Steroid Abuse Hurts Baseball
The abuse of steroids among players in Major League Baseball is corrupting the image of America’s Pastime as well as endangering the health of those who use the illegal substances. The lack of testing and punishment for the use of illegal substances like steroids in the Major Leagues portrays a negative image to aspiring young athletes. They see their role models using steroids and becoming better athletes rather than seeing suspensions for the illegal behavior or the negative health effects.
Anabolic-androgenic steroids are synthetic substances which increase skeletal muscle growth and increase male hormone production. Steroids are legal only through prescription. They are often prescribed for ailments in which the body does not grow correctly because of a lack of testosterone (NIDA InfoFacts, np).
Steroids are taken either orally or through an injection. The most common oral steroids are anadrol, oaxadrin, dianabol, and winstrol. The most common injected steroids are deca-durabolin, durabolin, depo-testosterone, and equipoise. There are also legal steroidal supplements such as dehydroepian-drosterone and androstenedione (NIDA Research, np).
The effects of steroids depend on the reason for the use of the drugs. Legally prescribed steroids are portioned so that the user receives only the desired effects such as increased testosterone and muscle growth. Negative effects mainly come from the illegal use of steroids. When steroids are abused major negative effects such as cancer, tumors, and increased blood pressure can occur. Lesser negative side effects are gender specific. The higher levels of testosterone in males may cause shrinking of the testicles, baldness, and the growth of breasts. In woman the testosterone can cause facial hair, baldness, and deepening of the voice (NIDA InfoFacts, np).
The most serious affects of steroid use can be fatal as they were in the case of former Major League Baseball (MLB) MVP Ken Caminiti. Caminiti died at the age of 41 just days after he had admitted testing positive for cocaine in a Houston court. Although his death was an apparent drug overdose, the medical examiner reported that an enlarged heart and coronary artery disease were contributing factors. The medical examiner also added his admitted steroid use would, “absolutely have been a significant contributing factor to an enlarged and weakened heart” (Cocaine and opiates found in Caminit’s Body, np).
The death of Caminiti was the first wake up call to the public and Major League Baseball that steroids are a problem in baseball. It is a shame that it took a death to reveal it.
The next major blow to baseball was leaked Grand Jury testimony by reigning MVP Barry Bonds for the case against the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO). BALCO was under investigation for distributing illegal performance enhancing substances such as steroids to major athletes including Bonds. In the testimony Bonds described taking substances given to him by his trainer Greg Anderson, who was indicted for distributing steroids. The substances described were similar to two types of steroids commonly distributed by BALCO. Bonds claimed ignorance stating that he thought the substances were natural supplements for arthritis (Associated Press, np).
The final blow to the league was the tell-all book Juiced written by former MLB star Jose Canseco. In his best-selling book Canseco admitted to personally injecting then teammate and former single season homerun record holder Mark McGwire with steroids. In an interview on 60 Minutes Mike Wallace read out of Canseco’s book:
What we did more times than I can count was go into a bathroom stall together, shoot up steroids. After batting practice or right before the game, Mark and I would duck into a stall in the men’s room, load up our syringes and inject ourselves. I would often inject Mark (60 Minutes).
During the interview Wallace asked Canseco to talk about his steroid experiences with McGwire. Canseco responded, “Just the first time injecting them in his buttocks. It wasn’t like you gave a lot of thought. It was something so common” (60 Minutes).
All three of these news stories caused great disruption at the front office of the Major Leagues. The commissioner’s office needed to do something about the growing steroid problem and did so quickly announcing a new drug testing policy in early January of this year. The policy calls for at least one announced drug test and also allows random testing of other players. A player is suspended 10 games for the first offense, 30 games for the second, 60 for the third, and one year for the fourth. This policy is a huge step for the MLB considering prior to 2003 there was no drug testing policy in place due to the opposition from the strong players union (Bodley, np).
Despite the great advance in the drug testing policy for the league Congress was not satisfied and the Committee on Government Reform investigated the problem. Chairman Tom Davis sent a formal letter to Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association Donald M. Fehr about the problems he and the rest of the committee thought still remained with the league’s drug policy. One of the main problems the Committee had with the policy was the discrepancy between the announced penalties for violations and the printed version. In the letter, the Committee pointed out the differences:
In public statements, Major League Baseball representatives have emphasized that players who violate the new policy will be publicly identified and suspended from baseball for ten days. In fact, the details of the new policy reveal that the penalty for a first offense can be either a suspension or a fine of $10,000 or less; that there is no public identification of players who are fined instead of suspended; and that even if players are suspended, the public disclosure is limited to the fact of their suspension with no official confirmation that the player tested positive for steroids (Davis, np).
