Baseball's Steroids Scandal
Juicing. Doping. Steroids. Whatever you want to call it, performance enhancing drugs (AKA PEDs) have been a major topic of discussion in almost all professional sports at one point or another, but especially in baseball. From the old school guys to today’s stars, a lot of guys have fallen victim to the #juice in their careers – and no, we’re not talking about that OJ in your bottomless mimosas at brunch. We wanna talk about ‘roids in baseball because the players that abuse them continue to negatively impact the integrity of the sport. And, we feel that the usage of roids is really cheating on the fan.
Okay. But, Why Do/Did Baseball Players Juice?
Alright. So steroids can provide players with a lot of benefits. In general though, steroids help with muscle strength, body size (let’s get swole, bro!), and healing rate. Steroids tend to be used a lot in baseball because players want to hit the ball as far and as hard as they can in hopes of getting a home run. Generally, the more balls they can smack outta the park, the more money they make and fame they receive. Also, let’s face it, in comparison to a lot of other sports, baseball isn’t a crazy cardio workout. There’s really just quick sprints to each base and to field the ball while playing defense. So, being swole and/or maybe a bit tubby in baseball, is not that big of deal. Finally, at the end of the day, the athletes just wanna play ball. As a result, when they get injured, they sometimes get allured by steroids to get back on the diamond earlier.
The Deets on Juicing
Surprisingly, the MLB didn’t actually ban PEDs from the league until 1991. Although PEDs back in the glory days were less popular more than a handful of ~old~ legends like Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays allegedly dabbled with substances back in their heyday. Although PEDs were banned since the early 90s, it wasn’t until 2003 that the MLB zeroed in on truly testing their players. Even with this threat of “testing”, however, there was no stopping the rise of ‘roids amongst players all over the league.
One of the first major factors that played into what is known as the “Steroids Era” of baseball (lasting from the late ‘80s through the late 2000s) is the BALCO Scandal. The Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (or BALCO, for short) was a nutritional supplement firm in California. This firm underwent some major fire in 2003 with federal agents in regards to PED usage among athletes. The investigation prompted heavy hitter Jason Giambi admitting to using steroids and human growth hormone (HGH) supplied by BALCO in the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Other names on the hot seat under this same investigation included Gary Sheffield and Barry Bonds. Bonds is an important name to remember - more on him later.
Anyway, long story short with the BALCO investigation: in a classic plot twist, somehow no players involved in the investigation tested positive for ‘roids during the investigation AND, the players’ testimonies didn’t even become public until over a year after their grand jury appearances. Because of the delay the MLB did absolutely nothing about it. The players involved got pretty lucky this time around, #amirite? Crazy!
Following the 2003 investigation, sh!t really started getting real. The MLB started cracking down on all aspects of PED usage. In 2005, former slugger Jose Canseco released a book called Juiced where he revealed literally everything about his career and experience with steroids, including naming some players he took steroids with. Talk about throwing people under the bus!!! So obvi, this book release caused mad controversy in the baseball world leaving everyone who was exposed freaking TF out. Most of the players Canseco mentioned were pretty damn quick to deny the allegations, though Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi (as previously mentioned) came clean and said they had indeed juiced. As young children and massive Mark McGwire fans, our hearts literally BROKE when this news came out. Rafael Palmeiro, one of the dudes who denied the book’s suggestion, later tested positive after testifying that he was not guilty in front of Congress. Yes, CONGRESS. What a complete and utter gong show.
Okay. Back to Barry Bonds. In 2006, after yet another (!!!) book was published highlighting steroid usage in baseball, called Game of Shadows, Bonds was put under investigation. Bonds had been eyed by the league for many years for steroid use, dating all the way back to 2003, but the book pushed the MLB to formally investigate him. Through a rollercoaster of investigations, allegations, and having a toy syringe thrown onto the field at Bonds IN-GAME by a fan (LOL!), Bonds remained focused on the diamond and surpassed Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record with his 756th dinger in 2007. Bonds went on to hit 762 home runs in his career. This tremendous feat would normally get Bonds into the Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame. However, thanks to Bonds’ PED allegations, many said he shouldn’t be awarded that honour, and that there should be an asterisk beside the record-breaking home run total.
