Time again for a meeting of the Baseballhead lodge, where we
were recently forced to change the “secret handshake”
after someone called the cops. Damned “community standards.”
Having exhausted their thesauruses blaming each other for the
previous week’s “gay players” non-issue, the media quickly
found raw meat for their hungry editors when Ken Caminiti acknowledged
that crack isn’t the only illegal drug he’s been taking. The revelation
seemingly backed up at least one of the wild-eyed (if not wild-eyed,
at least facial-tic-laden) statements Jose Canseco made a week
earlier, when he emphatically declared that virtually every player
in baseball is on steroids. Apparently, MLB has become a combination
of the WWF and the Village People.
I still don’t believe the juice use is as widespread as Canseco
would like us to think (for example, if Jamie Moyer has been taking
them, he’s been doing it all wrong), but like everyone else, I’m
sure someone somewhere is using illegal substances to boost his
testosterone for the purpose of building muscle. And to tell you
the truth, I don’t know if I’m as wound up about it as, say, Jim
Rome, who could make better use of his time asking the more well-groomed
players for tips on properly trimming facial hair. (Just don’t
ask your friend Jack McDowell, Jim — he probably knows less about
that than he does about steroids.)
Still, it’s nothing if not another PR black eye to a sport
whose commissioner has been telling people the product sucks,
and which is heading towards a potentially disastrous work stoppage.
Just for giggles, let’s go over the basic questions:
1. Exactly how many players are taking steroids?
Yeah, maybe we should just send out a questionnaire asking,
“are you taking steroids?”
Suffice to say, we’ll never know this one.
2. Who’s using? Do you have photos?
See #1. Exactly one ex-player has admitted doing ‘roids, and
that’s it. Oh, we can speculate. We can speculate until our brains
fall out our nostrils, but that doesn’t mean we know. Odds are
better than even that Barry Bonds has, er, “supplemented,”
not merely because of his size, but because he has gone to such
great lengths to avoid the question. Either he’s preparing for
a run for the Presidency, or he’s hiding something.
Does that mean his records are tainted? We’ll get to that one.
3. Where the hell is the drug testing? I want drug testing,
Ahh, this is the big one. As it stands at this moment, MLB
is barred from forcing players to pee into cups via previous arbitration
decisions. Therefore, players and owners must agree not only to
allow drug testing, but also on what kind of punishment would
result from a failed test. If you think the players will allow
anything remotely close to banishment, you haven’t been following
baseball. Hell, the owners wouldn’t want that (or has the
Darryl Strawberry saga taught you nothing?).
No, if there ever is random testing for steroids, the resulting
punishments will be “undisclosed” fines (read: “so
small it would embarrass us if we disclosed them”) and possible
short suspensions. The only reason to bother at all would be to
appease sportswriters and sports-talk callers. There is another
good reason testing won’t help one bit, which we’ll get to as
In lieu of the solid answers we’ll never get, I offer you these
1. You have no idea who’s using, unless they tell you.
Believe it or not, it’s possible to gain copious amounts of
muscle with the basic weights-and-protein regimen. It’s amazing
what thousands of dollars of the finest gym equipment and the
purest nutritional supplements can do for the human body. Players
have access to the finest-quality legal supplements available,
including substances that boost Human Growth Hormone. Listening
to Chad Curtis babble on about guys’ bone structure changing,
it’s clear he was witnessing the effects of HGH, not steroids,
which leads us to our second truth:
2. Chad Curtis is not the pointiest arrow in the quiver.
Oops. Sorry. I meant to say…
2. Testing will only change the drugs players use.
While testing will find the most common performance-enhancing
substances, others will fly in completely under the radar. For
example, there is currently no test for HGH, which is likely being
used by athletes in other sports for precisely that reason. Even
though the substance itself is illegal, supposedly safe supplements
that boost HGH levels are completely legal in the US.
No, drug testing would be nothing more than a game of three-card
monte with chemicals. The best thing to do is simply acknowledge
that the game has forever changed, as it was when the dead-ball
era ended, when the spitball was made illegal, and when the very
first ballpark DJ played “Y.M.C.A.” And so it follows
3. All substance-aided records stand.
While it’s possible that last year’s 73 homers were brought
to you by the makers of Depo-Testosterone, it’s also a fact that
the man who hit them has always been very, very good at hitting
home runs. There is a grain of truth in Bonds’ weak deflection
of the issue — it takes some awesome skills, over and above sheer
raw power, to hit large numbers of homers.
In short, if Mike Bordick hits 74, we should worry. When Barry
Bonds, a player some believe has been the greatest of his generation
for the better part of a decade, hits 73 it’s still a holy-crap
feat. The record reflects the customs of its time, just as Ruth’s
59-homer 1921 season, in which he almost doubled the previous
record, reflected the “artificial” boost of the livelier
ball and other rule changes.
4. Cheating is an integral part of baseball.
As much as you may not want to hear it, in baseball cheaters
do prosper. Players argue close plays while knowing they were
out. Batters call time when the pitcher is winding up, because
although it’s illegal they know the umpire will allow it. Watch
Jorge Posada’s feet as he squats in the catcher’s box — or should
I say, six inches outside the catcher’s box.
The fact of the matter is that cheating is allowed unless you’re
caught. If Pete Rose is the only player since 1919 to have bet
on a baseball game, I’m Al Sharpton. The least intelligent player
to bet on baseball perhaps, but likely far from the only one.
The ’51 Giants stole signs during their amazing pennant stretch
drive. They were then smart enough to not say much about it until
it didn’t matter anymore, as no doubt are the other teams who
have stolen signs over the years. Barry Bonds would like to do
that too. (I mean the not-saying-much part, not the stealing-signs
5. In the end, using steroids may be its own punishment.
With all the knowledge of the side effects of steroid use,
I would have to imagine some players would fear for their well-being
(in fact, this might be why Raffi takes Viagra). Let’s hope that
we don’t have to see players fall to liver failure before they
get wise, and that a wee bit of gynomastia and balding will suffice.
(Heckling suggestion: “Nice rack, Barry!”)
No, Gynomastia is not the name of that bad martial-arts
movie starring Kurt Thomas.
about the author
Michael Cox owes his physique to all-natural methods. Suggest he re-read the wrapper on those little chocolate donuts when you e-mail him from our Contact Us page..
Originally published June 2, 2002