Doing the Digging George Mitchell Didn’t

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)

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  1. MooseinOhio said...

    I suspect that many of the players associated with using PEDs during the steroids era will get into the HoF as the 15 year window will be sufficient for the real landscape that was the steroids era to be revealed.  As more players are identiified (at least 103 more to go) or retire and feel the need to come clean or are not afraid of negative ramifications the real picture of how rampant and widespread the issue was will become clearer.

    While I doubt the perfect 12 megapixel image of the era will ever be obtained I do believe that a pretty clear representation will emerge.  When the scope of the issue is revealed and I suspect that at least half of the players will fall into some category of PEDs usage then HoF credentials will be evaluated in the appropriate context and the players who were dominate players in their era will be enshrined.

  2. kendynamo said...

    yeah, i think that is the silliest thing about the mitchell report.  all it did was catch the STUPIDEST players that juiced.  now, there is no shortage of stupidity in the majors (see paul lo duca), but i’m sure there were plenty of smart dudes who menaged to avoid showing up on the mitchell report, and probably also avoided detection after they started tested.

    either way, meh.

  3. Sara K said...

    Thanks for posting this, CC.  It’s so refreshing to get to see, you know, actual substantive information on the subject. 

    ” ‘You don’t think something you bought in a health-food store is going to do serious damage. But you could die from this stuff. And some people did.’ “

    Did anyone else think of Darryl Kile?

  4. bigcatasroma said...

    OK, call me ignorant or whatever . . . but what the hell is *wrong* with using steroids???

    That is to say, beyond the moralizing and “cheating” (if it’s cheating, then what the hell is a cortisone shot?), why are steroids not *legal* in sports. 

    Why can’t the team DOCTOR (not trainer, not nutritionist, not boogey man scientist) sit down with each player, and do a more medically precise routine on each player as was done by the nutritionist on the player in this article.  The doctor could maximize natural hormone levels, body fat percentage, heart rate, etc. etc. into a prescribed medical PLAN. 

    This country is so screwed up on caffeine, anti-depressants, alcohol, nicotine, work, gasoline—addictions that don’t maximize our enjoyment of life.  These guys love baseball, and really love getting paid for it, competing against others. 

    Call me crazy, fine.  But I really don’t see why this— the steroids “era,” “scandal,” whatever—can’t be maximized into a sports-wide, even global-wide, program of education, nutrition, and maximizing both the athlete’s performance, and the fans’ enjoyment of the game.

  5. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Bigcat:  I don’t disagree with you, I just don’t think we’re there yet.

    Setting aside the current state of the rules, the problem with steroids is that (I don’t believe anyway) that there really is a consensus on what is safe, what is not, how much is safe, how much is not, etc.  Sure, many people know more about this than others, but it’s not like we have the kind of information we have with, say, alcohol or tobacco, or marijuana, or what have you. 

    If we don’t have really good information on this—and if we acknowledge that, in some amounts, PEDs can have serious side effects—we’re setting up a system that still leads to unfair advantages based on a given player’s risk tolerance, access to good information and/or medical supervision, etc.

    It would be a problem for me if player X—with a lot of money for supervision and safer drugs and a healthy appetite for risk—forced player Y—with no money for good drugs or medical supervision and a creeping fear that his body may break down—into to taking drugs for fear of a roster spot.

    Yes, in an ideal world access to safer PEDs and good medical information would be as universal as access to those cortisone shots and arthroscopic surgery, but we’re not in that ideal world yet, and I think that leads to some danger.

  6. bigcatasroma said...

    Sure, and I know we’re not there yet, but . . .

    It would be a league wide program,  from the top down through the minors.  It would be budgeted.  Players are already “cheating”—there wouldn’t be a change between then and now amongst players pushing their bodies’ limits too far, and those that attempt a safe and healthy program. 

    I know that it’s a slippery slope (God, I hate that term, why do I use it?).  But the fact is that these chemicals are *not* illegal when prescribed for legitimate reasons, many of those reasons being *to aid in recuperation from injury or illness*, so why aren’t teams and their doctors allowed to do exactly that?  Players are already allowed to take weird protein shakes and pills from GNC, so why not allow them to consult a doctor about other chemicals, that may actually work? 

    I’m not saying it’s feasible.  But what I don’t like is the sleezy, around-the-back-door approach that steroids either has now, or is perceived to have now by the MSM and society.  If we legitimize it, using actual doctors and support staff, how is that a problem? 

    Of course, if it turns out that either the chemicals don’t work for their intended purposes, or if even minimal use causes the user to turn into a gecko or something, then we’d have to rethink it.

  7. Mark Armour said...

    Yes, this is exactly what the Mitchell Report could have done.  Without naming a single name, it could have explained to us what players did, when they did it, how they did it, and how the culture is changing or can be changed.  Instead, it was only about the names, and we learned nothing of value.

  8. Sara K said...

    Hmm.  A thought-provoking proposition, that.  What is it about sports that we find entertaining?  Touchy-feely, literary values aside, it seems like we’re talking about the limits of the human body’s potential.  I think you’re right that the difference between altering the body to correct deficiencies (lasik, cortisone, Tommy John surgery) and altering the body to improve the baseline is rather arbitrary.

  9. Pete Toms said...

    Hmmm…I think it’s wrong to categorize the players caught in the MR as the “stupid ones”.  Yes, it was at least reckless to pay your steroid peddler with a personal cheque, but in the context of the times, there was no testing, so….but most caught in MR were ratted out by Radomski or caught up in the Balco investigation..I don’t think that makes them stupid, unluckly yes….I’ve said it before here, this is my problem with MR, if your steroid peddler was investigated by the feds you’re screwed and if not…you’re ok.

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