(Side note: the Baseball Hall of Fame is where the best of the best major leaguers dream of having their names. It’s basically a giant museum of the best records in baseball and historical baseball memorabilia located in Cooperstown, New York -- so you’ll often hear it referred to as simply “Cooperstown”)
Normally a player who owns the home run record would be a shoe in the Hall of Fame within a year or two of retirement. However, Bonds retired in 2007 and has still not been inducted, mostly do to his steroid use. HE IS NOT HAPPY ABOUT IT. In addition to Bonds, baseball stars Mark McGwire (you should remember him from above), Roger Clemens (who actually had a stint pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays!), and Sammy Sosa have been fighting for their lives to make it into the Hall of Fame but are still unsuccessful to this day. Many fans argue these names should never be in the Hall of Fame due to tarnishing the integrity of the game of baseball with the PED issues. On the other hand, many believe the players’ accomplishments outweigh the allegations by a landslide. Honestly though, what message does that send to younger players if a successful player that has used PEDs gets into the Hall of Fame? Not a good one.
Steroid Issues in Today's MLB
Though the craziness of the Steroid Era has calmed, PEDs are still an issue in the league today. So what exactly is the MLB actually doing to enforce their ban on ‘roids? After a player’s first positive test, he is on an 80-game suspension. On his second positive test, he’s banned for a whopping 162 games (THE ENTIRE SEASON + POST SEASON!!!). And on his third positive test? A LIFETIME BAN FROM THE MLB!!! The MLB ain’t messing around, y’all. They are finally taking this sh!t seriously!
Some big names that have undergone bans in the last few years you should definitely learn to recognize:
- The then-New York Yankees’ star Alex Rodriguez (ya know, JLo’s bf) underwent a season-long suspension for the 2014 season after his second positive test. Yankee fans were super wishy-washy on how they felt about him after his comeback. He retired after the 2016 season anyway, though, so it’s chill?
- Jenry Mejia of the then-New York Mets tested positive THREE times in a span of TWO YEARS. YOU KIDDING ME, BUDDY?! Y’all know what that means: bye-bye Jenry! Although he was officially booted in 2016, Mejia is actually eligible to come back to the MLB since the lifetime ban policy states that a player may apply for reinstatement after two years. That’s right. Do the math. The Mets’ former closer has been conditionally reinstated and is good-to-go if he ~behaves~. You’ll want to keep an eye on this one.
- Seattle Mariners’ Robinson Cano is the latest guy to go down on the 80-game suspension list – official word coming out this past May! Though the Mariners aren’t doing tooooo shabby in Cano’s absence and have a very strong chance at the postseason, Cano could potentially return to the team on August 14 at their game in Oakland. Hopefully this hiatus has taught the guy a lesson?
As much as the MLB as a league seems like the "good guys" in this story, that is far from the truth. The MLB and owners could have acted much faster and with a harder hammer on those who were juicing. But, at the end of the day, the MLB and owners of the league benefitted from the steroid era. Think about it. All of these players hitting home runs and breaking home run records left right and centre made for incredibly entertaining TV. The Steroid Era saw increased popularity and viewership in baseball which of course resulted in increased revenues. On top of that, it resulted in higher values for almost every team in the league. It sucks to say it, but the owners' greediness really enabled players to keep using 'roids. It wasn't until the scandal and uproars from the fans calling for some integrity that really pushed the league and the owners to take the steroid use seriously. Another example of why greed is one of the seven deadly sins.
So, What Now?
Going forward, the MLB is going to continue to push their ban on PEDs amongst players, hoping the policy and consequences will teach these guys a lesson and permanently get rid of doping. Although there are still some instances of usage today, the league is doing their best to eliminate steroids from the sport as a whole. For example, the Chicago Cubs recently went the extra mile to educate teenage baseball players about the differences between helpful supplements and dangerous PEDs as a part of a baseball camp. (Go Cubs!)
Without a doubt, baseball is an incredibly fun sport to play and to watch. And, as much as we are all for getting down and dirty, as fans, we appreciate this sport so much more when it’s clean and the players actually act with integrity.
By Guest Writer Ashley Kummer
Edited by The GIST