06 March 2008| Solving the Steroid Issue in Baseball
Right now, some form of steroids are being injected by professional, collegiate, and even high school athletes. Make no mistake, we are in the steroid era. New hormones are constantly being discovered (and subsequently exploited). Yes, it's going to be a long swim before shore. Think English Channel.
Realizing that the journey of a thousand strokes has to start with an initial cupping of the hand, Major League Baseball has predictably toughened penalties. They increased suspensions on first-time offenders, and added random offseason drug testing. The ban, by even the most optimistic of reports, has only been partially successful in its aim of eliminating steroids from the game. However, nearly all of the MVP-caliber players suspected of steroid use have gone virtually untouched. And justifiably so, as the Players Union would never allow the front office to ban players greatly suspected of using illegal performance enhancing drugs through circumstantial evidence and unconfirmed allegations.
The reality is, the players willing to cheat will always be one step ahead of MLB’s testers. The MLB knows this; their stricter policy on illegal ‘performance enhancing’ drugs in 2008 is more symbolic than effective. Its a dog-and-pony show Baseball has to play in order appease the public (and even eminent congressmen like John McCain). Major League Baseball is never going to be able to swim to France.
For every athlete that gets busted for using steroids, there is a rogue scientist doing everything in his power to develop a new drug which will go undetected by the screeners. After all, MLB cannot test for a substance which only exists in the syringes of an unknown clinic in Oakland. Moreover, professional and amateur athletes alike (Little League testing is sadly sounding legitimate) will always be creating a market for devious drugs.
Professional athletes will especially be seeking this new edge, as they are eternally competitive. Even if the penalty of steroid use was punishable by death, athletes would still likely take them. Their desire for glory on the diamond is so great that it even trumps humanly concerns. And therein lies the great irony. While many studies have shown the deleterious effect steroids can have on the user after their playing career, none have shown a positive correlation between steroid use and on-field performance. While it may be true that steroids do increase muscle mass and recovery time, it has never been proven that its effects are applicable in helping one become a better ballplayer.
According to former MLB pitcher Rob Dibble, it is widely held that the best don't need steroids. Ichiro Suzuki, Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Carl Crawford, and Albert Pujlos, are just a few examples of players who do not rely on steroids, and are all capable of producing MVP caliber numbers in any given year. Dibble argues that steroids only helps the bench player temporarily obtain a starting role only to lose it when he is almost certainly injured later.
In order to solve their public relations nightmare, Major League Baseball needs to stop testing players for drugs of any sort- performance enhancing or otherwise.
Even though scientists have proven that a corked bat does not help a player hit the ball further, and may even be less effective than a traditional bat, corked bats are still banned by MLB. All this ban is doing is reinforcing in the players minds that a corked bat must provide an additional edge- otherwise why else would it be banned? This same mentality is what motivates some players to use steroids. Interestingly, it is also found in proponents of the War on Drugs. The supporters of the War on Drugs, like MLB, have good intentions. They want to ban a substance that is known to have detrimental effects on its users. But what they fail to realize is that by banning the substance altogether it creates a perpetual black market-- people will always be attracted to that which is forbidden.
The only acceptable approach is to stop testing (decriminalize) players for foreign substances. If the player is wiling to risk his long-term health for the sake of possibly playing professional baseball, we, as a society, should let them. I take the clause “pursuit of happiness” quite seriously. Even though that’s not my own personal happiness, I have no right to inflict my morality on him.The only way to stop the cycle of steroid use is through education. Maybe Major League Baseball can pay its former (and now infertile) players to attest to its undesirable effects. Use some of the money that’s now being allocated to the YMCA to a new steroid education program, as its obviously more pressing to the longevity of the game. Future generations of players will still cheat, don't get me wrong, but maybe not at the risk of their longevity.