Baseball BeatJanuary 08, 2008
Station Break
By Rich Lederer

One of the rules of thumb that we try to live by at Baseball Analysts is to only write about subjects where we can add value to the discussion. Our goal is to inform, entertain, and engage our readers on all things baseball. But only when we have some insight. Otherwise, we're just filling space and wasting your time.

With the foregoing in mind, we have generally refrained from writing about steroids on this site. In more than four-and-a-half-years and nearly 1300 entries, the word "steroids" has appeared in only 20 articles. Five of them were written by guest columnists and three involved interviews. In all but two cases (including one of the most thought-provoking articles I've ever encountered), the mention of steroids was either tangental to the topic at hand or in jest. Even Sunday's widely read piece by Pat Jordan mentioned the "s" word twice.

I'm going to break with tradition and discuss steroids today. The purpose isn't to point fingers, name names, play the blame game, or act as an apologist for anyone. It is simply designed to try to add a perspective that I believe is missing from many discussions on this emotionally charged subject. You can stop right here and click to another favorite site if you'd like. Or you can read on.

First of all, I am not an expert when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs. Far from it. In fact, I would describe myself as a novice. Most people are. Heck, even the medical profession doesn't have a uniform opinion on PEDs. Dr. George Griffing, Professor of Medicine at St. Louis University, claims in a recent webcast and editorial (registration required) that "the athletic benefits of HGH is a myth." I'm sure there are doctors who believe otherwise. My point is that the benefits, if any, are not a given. Rob Neyer admits that Dr. Griffing might be wrong, "but his analysis seems to be based on the best science available at the moment." One can still frown upon its use "as it may be unhealthy and is often, as obtained by professional athletes, illegal. But it now seems quite possible that not a single home run or strikeout has been gained from the ill-gotten, illusory benefits of human growth hormone."

I'm torn on the subject myself. My head says one thing. My heart says something else. And my gut goes back and forth. Put me in the camp that has more questions than answers.

But I feel strongly about one thing: a record, by definition, is not to be tampered with. It records what has transpired. Nothing more, nothing less. Accordingly, I would not expunge any player records, stats, awards, or honors. That seems foolish and like an overreaction to me. Where do you start and where do you stop? What about players in the '60s and '70s grabbing "greenies" out of jars openly available in locker rooms? Were they legal? Did they not stimulate players and enhance performance?

Part of the fun of discussing records is that we can always speculate about context. No era is comparable to any other. Dead ball/live ball, segregation/integration, lights/no lights, day games/night games, travel by train/travel by plane, 154 games/162 games in a season, 16 teams/30 teams, symmetrical/asymmetrical ballparks, four man/five man rotations, designated hitters/no designated hitters, grass/artificial turf, and outdoor stadiums/indoor domes. I could go on and on. The strike zone, height of the mound, and equipment have changed over the years. Player usage and strategy have changed as well. In the "old" days, starting pitchers were expected to complete their games. Today, if a starting pitcher gives his team a quality start, the manager can turn to his bullpen and employ three relievers to shut down the opposition.

As with society in general, today's players benefit more from nutritional, medical, and technological advances than those from previous generations. Tommy John surgeries have prolonged the careers of countless pitchers. Less invasive surgeries allow players to return to the playing field faster than ever. Laser eye surgeries have reduced the need for glasses and contact lens.

Sure, for the sake of the record books, the purist in all of us wishes everything could be the same. But the reality is that things change over time. Sometimes for better. Sometimes for worse. But they do change.

I, for one, am not troubled by the fact that Babe Ruth's single-season home run record was eclipsed by Roger Maris. Ford Frick, the commissioner at the time, was bothered by it and vowed to put an asterisk by Maris' name in the record book. It was the prevailing hysteria of the day. I'm also not disturbed in the least by the fact that Maris' record was broken by Mark McGwire. Or that McGwire's record was short-lived and beaten by Barry Bonds.

Similarly, I was totally fine with Hank Aaron breaking Ruth's career home run mark. And I have no problem with Bonds setting the new standard as he did last season. Going forward, I won't be surprised if Alex Rodriguez breaks Bonds' record. Should A-Rod become the new HR king, I'm quite sure that someone will come along and overtake him.

