Juice, drugs, and baseball

On March 30, Major League Baseball (MLB) launched its probe into steroid use in baseball over the past 10 to 15 years. MLB commissioner Bud Selig appointed former U.S. Senator George Mitchell to head up the investigation, whose mission is to uncover who used what and where and when they used it. This comes in the wake of the publishing of Game of Shadows by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, a book that details Barry Bonds’ alleged steroid use.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, this probe will cause more problems than it will solve. Why was this investigation not started 10 or 15 years ago? This steroid problem began in the early 1990s, yet its scope is not known even up through the present. Mark McGwire (co-star of the historic 1998 home run race) took androstenedione, an unregulated food additive that is banned in the Olympics, the NCAA, and the NFL, but not in MLB.

Only now are we trying to uncover the truth of the past, and what about possible future problems, such as use of human growth hormone or blood doping? A present and future approach, rather than an investigation into the past, is what is needed.

What are the real motives behind this investigation? Selig denied that the reason for this probe is that Bonds is closing in on the major-league home run record of 755 held by Hank Aaron, but it is not hard to read between the lines. If Bonds passes Aaron amidst all the controversy and accusations, Selig will
be put in a tough position on whether to honor Bonds’ achievements.

Another question lies in what exactly Selig hopes to accomplish. He recently said, “The goal here is to determine facts, not engage in supposition, speculation, rumor, or innuendo.” Once the facts are found, even if players used steroids, it will be hard to penalize them for their actions occurring before the steroids ban.

In addition, players were not given formal drug tests until 2003, and no penalties were enacted until the following year. The current policy is a 50-game suspension for the first positive test, a 100-game suspension for the next, and a lifetime ban for the third. This policy seems to solve potential future problems of steroid use, but it has no provision for actions to take when players are charged with using steroids in books, when people testify that the players used them, or when after-the-fact evidence is uncovered.

If, and when, this investigation finds dirt on players, it will tarnish the athletes’ reputations and the game of baseball as a whole. This is all because these players were doing something that officially was not breaking any rules and that they felt they had to do to compete.

I am not condoning steroid use here, but in sports, when athletes are looking for every edge they can get and there is pressure coming from every direction for them to excel at the highest level possible — and there is no suspension policy in place — you begin to see how they could end up making the wrong decision.

Also, how do you deal with statistics from the past decade? You cannot just isolate and remove the cheaters from the rest, seeing as all statistics are interconnected. You would basically just need to throw out all the statistics from the past decade to solve that, but then what about the period in which spitballs were not banned from being thrown by pitchers? I guess you would need to throw out these stats, too, since pitchers were cheating then. There is also the “dead ball era” (1900–1919) when baseballs were not wound as tight as they are now, so the ball was not as “juiced” as it is in today’s game.

Commissioner Selig’s intentions are good, but the results, unfortunately, will not be. More harm than good will come out of this investigation, as it will create more problems than it will solve. Selig’s goal here is to determine the facts about steroids in baseball, but what happens when he gets these facts? Selig’s best option would be to focus on the future and to stop any further performance-enhancing drug use. He will not be able to change the past, so he might as well just leave it alone.