My dad was sitting in his hospital bed as I walked in to see him for the first time after his heart “incident.” He was still weak from the ordeal and groggy from the drugs. But my dad always had a good sense of humor. He forced a smile and said, “They’re giving me steroids … so, I’m thinking of trying out for the major leagues.”
And we all laughed.
It’s interesting to me that he joked about playing baseball, instead of football or basketball or cycling. My dad only played baseball when he was a boy and wasn’t really much of a fan.
But he did know that steroids made you a better baseball player. Why? Because the media and the government — which is spending millions to prove that Barry Bonds is PED Enemy No. 1 — now say so.
Do steroids really provide an advantage that other cheating efforts don’t? I think it’s a safe assumption to say that PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs) helped physically turn Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa into He-Man and Skeletor, but do we know for a fact that they made these guys better baseball players?
For the record: I don’t like Barry Bonds. I’ve never met him. It’s not like he stole my girl, stiffed me on a restaurant check or left an upper-decker in my bathroom. He’s just always come across as a jerk. It was a decade ago, but I still remember clearly watching him at the plate, so dangerous with that bat – no match for guys like Chan Ho Park and his straight fastball or Scott Elarton and his “un-breaking” ball.
Before PEDs were to blame, many reasons were bandied about for the increased homerun numbers: juiced balls, juiced parks, watered-down pitching via expansion, climate changes and Mercury in retrograde. Strangely, there was only an occasional mention of steroids, though the players were clearly getting bigger and bigger right before our eyes (no offense, blind people).
Then, like a bolt from the heavens — BAM! The profit-seeking media and the ever-efficient government tell us it’s the PEDs, and nothing but the PEDs, that caused this offensive explosion. Now, like jilted ex-lovers, we’re convinced everyone was juicing – from physical freak Jason Giambi to regular guy Brett Boone to the Punch-and-Judy Neifi Perez (oh wait, he actually was suspended for PED use). We started hearing over and over that these outlaws must be punished. And when the media repeats something over and over, most people tend to just start believing it — if only out of laziness — and we lost sight of any other possible factors.
However, some scientific studies (not mentioned much by the media) have made claims that performance-enhancing drugs actually don’t have this super-human transformative effect that we all believe. The studies do indicate that PEDs can speed recovery from injuries. Well, that doesn’t sound much like cheating to me. When players wear casts to help their bones heal, that’s not cheating. This particular view on steroids sounds boring — and boring will not sell newspapers or increase TV ratings or website views. I kind of like the idea of the absolute best players in the world recovering quickly from injuries and returning to the field. The less I see of the Nick Punto-type players, the better.
The media continues to rail against these former players, and they demand that you join them in their battle for purity for the sake of all that is good and, of course, for the children. Many members of the Baseball Writers Association of America have publicly stated that they will never vote into the Hall of Fame any player even suspected of PED use.
“Suspected?” What? I suspect one of my neighbors has been peeing in the building’s Jacuzzi, but that doesn’t mean he definitely does it. And I can’t go around telling everyone that he did. How far does this go? Someone says that Eric Gagne asked for HGH: suspect. Mike Piazza had acne on his back: suspect. Brady Anderson hit 50 home runs one season: suspect.
Many have advocated adding asterisks to all these records because the statistics were artificial. But the pitchers were juicing also — right, Roger? So, here’s a compromise: What if we only count the home runs hit against pitchers also suspected of juicing? See, now we’re getting clever.
And why stop with steroids? Let’s go back and nail everyone we suspect of taking amphetamines. Those are now against the rules. That Casey Stengel sure seemed peppy: suspect. And when we’re done there, let’s go back even further. Cocaine was in wide use in the U.S. in the early 1900s. I’m sure that even after it was made illegal in 1914 that some players continued to get a little pick-me-up from the devil’s dandruff. That Ty Cobb sure acted like a cokehead sometimes: suspect.
And, yet, with all the uproar about the rules and the laws and the morality and the children(!), there are more players in the league who have been arrested for drunk driving than there are players who have been suspended for using banned substances. Drunk drivers are also very hazardous to the health of children — well, the ones that aren’t quick.
I’m not saying that players who used PEDs are righteous dudes or that they should just be allowed to do whatever they want. But there is a lot of money at stake in professional sports. The players are going to keep trying to get an edge over the competition with exercise, diets, supplements — anything and everything. If chewing on tire rubber or drinking Peruvian yak pee will make someone stronger or faster, players will try it. Amphetamines (and a slew of other stimulants) were recently added to the list of banned substances. And then, coincidentally, players suddenly had a significant spike in medical “exemptions” for treatment of their Attention Deficit Disorders – the “treatment” for which is Ritalin and Adderall. Both of these are stimulants.
Marijuana is also “legal” if you follow the guidelines. However, there are 20 medical marijuana shops within a five-minute drive from me. There’s a good chance that not everyone who has a “medical marijuana card” actually has a medical condition — unless you consider that “wanting to get high” is a medical condition.
It is in everyone’s competitive nature to look for loopholes or shortcuts to help them win and, conversely, to try to eliminate loopholes and shortcuts that others are exploiting. Some baseball players have been accused of exploiting various loopholes in the league’s drug policy with PED use and, for various reasons, have lied about it when asked directly.
When Bonds was asked about PED use while under oath, he denied it. It’s the “under oath” part that gets this all sticky. But everyone was denying it — over and over — except for the noble Jose Canseco, a modern-day, one-man Woodward and Bernstein. Bonds’ denial led to further investigations and deliberations, until he was eventually charged with a few counts of perjury and obstruction of justice.
In this troubling economic climate, with people all over the country wondering just what it is that the government is doing with their tax dollars, it seems like a waste of time and resources to spend millions of dollars pursuing a retired baseball player who was trying to cover his butt in court.
Last week, Barry Bonds was found guilty of obstruction of justice, but not perjury. Which sounds weird, unless you’ve been in those jury pool waiting rooms. It’s not exactly a collection of great minds.
Legal experts are saying that Bonds is unlikely to serve any time and there’s a very good chance even the one guilty charge will be dismissed. So, what this media coverage and prosecution and taxpayer money really accomplished is making Barry Bonds look like a jerk. But, we already didn’t like Barry Bonds. So, I guess, now he’s a little bit more of a jerk.
In the end, what do we have to show for all our time and money? Nothing. Baseball players (and football players and basketball players and cyclists and swimmers) will never stop seeking the competitive edge. Now, maybe some will feel slightly less inclined to perjure themselves while under oath. Or maybe they’ll just try harder to not make enemies in the media.
And, so, all that really happened was that the government proved that it can waste money on over-the-hill ballplayers just like any other team in the league.