The Needle & the Damage Done

Major League Baseball has tolerated cheating far too long. Whether it’s the scuffing of the baseball in the early twentieth century by a couple hall of fame pitchers, or the use of too much pine tar on a bat by a hall of fame hitter in the later half of the century, the game has tolerated cheating and has never levied any sufficient punishment in order to prevent future behavior. Today the problem is the use of illegal steroids. To quote President George W. Bush; “The use of performance- enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball… is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message. “Bush Calls for Anti-Doping Effort. ” [par. 2. ]).

The recent uprising of steroids in baseball is due to the federal indictment of four men who headed the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative and also the fact that somewhere between four and six percent of Major League Baseball players tested positive for steroids in 2003. The alleged use of illegal substances by superstars like Barry Bonds not only destroys the integrity of the game, but also in a way encourages children as well as up-and-coming baseball players to use steroids in order to increase their level of play.

And when it all boils down, it’s the players and the players union’s fault, for they are the individuals using the drugs as well as the ones who will not permit a more accurate method of testing. The worst effect of steroids is what is does to the users’ body as well as the mind. Using steroids can raise cholesterol level and blood pressure, which creates the risk of heart attack and stroke. The use of steroids also can cause liver malfunction. Young users stop growing because of premature stoppage of growth plates. (McNeil par. 24).

Not only are there physical side effects, but there are mental effects as well. Dubbed as “roid rage,” the user is quick to act in fits of anger because of the flow of too much testosterone is going through the users system. (par. 23). These are serious side effects and this is the reason why the United States government has made steroids illegal. Tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG, is the illegal drug which the federal government has indicted four men who were allegedly distributing it from the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO.

THG was not known to the Major League Baseball world until this past winter, when track and field stars were first getting caught with links to BALCO. Barry Bonds’ name has now been linked to BALCO, due to the fact that his personal trainer, Greg Anderson, who worked for BALCO, has been charged with illegally distributing steroids. (Vecsey par. 5). Bonds, as well as other baseball stars such as Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield, have testified in the BALCO hearings because they were customers of the supplier.

Whether they are guilty or not of using the now illegal THG, they are guilty by association according to the media and many Major League Baseball fans. Last year, testing revealed that five to seven percent of all Major League Baseball players tested positive for steroids. That policy of testing did not test for THG, which was not picked up by the urine systems at the time. (Sandomir par. 11). The MLB, unlike the NFL and NBA, does not test for recreational illegal drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine, and therefore cannot punish athletes who are breaking the law.

A similar situation arose in 1998 when Mark McGwire broke the single season home-run record with 70 home runs. He admitted to using androstendione, which is sold over the counter in nutritional stores and is legal under Major League Baseball’s testing policy. Androstendione is banned from the National Football League and the Olympics, though. (Rosenthal 64). It was easy to pass the testing for steroids in baseball last year because the player is given a week warning in advance prior to the test. 65)

And yet still about 80 baseball players failed the test. How can this happen? Easy, the Major League Baseball Players Association has a stranglehold over this issue. Through collective bargaining agreements which don’t expire until after 2006, Major League Baseball cannot change their current system of steroid testing without a rigorous fight. The players union is making a joke of this serious issue; head of the union, Gene Orza, was quoted; “I have no doubt [steroids] are not worse than cigarettes…

I guess by not allowing baseball to suspend and fine players for smoking cigarettes, I am not protecting their health. ” (Rovell, par. 3). Orza is missing the whole objective as to why steroids are illegal, because they are harmful to the users health! He also fails to mention the concern for the integrity of the game of Major League Baseball. Also, the fact that he is downplaying steroid use is only promoting more use among Major Leaguers, up-and-comers, and the regular 12 year old fan. So what should the MLB and MLBPA do?

Adopt a new system of testing which will catch those who use steroids and discipline them. (Jones 58). By today’s standards, a full season’s suspension is not mandated until a fifth offense by a Major League Baseball player. (Sandomir, par. 14). And all of this talk of steroids has divided the sport of baseball. There are those fans who think steroids should be allowed, there are some who think there should be stricter measures, and then there’s some who go ut on a witch hunt because a certain player has gained 20 pounds of muscle in the off-season.

There are players who are satisfied with current testing, and there are those who want to adopt a stricter testing method, and therefore are chastised by their own union. Gary Sheffield, a perennial all-star who allegedly has ties with BALCO, told a reporter that he’d do a urinalysis in a couple days so that the media could leave him alone. The next day Sheffield got a call from his union, telling him that he could not do such a thing. (Vecsey, par. 17). So the Major League Baseball Players Union is to blame when it comes o the recent steroid witch-hunt.

The players are destroying their bodies, setting negative examples to future ballplayers and making a mockery of the integrity of America’s pastime. Once again, the great majority of players are taking the brunt because only a minute minority of players is actually using illegal steroids. But thanks to an inefficient system of testing and discipline, the whole game of baseball carries a dark cloud with it. The entire baseball world just needs to hope that the cheaters are found out guilty, and the innocent are spared.

Leave a Comment