Does any of this make me think less of Ruth? No. If anything, his legend has increased over the years. His memorabilia is worth more today than ever before. No player or record can take away what Ruth and Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, Cal Ripken, and Rickey Henderson accomplished. Or what Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Lefty Grove, Bob Feller, Warren Spahn, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez achieved. All of these players are great. Besides, there was never a single measure that allowed us to say that this player was better than that player anyway.

The irony is that baseball is more popular today than ever. As a result, I don't think the public is as bothered by the revelations of steroids as certain members of the media and Congress. It is what it is. It's silly to try and turn back the clock. If you want to rid the game of performance-enhancing drugs, then put a firm policy in place, test, and enforce the damn rules with stiff penalties, including fines, suspensions, and expulsions. Other than getting the MLBPA to agree, it's really not anymore difficult than that.

. . . and now back to our regularly scheduled programming.


Excellent perspective and we share much of the same thoughts. I think the reason people are so hotly debating this is because nobody is really stepping up to the plate on the subject. Last year was a start when the BBWA did not enshrine McGuire into the hall of fame, but it will all be pointless if/when they allow him in soon.

Another issue stands out with how naive the baseball public was a decade plus ago and why professional athletes who may or may not be doing what any one of us would do to succeed professionally are being cast as a scape goat. Does Hollywood not promote drug use?

Lastly, as you mentioned with ballparks and other sorts of evolution in baseball (through technology or what have you) this is just another era. There is no need to question it, just enjoy it. Because, to be honest, its doubtful many of us would be as fascinated with baseball if the players were playing with bare hands.

Thank you Rich for a very common sense article.

"Excessive hGH levels increase muscle mass by stimulating protein synthesis, strengthen bones by stimulating bone growth and reduce body fat by stimulating the breakdown of fat cells"

Does that mean it enhances performance? I suppose not. It has the following side effect:

" * Overgrowth of hands, feet, and face (acromegaly) because of the increased muscle and bone development in these parts
* Enlarged internal organs, especially heart, kidneys, tongue and liver
* Heart problems

This is the same silly argument people made about steroids when they were still able to deny that Jose Canseco was telling the truth.

"Dr. George Griffing, Professor of Medicine at St. Louis University and Editor in Chief of Internal Medicine for eMedicine."

He sure does know how to generate traffic for his web site. But what evidence is there that he has any real knowledge of HGH or how it might be used to enhance performance?

o be honest, its doubtful many of us would be as fascinated with baseball if the players were playing with bare hands.

Ah, an argument for aluminum bats.

The reason performance enhancing drugs are banned is to protect athletes from their "fans" who really don't care what happens to them once they stop performing.

Rich, I agree with you wholeheatedly. It is what it is. It will be remembered, for better or worse, as the steroids era of baseball. What's lost in all this is that PEDs were not illegal in baseball until 2004. I find it tiresome that the press is making such a huge deal of this. Let's clean it up, but let's not portray anyone who used PEDs prior to 2004 as a villainous cheater.


Off topic...

Condolences on today’s vote however you should be proud of your hard work. Blyleven is getting close and a lot of the credit has to go to your tireless efforts. Over at we’re looking to your example in fighting the
good fight.

We appreciate all your contributions to our cause this year and hope we can reciprocate in some way. The problem is, all I can do is use your columns for research to create a pale imitation of your work.

At any rate, hopefully there will be some pale imitations forthcoming.

Keep throwin’ the heat.

Best Regards


Ross: that's factually wrong. Vincent banned steroids in 1991:

Major League Baseball didn't test for them (and therefore deserve some blame), but this doesn't mean they hadn't been expressely prohibited. Their use was against the rules and therefore by definition whoever did steroids (and other substances) after 1991 is a cheater, regardless of their effectiveness. HGH has been prohibited many years later.

Many of the things that are being said about steroids and HGH are surprising to me. It seems that in the US these things have just recently become an issue and they're only starting to be researched now. I'm from Europe and we've been dealing with more elaborate PED's for way more than 10 years, in many sports and with many authorities (such as WADA and local and specialized authorities). There have been many, many studies done and they apparently agree on the improvements they provide, so it is extremely surprising to read these conclusions.

