May 29, 2002
The Daily Prospectus
Two weeks ago, newly-retired Jose Canseco claimed that 85% of major-league baseball players were steroid users. Now, newly-retired Ken Caminiti admits that he was using steroids during his 1996 MVP season and estimates that half of the game's players are juiced. Newly-retired Chad Curtis also chimes in with a guess that around half of MLB is on performance enhancers.
Look, there's no defending the use of illegal substances, and I'm not going to do so here. Steroid use violates United States law and can have serious, debilitating effects on an individual's health. Because there are significant short-term competitive advantages to using steroids, there's an issue in that players who don't use them find themselves at a disadvantage for playing within the rules. These are problems, and they need to be addressed.
People who don't like ballplayers, and who don't like the MLBPA, are having a field day with this story. "Aw, they're all juiced, the numbers don't matter." "The players should agree to testing for their own good and for the good of the game. All they care about is their salaries."
I'm sick of seeing the words, "The players should..." Major-league baseball players are the top 1% of humans in doing what they do. They're mostly grown men, many of them are well-educated. Maybe it's safe to assume that they can decide for themselves what their negotiating positions should be. If the players decide that steroid use is unfair to those players who don't partake, they may just decide that the privacy invasion of testing is outweighed by the fairness to those who are clean, and agree to a testing program.
But it's their decision to make. It's not up to sportswriters and fans and management, no matter how well-intentioned they may be. To be honest, I don't believe "good intentions" are much in play here. though. I think we're seeing a lot of the same petty jealousy and good ol' days-ism that drives coverage of the game's economics, and it's hard to take it seriously.
Anytime you see the words, "The players should," think about how you would react if some outside entity was telling you what you should do. Think about how angry you get when Company X sells information about you to Company Y, how the invasion of your privacy on the smallest level grates. Now think about having to prove your innocence-prove your innocence!-by being asked to turn over bodily fluids at random points in your career.
As with most things MLB, one of the arguments for testing is that the NFL and NBA have testing programs. Why this is an argument for testing is a bit hard for me to understand, because if you think testing has eliminated steroid use in the NFL, I have some lovely Pat Listach rookie cards to sell you. The NFL has linemen the size of a two-family house. You mean to tell me they all got there naturally, while 230-pound baseball players are juiced to the heavens?
Mandatory testing may act as a deterrent, and may reduce steroid use. However, it will be an invasion of privacy for all baseball players, and it's not up to any of us to determine that it's something to which they should submit.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.