Change-UpFebruary 11, 2009
By Patrick Sullivan

We do not like to address the topic of steroids around here. By now, it is evident that steroids played a prevalent role in the game for a significant period of time. I am not sure why anyone acts so shocked when it comes out (illegally of course, but no outrage there) that any one individual used steroids. And yet, since Saturday, to turn on your television or open your newspaper or navigate on over to your mainstream sports website of choice was to subject yourself to an endless loop of the three S's - silliness (release A-Rod!), sanctimony (what about the kids?!?!) and schadenfreude (A-Roid, A-Fraud, etc).

Anyway, we give up. Instead of continuing on with the analysis we love - a look ahead at the 2009 season, maybe some work on prospects (did you know PECOTA has Matt Wieters as the best player in the AL in 2009?!?) or even do some prep on the college season, I decided we shouldn't completely ignore the subject of steroids. While I don't think I have any incremental insight or value to add to the discussion that is taking place, I thought I would point you to some work and commentary that caught my eye.


Writers at The Hardball Times had an interesting roundtable discussion on A-Rod and steroids more broadly:

Dave Studeman: My reaction is...meh. Why are we surprised that a slugger from the early part of the decade (or any time in the 1990's) took steroids? Can't we just say that lots of players took steroids, the time wasn't a good one for competitive and fair spirit, and move on? I don't have any negative reaction toward A-Rod as a result of this. In the grand scale of things, I think cheating on your wife is a much bigger lapse of ethics.

As for the union, I don't know enough to have an opinion.

Geoff Young: One of the great ironies of this witch hunt is that while it attempts to solve a problem (or more accurately, gives the *appearance* of attempting to solve a problem), the process itself has desensitized many of us. We know lots of players took steroids and at this point we just don't care.

Dave Studeman: Geoff, I don't know if you're reacting directly to my comment, but the "witch hunt" hasn't desensitized me. I've never been focused on trying to uncover the past—I've always thought it was fruitless. Clearly, lots of parties are to blame for the steroids era, and trying to pin down who did what is only useful, IMO, if it helps us better handle the future. I don't see that it does. Once it became clear that many players had taken steroids (and this has been pretty clear for a long time), I never saw the point in determining who did what.


Dan Shaughnessy, God bless him, had a pretty good piece in this morning's Boston Globe. I particularly liked the part when he compared New Englanders' reaction to the A-Rod news with their reaction to the news that Rodney Harrison, the Patriots All-Pro safety, had cheated.

But why do they hate him so much in New York ("A-Fraud") and everywhere else across this great land?....

And remember how quickly New England forgave Rodney Harrison when the beloved safety explained he was just trying to get back on the field to help the team?...

Red Sox fans, gleeful over this A-Rod scandal, need to remember that there are 103 other players who tested positive in 2003. Someday, those names could be released. There's a pretty good chance that one or two of the Sox stars from 2003 will be on it. What do you say about A-Rod when that happens?


To his credit, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN managed to track down Marvin Miller, the former MLBPA Union Boss. Miller, 91, is still as sharp as a tack.

On the media's role in perpetuating steroid use by referring to the drugs as "performance enhancers": "A kid who would love to be a professional athlete reads the sports pages or watches ESPN and is told over and over again, 'These are performance-enhancing drugs. They will make you a Barry Bonds or an A-Rod or a Roger Clemens.' The media, without evidence, keep telling young people all over the country, 'All you have to do to be a famous athlete with lots of money is take steroids.' The media are the greatest merchants of encouraging this that I've ever seen."

Miller also criticized the Justice Department for engaging in "union-busting tactics" by using the confidentiality provision in the drug testing to get information from players, and said many of the "experts" who advocate for greater testing in sports have an inherent conflict because they run labs and stand to profit.

"It's a witch hunt in baseball, for sure, but it also extends to cycling and the Olympics," Miller said. "And the victims are the athletes. They're obviously the ones being hunted down here."


And finally, here is Dan Szymborski, creator of the ZIPS projection system. He generally sticks to numbers over at Baseball Think Factory but he chimed in on this matter with an excellent article about how we are all complicit.

