Baseball's Steroids Scandal
Juicing. Doping. Steroids. Whatever you want to call it, performance enhancing drugs (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 players are believed to have used ‘roids or have been caught juicing in their careers — and no, we’re not talking about that OJ in your bottomless mimosas at brunch.
But why oh why do baseball players juice?
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. This is a sport where big gains can make a big difference on the score sheet. Another factor is the healing rate because these 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. And 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 across the league.
One of the first major factors that played into what is known as the “Steroids Era” of baseball (lasting from the late 1980s through to 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 federal agent fire in 2003 in regards to PED usage among athletes. The investigation prompted heavy hitter Jason Giambi to admit 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.
But back to BALCO: in a classic plot twist, somehow no players involved in the investigation actually tested positive for steroids AND the players’ testimonies during the investigation didn’t 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 very lucky this time around.
Following the 2003 investigation, sh!t really started getting real. The MLB began 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. Damn, ice cold Canseco. The 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 quick to deny the allegations, though Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi (as previously mentioned) came clean and said they had indeed juiced. As young Mark McGwire fans, our hearts BROKE when this news came out. Rafael Palmeiro, one of the players who denied the book’s suggestion, later tested positive after testifying that he was not guilty in front of Congress. Yes, CONGRESS. What a mess.
And now 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 finally formally investigate him. Next came a roller coaster of allegations and ridicule (including a fan throwing a toy syringe at Bonds during a game), but 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. That should make Bonds a lock for the Baseball Hall of Game, right? Wrong. The PED allegations are a permanent scar on Bonds’ career and there remains an asterisk beside the record-breaking home run total. Bonds retired in 2007 and has still not been inducted.
In addition to Bonds, baseball stars Mark McGwire (from above), Roger Clemens 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 because it would tarnish the integrity of the game. On the other hand, many believe the players’ accomplishments outweigh the allegations by a landslide.
Steroids 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? After a player’s first positive test, he is suspended for 80 games. On his second positive test, he’s banned for a whopping 162 games (if you’re counting, that’s an entire season). A third positive test will get that player a lifetime ban from the MLB. In other words, the league isn’t messing around and is finally taking this sh!t seriously!
Some big names that have undergone bans in the last few years:
The then-New York Yankees’ star Alex Rodriguez (ya know, JLo’s fiance) 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. 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 was conditionally reinstated but hasn’t seen much time in the big leagues.
Seattle Mariners’ Robinson Cano is the latest guy to go down on the 80-game suspension list — official word coming out in May of 2018. Cano has since returned to the MLB and is trying to put the suspension behind him.
As much as the MLB might seem 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 benefited 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 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 juicing. It wasn't until the scandal and uproars from the fans calling for some integrity that the league really started to take PEDs seriously. Greed — still one of the seven deadly sins.
So, what now?
Going forward, the MLB is going to continue to push their ban on PEDs, hoping the policy and consequences will teach the players a lesson and remove doping from the game altogether.And the teams can play their part as well! 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 play within the rules.
By guest writer Ashley Kummer
Edited by The GIST