I’m a steroids apologist, I admit. Barry Bonds destroyed baseball and, even though he was a Giant (with a giant head), his play was absolutely amazing to watch.
We, and by that I mean most of the people I follow on twitter and certainly sabermetricians in general, kinda gloss over the actual cheating by Bonds and others. While we keep throwing around stuff about greenies in the ’70s, I don’t think anyone here really knows how rampant amphetamine use was in that day: who was taking it, how much were their doses, how effective it was, etc. Heck, we don’t even know really how rampant steroid use is today. Not to mention, amphetamines and steroids are two completely different drugs.
Baseball’s record on drugs has been pretty goddamn awful from the start and there’s a lot of myopia on all sides. Either everyone’s guilty or no one is; either we accept all players who did anything to advance their careers or none of them.
But, and this is something I’ve heard multiple times, what’s the difference between steroid users and gamblers?
Well, besides the obvious.
Steroids are banned in baseball. So is gambling. Why is baseball not consistent on this? Why not be equal? Cheating is cheating, right?
Ethics is unsteady ground.
The thing that gets kind of annoying is assuming drugs are equally bad. This isn’t even faintly true. Steroids and HGH are not the same and when you get into Andro and other supplements, the line gets grayer. I doubt anyone here can tell the difference between Mesterolone and Tetrahydrogestrinone. Heck, I didn’t even know before I looked it up. Both are banned by MLB.
This is glossed over the most in every argument and now supplement makers are the ones making the lines grayer. MLB, in its panic to set the record straight, just said “Fuck it, we’re banning everything marked Andro and steroids by the FDA.” There’s only equivocation: a banned substance is banned and it’ll get you big game suspensions. Occasionally, banned substances find their way into weight gainers because guess who makes anabolic steroids and andro products for sale to pharmacies. The marginal return on weight gainer is pretty goddamn slim, but a positive test is a positive test. Meanwhile, training and weight lifting regimens are getting more scientific and advanced than ever before and we like to use The Eye Test on shit like this, so everyone looks guilty.
Seems to me, though, that the ones who took steroids and are HOF players were already HOF players: Bonds, McGwire, Sheffield, etc. Probably even Clemens. In fact, it may have hurt the cases of two hall of famers in Sheffield and Rafael Palmiero and I wouldn’t be surprised if both fell off the ballot just because of their ties to use–and that the focus of the pro-steroids HOF push is going to be entirely on Bonds and Clemens. Maybe there’s an argument about how Jason Giambi had a decent borderline case, but he’ll also probably be cut out. And then players like Miguel Tejada, Bret Boone, Albert Belle, etc, never really had a chance. I think Manny’s gonna be the only really interesting case here, but that’s for a few years from now.
There’s no doubt that Manny and Bonds took steroids, but the question is really how much did it help them, and it’s not likely it catapulted them from All-Stars to HOFers. There’s a wide chasm between good players and the Hall of Famers.
On the other hand, the line on gambling was pretty clearly drawn and had been for the last 50 before Pete Rose arrived on the scene, as it should be and as it should always be. Maybe the smartest thing Dan Shaughnessy ever said was when Bill Buckner booted the ball in the ’86 Series, NO ONE claimed he was throwing the game.
Gambling does call into question the very idea of playing the sport and why we watch it. Without baseball’s stiff upper lip, baseball would be a step above wrestling.
While both are illegal, both have different punishments and, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that steroids aren’t a good thing. But MLB does right by its players. A positive test is a positive test. Find a different supplement if it’s a mistake. If not, you’ll be caught again almost definitely. There are chances for redemption, especially of the innocent.