Yes, they do not improve your skills. They're not going to turn me into a Major League ballplayer and they won't teach you how to hit a curveball, but they will improve you in subtle ways. You're stronger, your peaks last longer and apparently it may improve your eyesight, for example. So, in fact, even though their effects are overstated they exist. They may help a fringe major leaguer become a "solid" 4th OF for years.

Moreover, in Europe we've already gone way beyond these old detectable drugs. Stamina sports athletes (cyclists, cross-country skiers) are onto EPO and I would be surprised if pitchers (for whom being as good in the 7th as in the 1st, and being able to pitch effectively and rested every day could help) didn't give a shot to self-transfusion and other even "stranger" stuff.

I do care about PED's, and I hope they're banned, honestly. I don't jump to conclusions and I don't point fingers, but yes, I do have some trouble with people using them, since I don't think 100% of baseball players are on it, which means that there has been an unjust shift in quality and results. It is troubling to me, as I don't think anybody should damage his health just to stay on par with others' enhanced skills.

PEDs were not illegal in baseball until 2004

Use of performance enhancing drugs was illegal period, whether you played baseball or not.

let's not portray anyone who used PEDs prior to 2004 as a villainous cheater.

Okay, not villainous, just criminal cheaters.

I find it tiresome that the press is making such a huge deal of this.

Guilty consciences will do that to people. Making a big deal of it now is a great way of ducking their complicity. The use of steroids has been obvious for over 20 years. It was only when McGwire, Bonds et al used them to smash historic records that anyone thought to take notice. Until then it was all just "new training techniques" and "hard work" that kept guys like Clemens going.What no one wants to do is go back and ask about some of the other geriatric miracle workers who stayed productive into their 40's.

Agreed, Rich. The great majority of the fans really could care less about steroids. Its the action on the field we care about. If players want to jam themselves full of radioactive waste in the pursuit of the almighty dollar, so be it. Both sides have been doing it, so its fair. Let's play ball.

Yes, the Vincent ban. Over the years, the statement that it was not against baseball rules to use steroids has been made often and very, very rarely someone brings up this 1991 ban. Why so rare? Because it is so obscure that practically nobody knows it exists. I once read a link to it, so I know it does, but it hardly mattered.

I am not even certain Vincent's ban had the force of law, but even if it did, he certainly had no right to establish either enforcement procedures or penalties without negotiating with the union, and that never happened. A rule that cannot be enforced and for which there are no penalties is not a rule at all. It isn't even like the rule requiring pitchers to deliver within a set time, a rule that also exists but is rarely if ever enforced and so is pretty much a dead letter. At least that could be enforced if the umpires decided to. The Vincent "rule" did not even have that going for it, and as a matter of fact, if anything, baseball encouraged using steroids.

I dislike steroids also, for the same reasons I despise nicotine and overindulgence in alcohol. They are unhealthy. They are not as dangerous to society as alcohol and probably no more damaging to health than nicotine, but they are a health hazard and as such should carry warnings and be regulated. But that is all they are, and it is ridiculous that we so blithely laugh at drunk jokes and cigarette addiction while condemning steroid use so fervently.

Bob, I'm sorry but what you say is inexact. Let me clear it up, if I can.

Baseball had a drug policy, which was a joke, but which was agreed upon by the MLBPA. The commissioner could ban violating players.

In 1990 the Anabolic Steroids Control Act came into play. Based on that act, anabolic steroids were reclassified as Schedule III controlled substances (prescription drugs used without prescription), which were in fact already banned according to the CBA. So there was an agreement in place, and the reclassification of steroids made them fall within the banned category - agreed upon by the MLBPA. The 1991 "memo" was a memo just because it expressely mentioned steroids, as a reminder (that's what memos are for) that they were officially banned. Technically, they had been banned since the 1990 act, that is even before the memo issued to all clubs.

Vincent DID have the power to ban people who violated the CBA and its drug policy. He banned Steve Howe from baseball based on his repeated use of cocaine (even though it was then changed to a ban to the end of the season), which was on the CBA, just like steroids were on the CBA at that point as well thanks to the reclassification. The MLBPA knew about the CBA, knew about the memo and knew about the act, so it knew about potential bans as well, and even though they would have challenged any decision (just because that's what they do, all the time), it wouldn't have been a unilateral one.

