What to do with the Steroid Era

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RAB 2009 Trade Deadline Chat

This is a guest post from Steve S. from The Yankee Universe. Many of you know him in the comments as The Artist.

With the recent revelation that may add David Ortiz’s name to the ever-growing list of PED abusers, we come back to a nagging and somewhat uncomfortable question for Yankee fans. What do we make of all this? Steroids are every baseball team’s version of the crazy aunt. Everybody has one, nobody likes to talk about the subject, and it’s just something we’re going to have to figure out how to deal with.

We as Yankee fans can’t throw around the ‘T’ word (taint) at the Red Sox without having it boomerang quickly back in our direction. Our beloved late 90’s-early 2000’s teams had their fair share of accused steroid users, including Jason Grimsley, Mike Stanton, Roger Clemens, David Justice and Mo only knows who else. Other recent Yankee teams featured Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Jason Giambi and other accused users, the most notable being none other than Alex Rodriguez. Even Mister Steroid himself, Jose Canseco collected a ring with the Yankees after being picked up off waives in late in 2000. So we as Yankee fans can’t exactly celebrate the demise of our main nemesis’ reputation(s) without realizing we are up to our knees in syringes ourselves.

As someone who grew up steeped in the history of New York baseball and the game’s sacred records, I was a fervent and outspoken critic of steroids in the game from early on and wanted to see the game cleaned up ASAP. I was recently deeply disappointed when the so-called “clean HR champ” A-Rod turned up dirty himself. I never sided with the camp that simply views baseball as entertainment, and views PED use like some Hollywood star getting plastic surgery. Sports is and should be more than that. Hollywood produces fantasy and nobody cares whether its a level playing field or not. If sports goes the way of entertainment, then it becomes the WWE. We might as well writes scripts detailing who will win the World Series at that point.

There’s also something more pervasive and troubling about accepting PED use. For far too many athletes, steroids would become a price of admission to the big leagues. The young, talented high school star athlete would quickly realize as he rose through the minors that he’d never make a team without getting on the juice. Players with certain skill sets would be forced to choose between giving up their dreams and using drugs to become more than they could ever be naturally, with their long term health as a casualty. That makes professional sports a dirty business, and one I couldn’t encourage my son (if I had one) to play with any hopes of succeeding to the bigs. I also could not in good conscience be an ardent fan of a game where players slowly kill themselves to entertain me. That’s a little too Ancient Rome for my tastes.

I don’t however, blame fans for cheering known steroid cheats. What these critics fail to realize is fans cheer the home run and the moment it creates in the context of a game. Fans rarely applaud the individual, they applaud the act itself. When fans in the 20s and 30s cheered Babe Ruth, they weren’t applauding his drinking, womanizing, or fast living. They were cheering number 3 on the field and the moment in time when the game was won. It’s interesting to note that Babe Ruth attempted to use an early version of steroids as his body aged, only to make himself horribly sick. So it’s clear that this isn’t unique to the modern athlete, players of any era would do whatever possible to get an edge. Be it real or imagined.

Despite my long standing opposition to steroids and my desire to clean up the game, its become clear in recent years that PED use was so pervasive that it created something of a even playing field. Pitchers on steroids were facing hitters on steroids, each pumping up their stats in the process. There have also been many examples of lesser players (David Segui/Jason Grimsley) who were fringe major leaguers despite being serial steroid abusers, so its clear that being a great player requires much more than a needle in the tush.

We can’t ignore an entire era of baseball, or keep all the accused users out of the Hall of Fame. Comparing numbers across various eras is always fraught with pitfalls, the Steroid Era just adds another wrinkle. Does anyone think we’ll see a pitcher win 511 games again? Do we really believe anyone will ever break Roger Hornby’s 1924 season when he hit .423? And that’s just the modern era: Hugh Duffy is the all time leader, having hit .440 in 1894. How do we compare those players to today? In all honesty, we can’t. Considering everything, I would favor allowing the known steroid users into the Hall of Fame, but with a caveat. If PED’s enhance performance, than simply hold these guys to a higher standard. Forget the old 500 HRs/1500 RBIs/300 Wins standards, and come up with something more. I would also take into account other factors, such as Mark McGwire’s spotty health history and Roger Clemens’s mid-career decline. HOF voters should look at each player on a case by case basis, and frankly if it was me I’d need to be blown away. But I can’t pretend roughly 20 years of the games history either doesn’t exist, or should be completely ignored in posterity.

