Mmm… steroids and dear readers

DMZ · December 4, 2004 at 6:57 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

So it took me a full day to write “Steroids and Condemnation” and when I posted it, I was worried. I turned off comments and braced myself, as I’d seen this topic go badly every time I brought it up, here or in a column at Baseball Prospectus.

And nothing happened. The article didn’t get spread around that widely as I thought it might in the wake of the news, but a lot of people read it, and everyone who dropped me a note wrote kind emails that were often long and well-put. No one started flame threads in other articles… everyone was cool.

Thanks. I love this crowd.


24 Responses to “Mmm… steroids and dear readers”

  1. planB on December 4th, 2004 7:02 pm

    One question: what does NMM stand for? 🙂

  2. David J Corcoran on December 4th, 2004 7:03 pm

    New Mexico Markets. They are a convenience store chain.

  3. Chris Robertson on December 4th, 2004 11:07 pm

    Do steroids or other performance enhancing drugs help players? I think there is evidence that they do when you talk power numbers. Consider this evidence:

    Mark McGwire admittedly used andro and late in his career he hits 70 homeruns. Starting in 1996 at the age of 32 he hits 52, 58, 70 and 65 homers in four years when his previous season high were 49, as a rookie, and then 42 at 30 years of age.

    Ken Caminiti, who admitted to using steroids, in 1995 at 32 years old hits 26 homers. Ok 26 is not a ton but consider this, prior to that year his season high was 18. He then goes on to hit 40, 26 and 29 in the next three years so we are not talking about a spike in performance. At 33 years old he’s the NL MVP.

    Note the ages of both those players were beyond what is considered to be peak performance age in the ML. No way Baseball Prospectus, any other book or any other person for that matter, could predict that. I’m not going to get into the Barry Bonds subject, you can draw your own conclusions why he is hitting so many homeruns well beyond a players normal peak performance years.

    Jose Canseco admitted to using steroids. It has been said that he was a skinny kid in the minors one year and the next year he shows up ripped.

    Jason Giambi weighed 195 lbs as a junior in college at Long Beach State. He was listed at a conservative 235 lbs coming into the 2005 season. Tell me, how can you gain 20 percent more in body mass muscle following your 21st birthday? Giambi could always hit at Long Beach but only had 9 homeruns in three years and that was the knock on him, lack of power.

    I don’t think steroids will make a guy who can’t hit into a Major League hitter but it stands to reason the better chance you have to hit, the better chance you have to improve your power production with added strength. No one will convince me that added strength will not assist a player in driving a ball further. In a matter of physics, Newton’s third law proves that point.

  4. Bela Txadux on December 5th, 2004 12:13 am

    So Derek,

    I appreciate the time, thought, and frankly self-examination you put into your post regarding sterioid usage. I think that you will know from past converse that I differ with you on several significant points regarding the ethics and implications of steroid usage, and there are many things in said steroid-related post I could comment upon. But I’ve had my say, and feel no need to blab on now, so I refrained from sending you an email. If, god knows why, but if you _want_ some of my perspective with regard to your specific remarks now, you’re welcome to drop me an e-jolt, and I’ll take the time to respond, but I don’t see that as likely to happen. The strength of your positions are that you remain consistent. : )

    On balance, BALCO will end up being a net positive for the game of baseball in my view, and I think I’ll limit my unsolicited comments on the matter to that remark.

  5. George on December 5th, 2004 12:55 am

    Didn’t McGwire use Andro because it helped decreased injuries which was his main problem, not power. Did his HRs per at bat change or did he just stay on the field more and when he stopped was on the field less once again?

  6. Nate on December 5th, 2004 2:05 am

    I have a general question about the BALCO case: Is “the cream” a steroid, and is it now or was it prior to the investigation banned by MLB or illegal? I thought Will Carroll said something about it not being a steroid or illegal. Also, does anyone know the timeline for what has been banned in response to the BALCO investigation, if anything?

