseballs began to fly farther and with much more frequency than ever before. However, for some reason no one began to notice until the early 2000s and by then it was so far out of control that baseball is still trying to sort things out and clean up the game.
What are performance enhancing drugs?
Performance enhancing drugs or PEDs can be any substance used by a person to obtain a competitive advantage within their sport or activity. This can run the gamut from painkillers to stimulants to diuretics, all of which have been present throughout baseball history in numerous forms. Of course the main reason we know so much about PEDs today is due to the use of steroids within the game.
The steroids aid the body in promoting muscle building through synthetic modifications of testosterone which the athlete ingests. The Mayo Clinic notes that, “these hormones have approved medical uses, though improving athletic performance is not one of them.” The main PEDs that have come to the forefront of this issue include Methyltestosterone (android), Tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) and Human Growth Hormone (HGH).
The simple fact is that using an anabolic steroid for a non-medical purpose is as illegal as is using cocaine, heroin or meth. If the average person tested positive for any drug, they would likely be fired from their job, yet these ball players get a slap on the wrist and the continued chance at riches and fame.
What is the allure?
Athletes will cite a “competitive drive” within them to always be the best at what they do and to always win at all costs. If you dangle a multi-million dollar contract in front of the same people, then they now must compete for that as well. You will hear many excuses for why some of these players took these drugs. Andy Pettite stated that he was using HGH to recover from an elbow injury because, “I had heard that human growth hormone could promote faster healing for my elbow.” Mark McGwire tried to trek down a similar route when he said, “The only reason I took steroids was for health purposes."
The problem here is that these players are saying these things to save face, but there is substantial information out there that has shown that these athletes go above and beyond the uses they admit to. They use these steroids to enhance their performances on the field. A pitcher who is stronger will throw the ball harder. A hitter who builds more muscle will hit the ball farther. It’s just simple facts here.
What is the current policy in place?
Since PEDs became so prevalent in baseball, the MLB drug policy has seen constant updates. As it currently stands, there is a list of over 80 substances in three different categories that are banned and tested for in Major League Baseball. Forty seven of these substances fall into the “steroid” category. The only known PED on the market that is not on this list is HGH which there is currently no actual test for. However each day new steroids are being synthetically created in laboratories in efforts to pass drug tests just like this one.
The testing for banned substances actually happens two-fold. For “drugs of abuse” such as cocaine, LSD or marijuana a test is administered based on reasonable cause brought about by evidence of usage. For the “steroids” category the test is administered randomly during season play from Spring Training through the end of the Regular Season. For these tests the players are chosen at random and the time unannounced, but once the player is tested, he will not be subject to another test that season.
The penalties for failing a drug test differ based on what the failure was for. If the substance found is a “drug of abuse” than HPAC will convene to determine the length of suspension based on the severity of the issue and any past histories. The player would then be subject to a suspension, a fine and to enter a treatment program. For substances that are considered “steroids” there are much stricter guidelines in play where a first offense will cost a player 50 games, the second offense is for 100 games and the third time you are suspended forever. This is a high price to pay for the pursuit of fortune and fame, yet each year players continue to test positive.
The flaws in this testing can clearly be seen. Make it easy on all involved and just test every player, every year, for everything. If a substance is banned, then MLB needs to make all efforts to ensure that no one under their employ abuses these policies.
Where do we go from here?
None of the accused players show much remorse for their indiscretions as they are just handed another million dollar contract and they move on. The fans seem to allow the player’s simple apologies to be used as a free pass back into their hearts, simply because they were “being honest and up front about it,” as Jason Donath, a diehard baseball fan stated.
The issue I have with this train of thought is that the only reason the players apologized in the first place was because they got caught! The fans and the league need to stand up to these players and to this “era” in an effort to save face. These players, these offenders to the purity of what was once “America’s Pastime”, cannot be let go with a simple slap on the wrist. Their actions have changed and scared the game forever and they must suffer the consequences. We, as fans, have the power to make them suffer. If we make our voices loud enough, we can tell these players that enough is enough and only then can we begin to turn the corner on the dreaded “Steroid Era” in baseball.