Trade Deadline Spillover Thread
RAB 2009 Trade Deadline Chat
  • yankeegirl49

    Well said, I agree with everything 100%!

    • X

      agree.. you cant not have Barry Bonds in the hall of fame regardless of what he did. Maybe Clemens. No big mac, sosa, palmiero

    • Dan

      I’m just curious, where do you get your facts that players are slowly killing themselves with steroids? If taken under a doctor’s supervision most people won’t have health issues with roids… Just look into it a little bit. Is it the healthiest thing you can do? No, but it’s not as bad as the media has us believing…

      • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ The Artist

        “If taken under a doctor’s supervision”

        Find me a licensed Doctor in America who will prescribe the amounts and/or combinations of drugs these guys take. He/She doesn’t exist. So its really irrelevant.

        These athletes procure the drugs overseas or on the black market, so lets not pretend there’s nothing wrong going on here. If caught, they would be arrested.

    • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ The Artist

      You single? *winks*

  • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

    Smart coments.

    I always said that Ruth would have used steroids if he could.

    However it’s worth noting that he didn’t and whether he could or couldn’t have it didn’t happen. So it’s unfair to compare im to today’s players.

    • Rick in Boston

      um…he did attempt to use an earlier version of them. So your wording is a bit off, isn’t it?

      • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

        He attempted to but didn’t. So whether he would have used them or not is irrelevant. Plus as someone below pointed out that’s disputed.

      • Ed

        We have weak stories that suggest he might have tried something similar to steroids.

        Also, what he may or may not have tried was legal at the time. Using steroids in modern times is both a against federal law and against baseball’s rules. Steroids are also known to have health risks, whereas he was trying something new. You can’t compare the situations.

    • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)


    • http://farm1.static.flickr.com/153/413671602_daded72a81_m.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      “Smart coments.”

      This is just funny. Sorry.

      “I always said that Ruth would have used steroids if he could. However it’s worth noting that he didn’t and whether he could or couldn’t have it didn’t happen. So it’s unfair to compare im to today’s players.” [Emphasis mine]

      Wasn’t that one of Steve’s points? I’m not sure we read the same post.

      • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

        Yes it was. I was agreeing.

        Why is using the words smart comments funny? I could have written smart post or smart thred. I just decided to use comments.

        • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)


        • http://farm1.static.flickr.com/153/413671602_daded72a81_m.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          “Smart coments” is funny for the same reason “smart thred” is funny.

          • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)



            Took me a while to notice that.

  • Ed

    Nicely written.

    The part on the high school kids is one of the keys to it all as far as I’m concerned. If a player chooses to risk his long term health taking steroids, so be it. But it’s not an isolated event. It influences lots of kids who aren’t mature enough to understand the risks.

    Remember when McGwire admitted to taking andro? Andro sales skyrocketed, with teenagers being a large part of the sales boost. The sales dropped again after McGwire said he no longer thought it was a good idea to take andro.

    • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ The Artist

      That’s the trickiest part with bestowing Baseball’s highest honor on known cheaters. How do you explain that to kids and young athletes. Frankly, I don’t have an answer.

      But its not the first time they’ve inducted a cheater. Gaylord Perry was elected in 1991 and everyone on the planet knew he added an illegal spitball to hang on at the end of his career. He even titled his autobiography “Me and the Spitter”


  • Rick in Boston

    Great post, Steve. I’m definitely with you in that every player should be viewed on a case-by-case basis, and I think with Palmiero and Big Mac, we’re starting to see that certain milestones won’t get you in. I would say that the 300 wins milestone will stand, but that’s just because the writers will always associate the Steroids Era as being a complete and utter hitters paradise, where only hitting records were tainted, and pitchers were hurt the most.

  • Matthew

    but the point is that if past players could, they would. So some of these HOF’s who say those who used steroids shouldn’t be in the HOF, they’re just being hypocritical because who knows what they used at the time and who knows what they would have done in this era to stay at the top of their game. that’s why its unfair to compare different eras because of the special circumstances.
    Also, too many people believe that steroids “makes” players. You have to have an amazing talent to even make it to the big leagues, and an even bigger talent to be a star.