  7. lvlariner on December 5th, 2004 7:29 am

    Nice post Chris. I think with any drugs/roids, the effects for the users vary, granted it will all effecting them.

    I read the topic and just thought it’d be good to think about it for a day or so instead of making a quick comment.

    I don’t blame the players for using whatever means to achieve their financial and performance goals, especially if MLB looks the other way. MLB and the player’s association really need to get this settled. I don’t know what’s the exact disagreement between them but while this leak finally confirmed what people were suspecting/knew, and it is initially a ‘scandal’ for baseball, personally i’m glad for this. I hope it will spur both MLB and PA to address this for the good of the game and the players’ healths.

    Baseball will survive and go on, and I think this will do greater good over the long run than the current negative press that it is.

    Just my 0.02 as I too am glad the people here are more thoughtful. BTW, this is my first post here, although i’ve been a longtime viewer. Thanks for keeping me sane considering other sources of info on the lvl’s.

  8. enkel on December 5th, 2004 7:43 am

    DMZ..Thanks for allowing comments now as I believe yours was the most well written article I read or heard on TV. Unbiased thoughtfully done true journerlism..Thankyou.
    Those performance enhancers do not create or improve hand eye coordination or knowledge of strke zone.
    Oddly enough no outrage over Schilling shooting by prescription painkilling drugs (although i believe that was unbelievely courageous & unselfless) certainly was a benifit to owners & commissiner.
    Lastly the biggest story should be how & who does secret Grand Jury testimony get leaked in full document? That is frightening..
    Didn’t MLB juice the baseballs?

  9. Evan on December 5th, 2004 10:00 am


    “The cream” and “the clear” are both basically steroids, but neither one of them was illegal until fairly recently. You see, no one knew about them, so no one had banned them (you can’t ban something if you’re unaware of its existence).

    This is useful to know, given that the Yankees argument for voiding Giambi’s contract is likely going to hinge on a clause that refers to “prescription or illegal drugs,” of which the BALCO THG products are neither.

  10. enkel on December 5th, 2004 12:04 pm

    Could an informed person please explain what “the clear” & ” the cream” is? Thankyou

  11. Metz on December 5th, 2004 12:10 pm

    I do think one of the bigger “benefits” of steroid use, especially with aging players is the ability to recover quicker or even decrease the amount of minor injuries. As the body ages it becomes more susceptible to muscle pulls and takes longer to recover from those events. From what I’ve read about steroids, use of them dramatically decreases the occurence of these tweaks and also allows the body to recover much quicker on a daily basis.

    That in itself would be a big thing for pro athletes even if the increased muscle mass didn’t make them better players.

  12. Paul Covert on December 5th, 2004 2:41 pm

    In some ways I’m reluctant even to comment, partly because it’s just such a sleazy issue, and partly because whoever leaked the reported grand jury testimony had no business doing so.

    But since it’s a matter of public discussion already, I’ll go ahead and address: Supposing hypothetically that the reported testimony from Barry is correct (that he took BALCO substances that may have been banned steroids without knowing specifically what they were), what do I think about it?

    (1) Does it seem believable that Barry would have allowed people to give him substances without him knowing exactly what they were? It seems realistically plausible from my outsider’s perspective. What the available information is suggesting to me is kind of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” deal, in which he pretty much knows what he’s getting but hasn’t been specifically told, so that he can make his denials with a technically clear conscience. Of course that’s quite conjectural, and conviction in a court of law would require more evidence than I’ve personally seen; but that’s what I’m presently guessing happened.

    (2) If this is correct, does it degrade baseball’s sacred record book? What sacred record book? It’s not like Caminiti and Giambi and (if it’s true) Barry are the first guys ever to cheat. I see no point in getting religious about it. Indeed, if this were to help a few more people to see the light and recognize that baseball stats are only witnesses to the players’ skills and not absolute measurements of their quality of play– that making sense of stats always requires adjustments for context– then we’d be better off for this whole mess (not that I’m holding my breath).

