A must-read feature in the Philadelphia Daily News today, relaying one anonymous players’ experiences with steroids:
ONE TIME, the former major league pitcher recalled, the package that arrived in the mail looked like it contained pastries. The label even said something like Johnny’s Bakery on it. Puzzled, he opened the box. Sure enough, he found cookies inside.
And underneath were the vials of steroids and human growth hormone he had ordered.
He asked that his name not be used for this story. It’s not that he is ashamed of what he has done. He is willing to accept responsibility for his actions. But he doesn’t want to implicate others. Besides, he might try to get back into baseball someday. So he agreed to talk to the Daily News only on the condition of anonymity.
His career spanned much of what is now commonly referred to as the steroids era. He had some success, but never became a superstar. He played for several teams. Every player’s story differs in some details but, with Alex Rodriguez’ admission that he used illegal drugs putting the subject back in the headlines, the anonymous player’s journey sheds some light on the shadowy world of the use of performance-enhancing substances by major league players.
The beauty of this article is that it gets at many of the questions I and others have been asking about steroid use. Questions that the Mitchell Report — which looks like a bigger whitewash every passing day — never even attempted to answer. When and how did people start and why? How did players connect with their dealer in the first place? What, if any, heed did they take of side effects? What level of interaction did they have with other players with respect to PEDs? Did the drugs actually do for the player what he hoped they’d do? Was the moral/ethical component of all of this ever considered and to what degree?
Aside from sheer readability, there are a couple of major takeaways from this story. The first is that the “steroids users = evil, clean players = good” construct that most commentators have accepted and pushed is silly. It’s a complicated stew of anxieties, pressures, and ultimately rationalizations that lead a player to PEDs, and casting it in black and white terms, while potentially satisfying, is ultimately useless if we really care of ridding the game of PEDs or, at the very least, learning about the impact they’ve had on the game over time.
A second takeaway can be found in this passage:
These days he’s only a few pounds under his playing weight.
“I didn’t see a huge decline. Because I wasn’t overdoing it. I was just maximizing my normal [hormone] levels,” he says. “Were there changes? Sure. But you’d really have to know me to know. Other guys you might see a dramatic effect because they were really pushing it to the limit.”
It would be possible, he says, for a player not to be aware that a teammate was using steroids.
If we take this at face value — and I don’t see why we wouldn’t — the “look-how-big-he-was/look-how-small-he-is” parlor game is just as useless as the moralizing. Just as the Mitchell Report caught only the most reckless purchasers of steroids (i.e. guys who wrote personal checks to the stupidest dealers), the physique watchers of the world are paying attention to only the most over-the-top juicers. With each new revelation we are reminded how foolish it is to make any assumptions about a given player’s drug use, but the notion that even guys sharing a locker room may not know what the other players are doing underscores how silly the guessing games truly are.
The final lesson: Despite baseball’s best efforts to use the Mitchell Report to end the PED story, it’s failure to give us any real information is manifest. The truth about this era, as I’ve said before, is going to come via journalism like this and ultimately scholarship. It’s better, then, to hold our final judgments about this era — judgments which will impact the Hall of Fame, the record books, and any number of other considerations — until we can say we have something approaching the full story.
(link via BTF)