The committee also questions the leagues decision for who supervises the drug testing:
Under the new Major League Baseball policy, many key implementation decisions are to be made by a four-person committee that includes Robert D. Manfred, Jr., Major League Baseball’s Executive Vice President, Labor and Human Resources, and Gene Orza, the Chief Operating Officer and Associate General Counsel of the Major League Players Association. According to the policy, some of these decisions must be made unanimously, giving both Major League Baseball management and the players union a veto (Davis, np).
Another question brought up in the letter is the Anti-Oversight Clause:
The new policy contains an extraordinary provision that in the event of a “governmental investigation” relating to drug testing of players, “all testing shall be suspended immediately.” The suspension will remain in effect until the government investigation is withdrawn, the league and players’ union “have successfully resisted an investigation at the trial court level,” or both sides agree to resume testing. If testing is suspended for a year, then the entire drug program is subject to renegotiation (Davis, np).
Along with the thorough examination of Major League Baseball’s new drug policy, the Committee subpoenaed numerous players to speak at a congressional hearing. The players subpoenaed were Canseco, McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Frank Thomas, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi, and Curt Schilling. Giambi was pardoned due to an ailment and Thomas joined by video conference (ESPN.com’s Steroid Hearing Scorecard, np).
The eleven hour hearing began with opening statements made by Chairman Davis and Representative Henry A. Waxman. Each criticized baseballs inability to police itself. Davis stated, “we’re in the first inning of what could be an extra inning ball game,” and that “the truth needs to come out, however ugly the truth might be” (ESPN.com’s Steroid Hearing Scorecard, np).
The hearing was highlighted by the questioning of the subpoenaed players. Besides Canseco the remainder of the witnesses were short with there answers under obvious watch from their lawyers due to the fact no one was given immunity. Canseco took numerous stands stating that baseball has a steroid problem, and denying the fact will not help. He emphasized the point with this statement:
The most effective thing right now is for us to admit there’s a major problem … From what I’m hearing I was the only individual in major league baseball to use steroids. That’s hard to believe (ESPN.com’s Steroid Hearing Scorecard, np).
Because of his interviews, book, and willingness to talk about the steroid problem in baseball, Jose Canseco is viewed as a snitch to most of the baseball world, but Representative Dutch Ruppersberger said it best when he stated, “I guarantee you that Jose Canseco is not going to win a popularity contest with the players, but Jose Canseco might be the best thing that has happened to y’all” (ESPN.com’s Steroid Hearing Scorecard, np).
Steroids are an obvious problem in Major League Baseball that have been ignored for far too long. It took a leaked grand jury testimony, a congressional hearing, and worst of all a death to a great player before the league was willing to admit to the problem. Although the Commissioner’s office is making some changes, the policy is far too weak to clean up the game. Until a strict no tolerance policy for steroid use is enforced the league and all of its players will be under a cloud of scrutiny from the media and the public. Commissioner Bud Selig and Executive Director Donald Fehr must work together to renew the great tradition of America’s Pastime.
Associated Press. Bonds admitted to using substances thought to be steroids. 3 December. 2004. ESPN.com. 27 March. 2005. .
Bodley, Hal. Baseball officials announce tougher steroids policy. 12 January. 2005. USATODAY.com. 27 March. 2005. .
Cocaine and opiates found in Caminiti’s body. 1 November. 2004. ESPN.com News Services. 27 March. 2005. .
Davis, Tom. Davis/Waxman Letter to MLB and MLBPA on MLB Testing Policy. 17 March. 2005. Committee on Governement Reform. 27 March. 2005. .
ESPN.com’s Steroid Hearing Scorecard. 17 March. 2005. ESPN.com. 27 March. 2005. .
NIDA – Research Report Series – Anabolic Steroids Abuse. 4 February. 2005. The National Institute on Drug Abuse. 27 March. 2005. .
NIDA InfoFacts: Steroids (Anabolic-Androgenic). March. 2005. The National Institute on Drug Abuse. 27 March. 2005. .
“Steroid User Canseco Names Names.” 60 Minutes. By Mike Wallace. CBS. 13 February. 2005.