    (3) If I had a Hall of Fame ballot, would this cause me to vote against Barry? No way. Or, more precisely: Only if they melt down Gaylord Perry’s plaque too. Gaylord was a legitimate HoFer anyway, who indulged in some funny stuff to give himself an extra edge; how much more Barry. (And it’s not like anybody posted up a rule in all the clubhouses saying “Anyone Using Steroids Will Be Permanently Banned From Baseball,” either.)

    (4) But, if true, would this cause me to view Barry’s career any differently? Sure. If he’s clean, then I see him as on a par with the Babe for the greatest of all time, with one’s preference between them depending on the specific definition of “greatness” used. But if he’s juiced, then he’s still a great player but (in my view) it takes the edge off of his greatness, and causes me to view him as merely in the Ted Williams-Willie Mays class of “guys who were arguably the next best after the Babe.” It’s hard to say how much the mental discount exacted should be, but in my mind the discount would certainly be there.

    I don’t want to get all moralistic about the destruction of the game (mainly because I never believed it was sacred in the first place); but I do consider juicing an issue well worthy of more careful attention from MLB and (especially) from the players’ association. (Indeed, for whatever little my opinions are worth, I’m more disappointed in the union than in Barry, even if he did use the juice or the cream or whatever it was. I can understand Barry or Giambi or whoever trying to get an edge; but the union’s job is to look after its guys, and it disappoints me that they wouldn’t take an interest in making sure that guys don’t feel like they have to damage themselves chemically trying to keep up.)

  13. JPWood on December 5th, 2004 4:09 pm

    I have no trouble agreeing with Paul C, as usual, and I have one more question, which will probably require a medical specialist to answer.
    I was not a varsity athlete in High School but even I personally knew 4 guys who used steroids at that age (2 of them were twins, awesome offensive guards), that dating to 1964. So I know that trickle-down to 16-18 year olds had happened no later than that. The first versions of the drugs involved at least in the McGuire case date to the late ’20s or early ’30s.
    I would like to hear from someone who can fill in the timeline, who can put what we are reading and seeing today into an 75-year or at least a 40-year perspective.
    Has anyone here read anything that touches this aspect?

  14. big chef Terry on December 5th, 2004 5:00 pm

    I think Tom Boswell’s article on saturday in the Washington Post captures the appropriate way to consider the issue. What it means. What’s the import, etc.

    There seems to be a lack of solid ground when this is discussed. I believe Derek’s post explores this richly and was long overdue, not from him, but from the community especially. What I mean is that the issue occurs in our society. Underneath that is that its happened in baseball, we’re not discussing Marion Jones or the woman’s shotputter from Bulgaria, and further its being examined and discussed by a group of people who love baseball and simply described seek to understand how to succeed at the game statistically.

    The chasm is that at the Macro level, as Boswell suggests, drug use to enhance performance and degrade the integrity of the historical performance is absolutely wrong, whereas as a group we seem to be debating it along some relative strain to distinguish whether the drugs worked or not or we can establish that. Further lying about is as bad.

    I think the fostering of the debate is important and worthy of accolade for the group. Passion is and should be permissable.

    I don’t think the issue has remotely been decided yet.

  15. Paul Weaver on December 5th, 2004 5:19 pm

    As to the historical significance of homerun records:

    One must look at the stats and categorically judge them heavily factoring in situational explanations. Ball park sizes caused the fluke 1884 White Stockings team to post huge home run numbers in the dead-ball era. A short rightfield wall helped the 1930 Philadelphia Phillies team post some the greatest offensive stats of all time (while losing over 100 games). Outlawing the spitball in 1920 lead to a surge in homeruns, lowering the mound in 1969, smaller ball parks in the 90s. The increased use of weight lifting and the introduction of DHs in the 70s. Expansion teams dilluting the talent pool – an ERA around 3 was good in 89, now we consider an era around 4 pretty good, but the elite pitchers still post eras in the 2s.
    And now we have to factor steroid use. It seems so wide spread that you can’t fault one player for gaining an edge. But you are still forced to think about offensive records in terms of this current period. This to me, makes Bonds no more impressive than Mays, Honus Wagner, Lou Gehrig, or any other elite player in history, no matter how the numbers stack up.