So Major League Baseball deserves blame because it didn't enforce testing and pre-existing rules, but this doesn't mean that 1) steroids weren't banned or 2) players couldn't be banned for using steroids.

Cheaters are cheaters. A rule that is not enforced is still a rule. The only difference is that we should also blame enforcers. The bottom line is that everybody in baseball knew about the CBA, the memo, the bans and the "non-testing". Whoever used steroids knew what he was doing (and ignorance is no excuse) and knew (or should have known) it was against (unenforced) rules. But if you go speeding on a highway and don't get monitored or caught, it doesn't mean you didn't commit an infraction, which of course means that like it or not, steroid users actually cheated.

Steroids and PEDs won't turn Barney Fife into a big league star, but even a small artificially enhanced improvement can be huge.

Add 10 feet to the average slugger's fly balls, and what do you have? The difference between AAA and major league skills or benchwarmer and regular player status can also be modest. The clean player can lose his job because of cheaters.

Baseball needs to completely purge its ranks of the dopers.

Cheaters are cheaters. Just as PED users such as Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Henry Aaron broke the law by using greenies to enhance their performance. The slippery slope continues...

You make good points and I defer to your superior knowledge of the details. I think our difference comes down to a judgment. In my view, a rule that not only is not enforced but is routinely and pretty openly violated without penalty, in fact with tacit complicity of the authorities (even active complicity), is not a rule at all. And to then investigate and publish the names of the players is not simply hypocrisy but is a small-minded and dishonest effort to shift blame for the dereliction of duty.

Part of the difference in judgment also regards the notion that "a rule that is not enforced is still a rule". I think that may sometimes be true, but when the lack of enforcement is so universal or even erratic, de facto the rule loses all force. For example, if a teacher establishes a homework policy on the first day of class in September (August) but never collects any, and then suddenly does so 5 months later, s/he cannot expect the students to have done it. There is still a rule, but it has in essence been suspended by the authority. Can you imagine the outcry should the teacher then also demand that all earlier assignments be submitted for grades? No way that teacher would be allowed to enforce such a decision, and rightly so.

The same holds in law. Even taking your example, if years go by and speeders are never tracked or punished on a particular road, you may be sure nearly everyone will speed. And while the first person caught may indeed pay a penalty (even then I think s/he might have a case that the law was suspended from disuse), it is inconceivable, should there be some means for discovering all the speeders in the interim, that those people would suffer any consequences or even be labeled lawbreakers. The law itself had become a joke.

Although I do not like the procedure whereby baseball did establish the new rules in 2004 (?), I agree that it is in the best interest of the game to ban them. But now that is the case, and the only issue is to maintain enforcement and possibly to continue monitoring the policy so as to improve it if necessary. Reviewing activities from the earlier period serves no legitimate purpose and not only smears the reputations of those who did but also of others who did not use steroids by unfounded rumors and speculations. Notice for example the post that lists Mays, Mantle, Maris and Aaron as greenie users. Once the monster of innuendo and amateur speculation is let loose, nobody is safe.

There is no slippery slope here. There is now an enforceable policy and so now there is cheating. When caught, there are penalties. If someone is caught, we can now say he cheated and have him serve the sentence after which, if allowed, he returns just as Joe Niekro did when caught doctoring the ball. But pitchers who take more than 20 seconds to deliver the pitch are not cheating, no matter what the rule says.

Thanks for the post, Rich. I share many of those thoughts.

That said, I think your message is far too reasonable and circumspect and not nearly shrill enough to catch on with the media, who seem to believe that it's their job to create as much controversy and outrage as they can.

Bob: I fully agree with that point of view. I think MLB deserves as much blame as the players do. My only points are that:
1) There was a rule in place. Just formally, and it was never enforced, so I can accept your analogy with homework, but it still was there.
2) Players knew about that rule, and therefore have to be considered cheaters.
3) Even though PED's effects might have been overstated (they most certainly have been, by most people anyway), they exist.

Make no mistake, I understand what you say, and I also share many of the same ideas, and I also have different feelings toward, say, Rafael Palmeiro (cheater and liar under enforced rules) and others (silently allowed by MLB). But I do retain more respect for those who didn't cheat, even if they could have done so.

