Saturday, August 6, 2005

Rafael Palmeiro
Rafael Palmeiro

Jason Giambi, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi, Alex Sanchez, Ryan Franklin, Jose Canseco. What do all those players have in common? They all used anabolic steroids; they all took hormones in an attempt to boost their level of play on the diamond. Steroids are illegal both in baseball and in real life, thanks to the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004, signed on January 20, 2005.

Most baseball fans, if not sports fans in general, are purists. They all share an Americanized viewpoint on athletics: they want the game played with natural talent and ability. This collective opinion on how games should be played has been enforced in baseball for as long as we remember: the spitball was made illegal, corked bats and sandpapered balls are illegal. There are plenty of other ways players have "cheated" but never was a method of sleight frowned upon so strongly as are steroids. If it wasn't enough that people were threatening to remove the statistics of sluggers like Mark McGwire for using performance enhancers, America's own government stepped in and started cracking down. Players like Palmeiro, McGwire, and Curt Schilling went to the nation's capital to defend themselves and their teammates in an event that turned baseball into a McCarthyistic witchhunt.

Consider the words of George Carlin:

It annoys me when people complain about athletes taking steroids to improve athletic performance. It's a phony argument, because over the years every single piece of sports equipment used by athletes has been improved many times over. Golf balls and clubs; tennis balls, racquets; baseball gloves and bats; football pads and helmets and so on through every sport. Each time technology has found a way to improve equipment it has done so. So why shouldn't a person treat his body the same way? In the context of sports, the body is nothing more than one more piece of equipment, anyway. So why not improve it with new technology? Athletes use weights, why shouldn't they use chemicals?

Consider the Greek Phidippides, a professional runner who, in 490 B.C., ran from Athens to Sparta and back (280 miles) to ask the Spartans for help against the Persians in an upcoming battle that threatened Athens. Don't you think his generals would have been happy to give him amphetamines if they had been available? And a nice pair of New Balance high-performance running shoes while they were at it? Grow up, purists. The body is not a sacred vessel, it's a tool.

For as long as the game has been played, there have been cheaters. And for as long as there have been preventative measures against cheating, people have found new ways to give themselves an "unfair" advantage. I quote "unfair" because it is only an opinion to deem it unfair, not a fact. If players can bone their bats, shouldn't pitchers be allowed to use sandpaper and spit? And if pitchers and hitters are allowed to do that, then shouldn't players (and people in general) be allowed to use steroids? Where is the line drawn between boning your bats and using steroids that makes the use of steroids so much more extreme?

The fact is, there really is no difference except in opinion. As Carlin said, the body, in the context of sports, is nothing more than a tool -- is nothing more than a baseball bat -- and steroids are no different than the bathroom sink used to harden the bat. The reason steroids are so frowned upon is that they are detrimental to your health, but if a ballplayer wants to use steroids, then that's his choice. He has his rights to drink a beer or smoke a cigarette, right? Then he should be able to use steroids, especially off the field.

Another argument people have against steroids is that they give the players inflated statistics. In every era of baseball, there's been something that has altered the stats in its own way. The Dead Ball era, for example, took homeruns and hits away from hitters. In the Expansion Era, the designated hitter was adopted in the American League, taking some record-breaking opportunities away from pitchers, because they have one more tough out to get instead of facing the pitcher, who is traditionally known to be a weak hitter. Steroids only indirectly affect the game because it depends on the user, whereas the cork and rubber ball that was introduced in the Lively Ball Era directly affected the game: averages went up all around.

Sammy Sosa
Sammy Sosa

Besides, steroids don't swing the bat or help the batter to better recognize pitches. They might help the batter from fatiguing around the 8th inning, but the same could be said for players with extensive workout regimens. Steroids might help the batter swing the bat a little faster, but that has just as much upside as down: sure, he might get around on the fastball a little better, but he'll be too quick on off-speed pitches like changeups. In the end, it all comes down to choice, and in a democratic America, players should be given the choice whether to juice or not. Baseball purists claim that steroids ruin the tradition of the game, but if the 1919 Black Sox scandal in the World Series, or Sammy Sosa's infamous corked bat incident holds any water, there always have been, and always will be cheaters.

Mark McGwire, who took a substance that was only recently illegalized after he retired, is not a role model. These players don't sign contracts under the intention of "cleaning up" their lifestyle and habits because Little Jimmy halfway across the world might see or hear him doing something meant for a more mature audience. If you don't want your kids following in the footsteps of athletes who beat their wives, drink alcohol, or take steroids and other drugs, then step in and do some parenting. Tell your kids that steroids are unhealthy and the risk-reward never helps you break even. Don't expect these athletes to do your parenting for you, and don't assume that they are.

Ken Caminiti
Ken Caminiti

These guys are nothing more than entertainers, and you pay money for tickets and merchandise to be entertained. What difference is it to you if these guys are going by strict workout regimens or just taking steroids for the same effect? You can't be that concerned about their health because you're not going to show up at his/her funeral when they die at the young age of 41 a la Ken Caminiti. Sanctity of the game? Always have been, always will be cheaters; get used to it. Steroids are no more help to the player than a corked or boned bat, or a scuffed ball. You still need hand-eye coordination, pitch recognition, and intellect to hit a baseball out of the infield, let alone out of the ballpark.

Instead of joining the witchhunt in baseball's McCarthyism/Steroids Era, enjoy the game for what it is: a game. If you consider it cheating, well, no one's forcing you to watch and go to the games and adore these players. But since we're in a democratic society, and campaigning all over the world for other countries to do so (see: Iraq, Saddam Hussein), it would be hypocritical to deny these people (they are people after the final out and post-game interviews) the right to choose what they put in their body. Congress should stay out of this as well, unless they plan to illegalize everything that is detrimental to one's health, such as cigarettes and alcohol. But you won't see them do that anytime soon, because they can tax them like it's a disease. Once the government can find a way to profit off of steroids, you'll see them legalized (they'll pretend to control them the same way they tried to do with selling alcohol on Sundays). Embrace these players for putting their health on the line so you might enjoy the game more. After all, it was McGwire and Sosa, two juiced-up players, who helped bring baseball back into living rooms across America after the strike of 1994.