    I think what impresses me more than Bonds’ homeruns in this age of inflated home run production is his patience (even without the intentional walk). His BB to K ratio is so amazing. The 500+ stolen bases also make the eyes pop out of the head.

    It is possible for players to improve with a good work out regimen toward the end of their career, defying age. Nolan Ryan comes to mind. Nolan even improved as he aged, but not as dramatically as Bonds. I can’t discount steroids (or advanced supplements whatever it may be) from deflating Bonds’ historic numbers.

  16. Dave D on December 5th, 2004 6:17 pm

    The thought of some roided out muscle-bound freak breaking Hank Aaron’s record makes me sick. I’ve always felt this way, and just wanted to say it again. Bill James or someone posted somewhere that Babe Ruth’s 1920’s power binge was in direct response to the Black Sox scandal — little ball was seen as equivalent to cheating, and the Home Run brought in fans.

    Well it still brings in fans, but now the home run is tainted. Chicks May Dig it (someone test that man’s blood, stat) but this long term fan does not. Not when it comes at the price of artificially inflated Homerun records, artificially bulked up monster-men, and cheapened baseball as a result.

  17. David C on December 5th, 2004 7:35 pm

    One question that I have hasn’t been addressed in this whole steroid frenzy is this: The whole point of this anti-steroid policy is the devastaing long term affects on the athlete’s body – and the pressure other competing athletes feel about taking these risks. If the ‘cream’ or whatever wonder drug shows that is does help older athletes recover better and doesn’t harm them physically why shouldn’t it be encouraged? I mean who gives a crap about ‘Babe Ruth didn’t have it’ – why should the athletes of today be bound to 1930’s medicine & culture? Unless they are proven to be harmful I don’t see the point of banning them.

  18. E on December 5th, 2004 8:25 pm

    David C, most MDs today are bound to 1930s medicine and culture when it comes to the use of androgens (steroids). That’s why they’re illegal (by virtue of conveyance of said 1930s opinions to our legislators), and that’s why they are, or will be banned by MLB. As an aside, from what I have read, THG is a poor ergogenic aid, and certainly not a “wonder drug.” Its sole virtue was its lack of showing up on tests that existed at the time of its creation.

  19. JPWood on December 6th, 2004 7:31 am

    Part of the answer to my own question on htis thread comes from (I’m not at all sure this link will work):
    Testosterone was first synthesized in the ’30s. It came into use in the world of sports in the ’40s and ’50s, with the first dramatically public evidence of its abusive being the massive gold medal harvest of the Soviet weight-lifting team in the 1952 Olympics.
    The first US-produced version of the direct precursor of the McGuire-era steroids was manufactured by ??? in 1958.
    That’s a lot of water under the bridge before getting to where we are today, a lot of medical history, a lot of phase I, II, III testing that I have no knowledge or qualification to talk about.
    Anyone out there willing and able to do so?

  20. vj on December 6th, 2004 7:40 am

    I wonder if doping in Baseball is really as new as it appears to be. In other sports it has been around for ages (see Anabolic steriods were invented in the 1930s and first put to medical use in the 1950s (see
    Anyway, here is an odd side note: Balco founder Victor Conte used to be a musician, not only with Tower of Power, which I had heard before, but also with another group called (no kidding!) Pure Food and Drug Act (see

  21. Metz on December 6th, 2004 9:50 am

    two decent sites, the first one is 7 years out of date but gives good background physsportsmed, the second lists all the performance enhancers by class in a nice table format it’s only 2 years out of date a mckinley

  22. JPWood on December 6th, 2004 10:19 am

    The active link is:
    There isn’t much, but the short ,article also provides references to books I don’t have or that I likely wouldn’t understand.

