Thursday, December 13, 2007

Steroids in Baseball - Yawn

Senator Mitchell's report came out today, as was covered by nearly every paper and news report in America. My comments below.

Roger Clemens, who won the Cy Young award a record seven times, and seven players who won baseball’s most valuable player award were among dozens of players named Thursday in the former Senator George J. Mitchell’s report on his investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport.

“For more than a decade there has been widespread anabolic steroid use,” Mr. Mitchell said in a news conference announcing the results of a 20-month investigation he led at the behest of Major League Baseball. He said the use of performance-enhancing substances “poses a serious threat to the integrity of the game.”

Clemens was the most prominent name in the report, along with the Most Valuable Player award-winners Barry Bonds, Ken Caminiti, José Canseco, Jason Giambi, Juan Gonzalez, Mo Vaughn and Miguel Tejada.

The report also includes the names of three of the top 10 home-run leaders of all time: Bonds, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmiero.

Mr. Clemens was among several players named in the report from the Yankees championship teams of the late 1990s, which put together one of the most dominant performances in baseball, winning three consecutive World Series from 1998 to 2000. Others from those teams included Andy Pettitte, David Justice and Chuck Knoblauch. Other players named included Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Lenny Dykstra, Denny Neagle, Todd Hundley, Mike Stanton, Paul Lo Duca and Eric Gagné.

“Each of the 30 clubs had a player or players involved in taking illegal substances,” at one time or another, Mr. Mitchell said. He called the years on which he focused his investigation “the Steroids Era.”

“If there are problems, I wanted them revealed,” said Bud Selig, baseball’s commissioner since 1992. “His report is a call to action, and I will act.”

The evidence against the players includes receipts, checks and e-mail, much of it provided by Kirk Radomski, a former New York Mets clubhouse attendant who has pleaded guilty to federal charges for selling steroids from 1995 through 2005. Mr. Radomski cooperated with Mr. Mitchell as part of his plea bargain. Other evidence came from Brian McNamee, a former trainer for Mr. Clemens and Mr. Pettitte and from an investigation led by the Albany County district attorney into Signature Pharmacy.

I've been clear on this blog about my feelings regarding performance enhancing drug use in sports. In addition to this new report, Marion Jones admitted her use of drugs and was recently stripped by the IOC of the five medals she won in the 2000 Olympics. Certainly, there will be others.

Focusing just on baseball for a minute, this "investigation" is big pile of bullshit. Everyone in baseball knew about anabolic steroid use and growth hormone use among players, not to mention amphetamine use which has been going on for decades (and amphetamines aren't even banned in the NHL). All the big heads looked the other way because the increase in size and strength, and the resulting higher level of play -- not to mention the lengthening of careers -- brought back a lot of fans who had left the sport following the strike year of 1994.

Baseball isn't alone in its hypocrisy on drug use. The NFL testing program is so predictable that athletes know when they will be tested, which allows them to use fast-acting (and fast-clearing) drugs, knowing they can beat the test.

While N.F.L. officials are proud of their program, antidoping experts say the framework and timing of N.F.L. testing allows players ample room to outmaneuver the tests, particularly if they are using amphetamines and fast-acting steroids that can be quickly flushed from the body.

A well-known steroid expert comments:

“Testing catches the careless and the stupid,” said Charles E. Yesalis, a professor of sports science at Penn State University. “If you believe only 1 to 2 percent use drugs, that is incredibly naïve. Drug use is the greatest problem facing elite sports, and testing creates the facade that everyone is clean.”

The New York Times article concludes with this from Yesalis:

Yesalis, who has studied drug use by athletes for the last 30 years, said he recently came to the conclusion that drug testing was doing more harm than good.

“The major breakthroughs have come from law enforcement, not by any testing,” he said. “Testing is there to provide the fan, who is already disinterested in drug use, with plausible deniability because the leagues tell the fans the athletes are clean because they have drug testing.”

It's worth noting that only the International Olympic Committee has a fully functioning testing program, and they test Olympic athletes in conjunction with the United States Anti-Doping Agency, but none of the professional sports leagues in this country have been willing to contract with the USADA to test their athletes.

This is a telling fact. Why wouldn't these leagues do EVERYTHING in their power to be sure their sports are clean? The answer, as always, is money.

It's not in the best interest of the sports or the athletes to lose the best players as a result of positive drug tests. Despite what fans may say about drug testing, they want to see the best athletes doing things that seem super-human. If football players were only marginally better than the average athlete, or if the baseball season didn't produce several players with 30-50 home runs, or if we didn't have aging players like Roger Clemons to cheer for, who would want to spend more than $100 to take a family of four to a ballgame?

The reality is, as always, that people will do whatever they have to do to be successful, especially when there is BIG money on the line. And this includes using performance enhancing drugs. With this as a fact, there will always be chemists coming up with the next new undetectable drug, athletes who will use them, and owners/managers/coaches who look the other way.

There are two real options in solving this problem, since drug testing will NEVER be 100% effective.

1) Make performance enhancing drugs legal again, but require that doctors supervise their use and administration. In this view, drugs are just another technology -- like ultra-light bikes in cycling, or tracksuits among sprinters, and so on. Various technologies have revolutionized sports like golfing, why not allow drugs to serve the same purpose, as they already have.

2) Limit the pay that any athlete in any sport can make per season. The extravagant money that might normally be paid could be put into retirement programs for athletes so that they are well taken care of when their relatively short careers are over. I would propose that no athlete is worth (or needs) more than a million dollars a year. Alex Rodriguez will make 27.5 million dollars a year for the next 10 years, plus performance incentives. With money like this on the table for the best athletes, no wonder they are willing to use drugs to get that extra edge over other players. Take away that insane money, and you take away the incentive to use drugs.

Of course, neither of these things will happen, and the hypocrisy will continue.


Unknown said...

I think the Mitchell Report was excellent because it was a necessary step in moving things in the direction you advocate. Things needed to be more overtly out in the open, as silly as that sounds.

Limiting athletes' pay is a problematic step, however. Billionaire's sports teams are lucrative enough without imposing steps that make them more lucrative for the billionaires.

My question is Will we ever be rid of performance-enhancing drugs? Will the clever use of the drugs, and their formulation, always be ahead of the detection regimen?

Maybe competitive sports will fade and today's big sports -- base-, foot-, and basket-ball -- will become rather disreputable like professional wrestling, roller derby and boxing.

william harryman said...

Hey now, my folks loved roller derby back in the 70s.

I don't think we'll ever have 100% clean sports -- human nature guarantees that.

As far as salaries are concerned -- my plan, as if anyone cared, would allot the same total dollars now paid as a percentage of gross income into a player's pool. From that pool, players would be paid their regular salaries during their careers (one million dollars maximum). The remainder would be used to take care of all the players when they are no longer playing.

No increase in profit for the billionaires, and the players would not have to worry about making as much money as possible while they play, knowing they would be taken care of later.

I think this would reduce the necessity of cheating to a large extent, but there will always be some who will.


Unknown said...

Most ballplayers today are taking homeopathic hgh oral spray because it's safe, undetectable, and legal for over the counter sales. As time goes on it seems it might be considered as benign a performance enhancer as coffee, aspirin, red bull, chewing tobacco, and bubble gum.