January 31, 2013
On the Beat
The Unclean Game
One of my best friends growing up was an all-state offensive lineman in Pennsylvania, one of the most talent-rich football states in the country. By his own admission, he probably wasn’t good enough to make it to the NFL. However, he was plenty good enough to land a scholarship to a NCAA Division I-AA program.
My friend was one of the hardest-working and most dedicated people I’ve ever been around. He never missed a workout, stayed in top shape and did everything possible—under the law—to maximize his physical gifts.
Getting a redshirt as a freshman, my friend spent five seasons in a program that was good enough to twice reach the NCAA playoffs. Yet for as talented and dedicated as he was, he never started a game. He only saw the field for special team duty and to serve as a mop-up-reliever-type role when games were out of hand.
Once my friend had graduated and returned home for the summer, we sat and talked one night, and I asked why he thought he was never able to crack the starting lineup. Never one to make excuses, he gave a matter-of-fact answer: There were five offensive linemen in his recruiting class. He graduated at basically the same weight as when he left for college. The other four finished their college career 40-50 pounds heavier because they used steroids. The coaches in the program never directly ordered their players to use steroids, but they strongly suggested that it would give them a much better chance at playing time. My friend refused to do it because of the potential health risks—his mother was a nurse—and also because he felt it was unethical.
So what is the point in writing the first four paragraphs about an offensive lineman for a website called Baseball Prospectus? Well, because this conversation occurred more than a quarter-century ago. So if players at one rung below the top level of college football were using steroids in the early- to mid-1980s, it stands to reason that Major League Baseball players were indulging in PED use long before “The Steroid Era,” which is generally assumed to have started in the latter stages of the 1990s.
Based on the latest revelation, reported by the alternative weekly newspaper the Miami New Times, PED use is still going strong in baseball. In the report, Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon, Yasmani Grandal, Gio Gonzalez, and Nelson Cruz were fingered to have allegedly bought human growth hormone or other PEDs from an anti-aging clinic in Coral Gables, Florida. Eight players were suspended by MLB for using PEDs last season, including Cabrera, Colon, and Grandal. That is as many players as who were suspended in the previous three years combined.