Performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) are looked down upon in baseball more so than any other sport. This is in part because baseball is seen as a wholly unchanged pastime since its inception in the 1840s: the game the star players of today are playing is the same game played by the legends of yesterday. However, PEDs cast a shadow of doubt over records and milestones today that would never have engendered this type of discussion decades ago.
Here is how performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) became so prevalent in baseball.
PEDs can be traced all the way back to 1889, when Pud Galvin, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys (which eventually became the Pittsburgh Pirates), used Brown-Sequard Elixir. That’s code word for testosterone derived from other animals, most notably dogs and guinea pigs. Even Babe Ruth, the legendary outfielder for the New York Yankees, tried to inject himself with extract from sheep testicles in 1925. This act only made him ill and forced him to miss some playing time.
Steroids found there way into baseball in the 1970s. Tom House, a former pitcher for a few teams, was the first player to openly acknowledge that there were six or seven players per team experimenting with steroids and human-growth hormone. Steroids then took a backseat during the 1980s when amphetamines became the drug of choice. Players of all ability, from Hall of Fame Philadelphia Phillie third baseman Mike Schmidt to journeyman shortstop Dale Berra, were using them.
By the 1990s, steroids had become an epidemic. According to The Yankee Years by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci, Rick Helling, a pitcher for the Texas Rangers and a player representative, stood up at the winter meeting of the Executive Board of the Major League Baseball Players Association and reported this problem. Initially ignored, Helling’s claim later became too large to disregard because of statistical absurdity.
There have been nine players to hit sixty or more homeruns in a season. From 1927-1998, a span of seventy-one years, only Babe Ruth and former New York Yankees outfielder, Roger Maris, had hit more than sixty homeruns. From 1998-2001, San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire and Chicago Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa, hit sixty homeruns a combined seven times. These three players have also been linked to steroids.
In 2003, the MLB orchestrated a sample test to determine how many players were on banned substances. The results were eye-opening but the players on the list were anonymous. The MLB then instituted drug testing and suspensions. During the 2005 offseason, the owners and players approved stricter penalties for steroid users: fifty games for a first time offender, a hundred games for a second time offender and a lifetime ban for a third time offender. On March 17th, 2005, various players were summoned to Capitol Hill to testify before Congress on steroids and other banned substances in the MLB. This hearing would become a symbolic image as the war on PEDs waged on.
In 2006, the MLB asked former senator George J. Mitchell to lead an investigation into past steroid use by players. When the report was released on December 13th, 2007, more than eighty former and current players, including former New York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens were implicated. Players like Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte, who were included in the report even though they had only used drugs sparingly, admitted to their guilt.
As the steroid craze has died down, other PEDs have become more popular. Testosterone and human-growth hormone, which were not originally in the MLB’s drug testing plan, became the drugs of choice. This past offseason, the MLB and the player’s union agreed to random, in-season human-growth hormone testing as well as testosterone testing.
The timing could not have been more paramount. As a Miami New Times report stated that previously (within the last year) suspended players Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Melky Cabrera, Oakland Athletics pitcher Bartolo Colon and currently suspended player San Diego Padres catcher Yasmini Grandel had consulted Biogenesis, an anti-aging clinic in South Florida, which is noted to have sold substances banned by the MLB.
Other players implicated in the story were New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz and Washington Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez. This is the second time Rodriguez has been linked to PEDs, the first coming in a 2009 Sports Illustrated report, during which he admitted to using steroids as a member of the Texas Rangers from 2001-2003.
Whenever we hear of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, the heart of the fan skips a beat. Why do our favorite players have to cheat to prove they are solid major league players?
One could argue that this is no different than cheating on a test in middle school or telling someone a white lie for one’s personal gain. However, these stories hit closer to home. Baseball is a game which ties many people to their childhood. And if this pure element of their childhood is tarnished, then what can ever be innocent in the world of sports?