For fans, the belief has always been that athletic excellence is something that an athlete should risk everything for. Playing in pain, running into walls, brutal crushing tackles, are the currency of fandom's love and abiding respect.

The famous Pete Rose-Ray Fosse collision in the 1970 All-Star Game provides a compelling example of this phenomenon. Played over and over again, fans bring this up as an example of hard-nosed play from Charlie Hustle. But the negative effects of that play still affect Ray Fosse. Nearly 40 years later, Fosse still has trouble lifting his arm on some days. His shoulder still occasionally throbs with the same pain he experienced constantly for years after that fracture...

...I dare anyone to try to name an era in sports in the last in which any semblance of purity, now suddenly demanded by the public, actually existed. By all means, please direct us to this golden time where no currently banned performance-enhancing drugs were available, but went unused by the wholesome players of yesteryear. It's certainly not the 80s or 90s or 2000s, when steroid use apparently came most popular. It certainly wasn't the 60s and 70s, when players were distributing now-banned amphetamines and starting to experiment with steroids themselves. The only difference between a slugger in 1938 and a slugger in 2008 is the quality of the goodies he can get his hands on.


So there you have different takes on this situation, some commentary that stood out in a sea of talking heads feigning shock and outrage over A-Rod taking steroids. Some media members like to talk of the PR nightmare A-Rod has brought on himself (wow, wonder how that happens?!) Well the pieces linked and excerpted above managed to steer away from the emotions and take a look at this incident for what it is; something (another high profile player being outed) we should have all been able to see coming by this point.

I can't wait for the games to start.


Great comment by Szymborski. It is refreshing to see somebody taking a realistic view. What amazes me is that in the recent past there was discussion about whether getting popped for 'roids was enough to keep a player from being NFL rookie of the year, but Mark McGuire is treated like a monster. After ignoring the issue for years, now baseball is being held to a much higher standard than some other sports. Some products that are now banned were used widely in the 1960s according to a friend who pitched in the minors at that time, including by him. Would all of the stuff Sandy Koufax put on his arm to kill the pain be legal now? This is not meant to defame any of the great former players but to help add some more perspective to this present witch hunt.

I wonder if there's any mainstream writer out there yet who has just come out to say that... the steroids issue really doesn't matter. Personally, the one and only issue here is that of health - are athletes needlessly endangering their livelihoods with these drugs.

One could argue about the numerous side effects, but that doesn't seem what the issue is about. If there was some magic miracle drug with no side effects that instantly contributed to muscle growth, people would still cry "cheater". Everyone just complains about the competitiveness issue, but I don't see it. How's this different from a healthier diet, nutritional supplements, heck, even working out. You could argue that pitchers throwing as hard as they do are ruining their arms for the rest of their lives - so are the ones that are willing to throw harder getting a "competitive advantage" over other pitchers who are concerned about their health and don't want to blow out their arms?

For me, the most interesting thing about this whole "scandal" is the free pass the NFL gets as far as steroid using. It wouldn't shock me if nearly every player in the NFL used steroids -- why wouldn't they? Not only for use in helping gain strength but simply for their healing properties. Yet no one seems to care. In the San Diego paper yesterday a columnist compared baseball to pro wrestling because of steroid use.

Also, I'm glad that Marvin Miller brings up the drug labs and their obvious conflict of interest. They only exist, and can get funding, if they get positive tests. That isn't to say that everyone is innocent but we should keep that in mind.

Marvin Miller was on point: the threshold question is whether PEDs in fact have any significant effect in baseball, and analyses from several different directions, from statistical to medical, say they don't. Moreover, the various shrieks and whines are mostly or wholly nonsensical when one examines their ethical positions with some diligence. If I may self-promote, there is an entire website,, that examines these and other related issues dispassionately.

there's so much money out there, the pressure to produce. I've loved baseball for 60 years and played as much as I could as long as I could, if someone told me there was something you could take that would let you play the game on the highest level, it would be so very tempting. To actually live the dream you had since boyhood,(of course I'd have played for virtually nothing, so I can understand the temptation.But, if I had ARod's talent and skills and his growing legacy, no way! The career cup of coffee guy or the kid who's just not quite good enough, these are the ones who I'd expect it from. So yes I'll enjoy his skill but Hank's still no1 and so is Roger and none of these "new" tainted records can change that.