RS --

Worth noting that Vincent himself disagrees with your analysis. See his interview with Maury Brown. Quoting now: "I'm sure that what the General Managers are saying is correct that nobody paid too much attention to it because it was aimed at people who probably weren't big steroid users anyway. I mean the clubhouse man, and the coaches
would hardly be taking steroids. But that's all we could do."

Yeah, he certainly had the ability to hand down limited penalties for confirmed use. Same kind of penalties that you get for (say) a coke bust.

Also note that Vincent's memo is nothing more than a restatement of Bowie Kuhn circa 1984.

Highlights: players who were convicted of or plead guilty to crimes related to distribution of a controlled substance (or offenses related tod ealing them) would be suspended for a minimum of a year. And could be declared permanently ineligible. (no criteria specified for anything above the minimum)

A year's suspension if found with a controlled substance at the park.

Punishment for subsequent offenses open-ended. All suspensions without pay and no credit for service time.

Required random testing, aftercare and community service for players coming forward voluntarily. No fines or suspensions (once only and not for players who had already been busted)

And since it's kind of on topic, he also banned amphetamines at the same time.

Kuhn was fired before any of this was tested, and to my knowledge nobody attempted to use this ruling after he was fired. Probably because of all of the arbitration rulings which in effect said that the CBA (and labor law) trumps the Commissioner's best interests of baseball powers.

Ron, and how does that contradict what I said? He didn't enforce the rules, and could not implement punishment because there was no testing. And on that I agreed with Bob, and there is no way MLB shouldn't apologize for what happened, and I find it hypocritical to allow everything to go on and now just blame the players as though they are the only culprits.

I was just making a formal point, which does not exonerate Major League Baseball (in fact, they probably have to be blamed MORE for not enforcing an existing rule), but which does indicate that technically the players who used steroids did so while cheating. That's all I'm saying, and it is factually and formally correct. I won't dispute personal or moral or practical objections because they are what they are, and if well supported they deserve to be listened to, but we're talking about different things, which don't necessarily contrast each other.

RS -- We're really not too far apart. But my point is that Vincent (and Kuhn before him) didn't have the authority to make the use of performance enhancing drugs cheating -- unless you'd care to argue that Paul Molitor (to pick one of many coke users) was a cheater.

He had authority to hand down some discipline for breaking the law of the land. That's it.

Vincent (and Kuhn before him) were issuing policy papers.

Now if you feel (as many do) that steroid use is cheating, period, then this doesn't matter.

All I'm saying is that Vincent's memo doesn't change anything. He knew it and said so. (Hell, it was of such little importance to him that he can't even recall why he issued the memo).

Well, I suppose I agree with that. In a way you're cheating only when you're illegally breaking a rule which others aren't allowed to break. At the time, steroids were available to most players without risking punishment, so strictly speaking I can concede that "cheaters" are cheaters only since the testing began (Alex Sanchez, Rafael Palmeiro, Guillermo Mota and their friends).

I think we can agree on that bottom line, but I guess you also understood my point.

Thanks for the article.

It touched on what I thought was just shortsighted of those that wanted to put an
astresk on Bonds career home run mark.
That meant that you'd have to put an
* on Bonds season record, which would leave
us with Mark McGwire. Well, we could put an *
there and leave us with, Sammy Sosa. Then
we'd put an * there and leave us at Roger Maris.
I think it'd be rather cute to actually TAKE
AWAY Roger's *. But, if we didn't, we're
right back to Babe Ruth, which would make the
old timer's very happy. If all that happens,
I think we should just retire the award and
leave it in the Babe's hands permanently.
Some things can't be fixed.

I didn't understand all the anger here. I remember watching McGwire and Sosa with a group
of rabid baseball fans and we were all laughing
at the size of those two. We all believed they were juiced but weren't calling for their heads the way we did later with Bonds. Everyone talks
about the players union and management. It's not like the fan didn't know, either.

I don't see the point in making a mess of the
record books. What really sets the record straight is that the fans, the media, and
probably the owners and players have come out and
said we don't want this anymore.
If we're really worried about our kids, we already made the imporatant change when we stopped laughing at the problem.

As far as the baseball's record book itself goes,
I can see future historians arguing about the differences in the numbers around steroids the same way they look at the dead ball era and the
pre-integration era. Give it 20-30 years and it
will just be part of the layers of intrigue in
arguing about the game.