  23. Thaskins on December 6th, 2004 1:16 pm

    One thing I wanted to point out with regards to the whole steroids situation and the moral stance people are taking, is the fact that in theory, steroids are a “performance enhancer.” Meaning, a player has a given ability of x. But, when steroids are taken, that players ability is x+1. Or, they are reaching an ability they would not be able to reach without the help of steroids. On the other hand, players have been using many types of “uppers,” “greenies” and so fourth for quite a while. But, those aren’t exactly performance enhancers. All they are doing is getting players back to their given level of performance. As these drugs were supposed to help an athlete recover or overcome exhaustion and play to the best of their given ability. Not increase their given ability.

    So, my point is, I don’t think we can compare “performance enhancers” with (ummm) “performance regenerators(?).” Some arguments have been made that steroids help players recover. That may or may not be true. If that is all they did, then I don’t think we have the outrage we’re seeing right now.

    I say all of this not knowing whether any of these pills/drugs/steroids players did or did not take actually do anything. But, perception is reality for most people. Hence, the outrage.

  24. Paul on December 7th, 2004 12:15 pm

    I think it’s a complete sham and misdirection to be pointing at how “wrong” it is for the grand jury testimony to have been leaked.

    Sure, okay, it’s horrible, it’s bad, it’s mean and nasty and evil. It’s an affront to the very basis of the secrecy of the grand jury proceedings, blah blah blah.

    Let’s just pretend we all agree with this (and frankly, I doubt you’ll find many who do NOT agree that leaking the testimony is bad) and move on.

    The real issue is about the useage of the steroids, and more importantly WHY they’re being used. Plain and simple. I get frustrated when I read guys who’re perfectly good writers, and who’re perfectly smart, blathering on about how wrong the leaks are. It’s misdirection, intentional or not.

    It’s like the magician using flash powder (POOF!) to cover the trapdoor opening and him dropping through it. Your eyes are dazzled by the flash, but if you’d looked at a more important thing, you’d have seen the “trick”.

    That said. I’ll move on.

    The next thing that bugs me in this whole discussion is ANOTHER stupid (IMO) bit of misdirection… namely, the notion that steroid use “might not help ballplayers any”.

    So what? Again, this is a misdirection. Whether the drugs do help or not is not the issue; this is plainly a case where *intent* counts.

    Does anyone at all think these ballplayers were using these things because they made them feel good? Steroids can give you acne, shrivel your sex drive, make you overly aggressive, and generally screw you up.

    No, everyone knows perfectly well that these guys were doing the ‘roids to try and gain an advantage. INTENT COUNTS.

    They were doing it to try and make themselves better ballplayers.

    Well, while I appreciate that sentiment, the fact is that what people are angry about is that they feel like there should be a line which is not crossed in the search for more home runs, more strikeouts, more stolen bases, more runs.

    (A cynic would add “more millions of dollars”- let’s face it, these guys aren’t playing ball for free. You often hear players blathering on about how much they looooove the game and would play it for free- but after they retire, how many do? Even beer league softball? I’d love to see numbers on THAT.)

    Anyway, I think that much of the frustration we’ve seen in these topics stem from these misdirections. It’s sad commentary on our society that leaking the grand jury testimony is accepted, but that’s not really the issue at hand. Whether or not the roids actually help players is also not really the issue at hand.

    What matters is that these guys crossed a line which people have in their minds about what’s acceptable and what isn’t.

    If the DMZ/Baseball Prospectus crowd (for whom I have great respect, even when they’re wrong) would address THAT issue, I’d be very grateful.

    Enumclaw, WA