The NFL is a joke with respect to PEDs. Every player is on PEDs. In case you haven't noticed, guys who are 6'2" don't naturally way 260+ without having an ounce of fat. Its just not possible to be as fit as these guys are and be that big without some enhancements.

You know what though, like many of the posters in the links, I don't really care. As pointed out, there's always some form of cheating going on. Pushing the boundaries is what seperates the successful from the unsuccessful. This romantic notion of a fair contest has been bollocks for years and anyone who believes it is naive.
These guys play for the highest stakes possible and any angle will be exploited.
Is that cynical? darn right it is.
Is it an accurate assessment of the human condition? darn right it is.
How appropriate, considering its Darwin's 200th birthday.

Really Bill. And how do you know that Hank and Roger did not use amphetamines to keep themselves going? Shall we haul Aaron before the Senate to testify? And if he denies it all, should we take his word for it? We know about Willie Mays and his red juice, and Bouton names many players he knew were on amphetamines and comments on their ready availability in locker rooms. Is there some reason for the amnesia about all that?

I won't review again the flawed or unexamined assumptions about the effects of steroids on play and on many other issues, but I will assert that no records are tainted, and there is no way to defend the proposition that earlier records were more pure. That is nostalgia and sentimentality only.

I want to second the recommendation to read the site Eric Walker mentions.

What the above comments mostly prove is how removed otherwise well-trained sports analysts are in the basic assessments of right and wrong. This is a recitation of rationalizations. Shaugnessey's is arguably the worst: "It's not as if he killed the President!" Now there's a good standard for bad conduct. No, A-Rod didn't kill the President. He just obtained millions of dollars from his employer under false pretenses, lied on national television, cast suspicion on hundreds of players who played by the rules, and broke the law. What a guy.

Miller is just as bad. So players might go to jail for breaking laws they actually broke! Horrors---what an injustice. And reciting the old canard about no proof that steroids help performance or are health risks is right up there with the cigarette executives swearing that cigarettes aren't addictive. Now I know why Miller isn't in the Hall of Fame.

I have a theory. The "who cares?" mentality is a by-product of the Roto phenomenon, just like the attitude toward Manny Ramirez ("Who cares if he tanked on the field in a few games? Look at his stats!") Players are just names and stats to a lot of fans now. They aren't real people to them, just daily stat-producers who feed into a computer...and yet baseball, more than any team sport, focuses on the individual. Fans used to root for human beings they admired for their personalities, eccentricites, style and character, and it mattered to those fans whether players were liars, cheats or felons. Some fans still care about those things. Baseball needs genuine heroes, and it will be making a fatal mistake if it lets the Roto mentality convince it that honor and integrity don't matter.

Or maybe baseball has already made that mistake. But hey, it's not like they killed the President...

And what your comments suggest, Jack, is how far removed an apparently intelligent person can be from any appreciation of ethical behavior, legalities, constitutional protections, data based analysis and common decency in dealing with other human beings.

Aside from the fact that your restatement of the arguments are laughably oversimplified, and that your nostalgia for an era that never existed is similarly warped, your unwillingness to come to grips with the fundamental evil in the hysteria over steroids is scarily blinkered.


To put another spin on Bob R.'s sentiment, I think the apathy stems from the fact that there are just so many ethical misdeeds associated with the baseball steroids scandal. Becoming outraged over cherry-picked stars here and there who are outed while so many others obviously used, so many others profited, so many others turned their heads, just seems silly.

And that is to say nothing of the ethical shitshow that is the government's ongoing investigation of Bonds, the outing of A-Rod, charging Tejada, etc. To some of us, civil liberties are just as important as PED's.

If you get worked up over A-Rod, don't give the litany of other misdeeds short shrift when tabulating your "scoreboard".