Baseball's Steroid Hysteria

by John M. Curtis
(310) 204-8700

Copyright December 15, 2007
All Rights Reserved.

hen former Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine) dropped his long-awaited Dec. 14 bombshell on steroids in Major League Baseball, San Francisco Giant's slugger and all-time single-season and lifetime homerun king Barry Bonds felt a little less heat. Bonds was indicted Nov. 19 for perjury and obstruction of justice for lying to a grand jury and investigators about whether he used steroids. With major MLB fingering Bonds, Mitchell's report spreads the blame to some of the game's biggest stars, including seven-time Cy Young winner and future Hall of Fame pitcher Roger Clemens. “There has never been one shred of tangible evidence that he ever used these substances and yet he is being slandered today,” said Clemens lawyer Randy Hardin, refuting the charges. Bonds also complained, but did nothing, when exposed by San Francisco Chronicle sports writers Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams.

      Fainaru-Wada and Williams' 2005 book “Game of Shadows,” obtained grand jury testimony of BALCO [Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative] founder Victor Conte and weight trainer Greg Andersen, who testified he personally injected Bonds with tetrahydrogestrinone [THG] AKA “The Clear,” a previously undetectable, water-soluble steroid developed by chemist Patrick Arnold. Bonds has had plenty of time to sue for liable, slander and defamation, if the charges were not true. If Clemens, like Bonds, were really innocent, lawsuits would fly. No guilty party wants to take the witness stand to be cross-examined and fully exposed. “We made every effort to establish the truthfulness of the information that we received,” said Mitchell, insisting his investigation provides convincing proof of steroid and human growth hormone use by at least 80 former and active ballplayers.

      Before MLB acquiesced to Congress in 2003 and implemented a tough anti-steroid ban, Commissioner Bud Selig and Players' Union Executive Director Donald Fehr resisted the crack down. Selig and Fehr had a “don't ask, don't tell” policy, before pressured by the House Government Reform Committee to implement a ban or face tough punitive legislation. St. Louis Cardinal slugger, former single-season homerun king Mark McGwire—who broke Roger Maris' 37-year-old record Sept. 8, 1998—stonewalled the committee about steroid use. “My lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family and myself,” McGwire told the panel. McGwire's once Oakaland A's teammate Jose Canseco first exposed MLB's dirty little secret with his 2005 best-selling book “Juiced: Wild Times, ‘Roids,' Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big.”

      President George W. Bush cautioned against jumping to conclusions about Mitchell's report. While saying he was “troubled” by Mitchell's findings, he expressed reservations about forming opinions about individual players. That's quite a statement when you consider how the media hounded Bonds for years about his alleged steroid use. When Bonds broke Hank Aaron's lifetime homerun record Aug. 8, Selig was reluctant to give him credit, uncertain what was to come next. His indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice followed Nov. 19. Yet, no other player, including McGwire, ever endured the humiliation and harassment for steroid use more than Bonds. “But we can jump to this conclusion: That steroids have sullied the game,” said Bush, simultaneously asking fans to reserve judgment. Mitchell not only denounced steroids but “human growth hormone.”

      When Babe Ruth played ball, a powerful stimulant called Benzedrine was sold in drug stores over the counter. Ballplayers didn't enjoy the advantages of modern medicine, nutritional science and exercise physiology. No one talked about placing an asterisk next to any record for taking Benzedrine, chewing tobacco or sucking down alcohol. Steroids are routinely called “performance enhancing drugs” but there's no science on whether these drugs actually improve hand-eye coordination needed to pitch or hit a baseball. Steroids may improve strength and quickness but there's no known link to the complex set of skills needed to play baseball or any other sport. Whatever scientists say about the adverse side effects, physicians routinely prescribe steroids for legitimate medical reasons. Whether those conditions involve strength and muscle fitness is anyone's guess.

      Mitchell's report treats anabolic steroids like marijuana, cocaine or other dangerous drugs. Used under a doctor's care, they may have medical benefits, whether or not they give players an unfair advantage. Mitchell sees fit to go after human growth hormone, another nutritional product that improves immunity and muscle recovery time. If the same hysteria sweeps HGH, it too will be banned by MLB for giving players a competitive advantage. All effective drugs or supplements aid performance. No one blames Viagra or herbal supplements for improving male sexual performance. While MLB may purge steroids from the game, new products are bound to come on the market in the future. Ballplayers can't return to the halcyon days of hotdogs and beer. They're entitled to profit from advances in medicine, nutritional science and exercise physiology without accused of cheating.

About the Author

John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He's editor of and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.

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