  • Rob H.

    If I could agree more than 100% for that final paragraph, I would. We can’t pretend that these past two decades didn’t happen and just strike all of its best players just b/c they used steroids. As is always said, it was a massive problem, one that we will never truly understand the true magnitude of how many were using. Make these past couple of decades have its own wing in the hall and put all the people who have the numbers in from this era in that wing. Whether they were clean or not, can’t matter b/c no one will ever truly know and that will be the downfall for the players who really were clean and were Hall-worthy.

  • Jose

    We can’t change what happened in the past. Steroids are something that should never have come to Baseball, but did. The best thing to do is just try and prevent people from abusing them in the future.

    We can’t start stopping people from going to the Hall of Fame because they used. Without a doubt there are people in the Hall of Fame who cheated at one point, whether it be stealing signs, spitballs, scuffballs, drugs, or PEDs, they are in there. How do we know who did or didn’t cheat?

    Steroids don’t magically make a player great. Many times steroids can actually damage an athlete. If only players just had good work ethic, but alas, someone always wants to find an easier way to perform.

    By the way, the Babe Ruth story may not be 100% true according to many sources. Even if it was it is nothing like the usage of the word “steroid” today. That term is so overused I can’t stand it. Cholesterol is a steroid. I guess that means that all baseball players were steroid users.

    Sorry for the rant.

  • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

    It’s hard for me to accept Bonds’s record because frankly hitting 70 HR’s should be hmanly impossible w/o PED’s.

    • http://farm1.static.flickr.com/153/413671602_daded72a81_m.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      It happened, accept it. Maybe you give it less importance in your mind/heart, but it happened and that can’t be changed.

      • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

        It happened yes, but would it have even been possible w/o steroids.

        You’re right, in my mind and heart Maris has the single season record. And Aaron is the HR king.

        I guess that’s what’s important to me.

        • http://farm1.static.flickr.com/153/413671602_daded72a81_m.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          Exactly. The records are the records, facts are facts. But that doesn’t mean you have to care about them the way you cared about the old records.

    • Bo

      How is it humanly impossible to do? Maris hit 61 in 61. You don’t think players are stronger and better the last 40+ years?

      • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

        I would have to believe that the greatest sluggers in the history of the game were playing in approximately the same time period, had all their best years at the same time (what happened to be the steroid era) and then all stopped hitting when testing again.

        Yes, I think it is impossible to hit more than 10 HR’s than Maris hit in 61′. One or two, maybe. I’d consider it plausible up to five.

        • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)


        • http://farm1.static.flickr.com/153/413671602_daded72a81_m.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          I’m sorry, but that’s a little silly. We’re not talking about a guy playing until he’s 60 and hitting 1500 homers, we’re talking about one slugger getting on an insanely long hot streak one season and putting up a ridiculous number. Of course that could happen, it’s not impossible.

          • toad

            No. It’s not.That’s what Maris did, in fact.

            But even hot streaks have limits. Could someone hit 62 or even 65? Yeah. But the probabilities really decline pretty sharply. Let’s say you can average 45 HR a season, with 600 PA’s. Your chance of hitting 60 in a given season is less than 2%. Your chance of hitting 65 is about 1/1000.

            In other words, the exceptional numbers we saw were not the result of hot streaks, or good luck. They were the result of a jump in HR probability.

          • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

            If not impossible, it is incredibly improbable for the single season HR record to be broken several times in the span of three years w/o PED’s being involved.

            (I’m posting this because I know THCM is reading this thread right now, heh heh).

  • Ed

    It’s interesting to note that Babe Ruth attempted to use an early version of steroids as his body aged, only to make himself horribly sick.

    After following the linked article about this, I don’t think you can just throw that statement out there.

    I’ve heard that claim before, but there’s not anything definitive to back it. And as the article points out, having an ulcer fits perfectly.

    • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

      The article will not work on my PC for some reason. Is this referring to the bellyache heard round’ the world? If so it is definitely arguable that he tried PED’s.

      • Ed

        This any better for you? link

        • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

          Unfortunately no. My computer is weird.

          But thanks anyway.

    • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ The Artist

      There’s a lot of myth surrounding figures like Babe Ruth, much of it disputed. He had one of the world’s first Baseball PR men in a fellow named Ed Walsh, who used to feed all sorts of stories to the press, who ate them up like crazy. No one will ever know what was true or not, but the story doesn’t strike me as being out of character.

      We all know he desperately wanted to hang on in the game. He played long after his skills were gone, he wanted to be Yankee manager and held that torch through most of his retirement. Again, it doesn’t seem far fetched to me.

  • Tony

    V-Mart is a Red sox

    • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)


      • Tony

        “USA Today’s Bob Nightengale via Twitter: the Red Sox are about to acquire Victor Martinez from the Indians.”

        Via mlbtraderumors

        • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

          ABOUT to.

  • Russell NY

    Red Sox to get Victor Martinez. Whew, thought they were gonna get A-Gonz.

    • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

      It says about to, and only one soure has pointed it out.

      It of course COULD be true, but I’m not accepting it as gospel yet.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      Dude, WTF? We have a trade deadline open thread. Use that. This is not the forum for trade talk.

  • http://farm1.static.flickr.com/153/413671602_daded72a81_m.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

    Guys, there’s a trade deadline thread. Let’s keep trade talk over there instead of hijacking Steve’s thread here.

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    Today, we spell intelligent perspective… S-T-E-V-E.

    • http://farm1.static.flickr.com/153/413671602_daded72a81_m.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      Haha, co-sign.

      Good job, Steve.

      • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ The Artist

        Thanks, guys.

  • JMK

    I realize this is going to sound a little off the beaten path, and I wish not to troll, but here’s my quick thought on steroids: I think they should not only be able to take steroids, but required to. It’s entertainment, plain and simple. We can talk about purity until our ears bleed but let’s face facts–baseball has never been about purity or integrity. If I’m spending $50 on a ticket, and tons more on beer, food, etc,. I want to see 500 foot homers and 100 mph changeups. I want to see players more juiced than the Kool-Aid man.

    Oh yeah.

  • YankeeScribe

    I agree with most of the post but I disagree that letting players take steroids makes baseball like Hollywood or the WWE.

    It makes baseball like the NFL where players maximize their strength and abilities and no one cares how they do it.

  • Bo

    When they start calling 1960 to 1989 the “Greenie/Coke Era” I’ll start caring about this.

    • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD


      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        He’s on a roll.

        I take back all the mean stuff I said about you, Bo. You’re born again hardcore.

  • Joba or Hughes-To-the-pen

    Besides 2000 what steroid Yankee helped us win in the post season.Roger Clemens beside 2000 was bad and he has a 4+ era in he’s career as a Yankees.It’s proven Pettitte didn’t take PEDS before 2002.

    Also none of our World Series MVP’s or ALCS MVP’s were on PEDS then or now.Without Manny or ORTIZ the Red Sox don’t win in 2004 and 2007.

    Without Jason Grimsely,Jose Canseco or Roger Clemens we still win those World Series.The 1996 Yankees weren’t on anything.

    • YankeeScribe

      off the top of my head


      • Dave

        According to both the Mitchell Report and Radomski’s book, Stanton used in 2003 as a Met, NOT as a Yankee. Can’t include him on your list with no proof of wrongdoing.

  • C Bleak

    What would be the best way of measuring one player vs the other using today’s stats. For example Robinson Cano vs. David Wright this year?

  • CTrekr

    At one point do supplements turn baseball into the WWE? Imagine if you will a continuum of performance enhancers, with protein shakes on one end and steroids on the other. I’m just wondering at what point does it make it like the WWE?

  • Yazman (aka David)

    Well said, Joseph. I also agree.

    Even most of Oritz’s strong advocacy of testing is not inconsistent. I’d guess many players did steroids simply to compete with others who did. The solution? Just as Ortiz suggested: rigorous testing, and strong penalties. He never advocated looking backwards and penalizing past infractions.

    Let’s let dismiss known users from the past, but let’s hold them to a higher standard. And let the tolerance end now with better testing.

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