The issue of steroid abuse in baseball isn't a new one. Accusations about the use of anabolic steroids to enhance performance have been around for many years. Estimates about the extent of the use of anabolic steroids in baseball run as high as 50% of players in MLB, and a comparable number in the minors.
On April 28, I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with a former MLB trainer about steroid use in baseball.
Gary Huckabay: Thanks for agreeing to speak with us. First off, what are steroids, and why would ballplayers want to take them?
Trainer: Steroids are basically drugs that either enhance or mimic testosterone in your body. The effect that players want out of them is the anabolic effect: creation of tissue mass. The players want more muscle mass. Steroids promote muscle growth through protein synthesis.
GH: What are some examples of steroids that players use?
Trainer: Nandrolone's probably the most common. There's a lot of Stanozolol, too. Durabolin is the one that's most injected. Users try to get as much of the muscle building effect as possible, and some guys know more about these compounds than the manufacturers.
GH: How widespread is the use of steroids among ballplayers?
Trainer: Only from what I've seen, I'd say very widespread; maybe a third of the players.
GH: What types of players are using them?
Trainer: All types, but hitters more than pitchers.
GH: Is that because pitchers won't get the same benefit as hitters do?
Trainer: I don't know. I think it's a weight-room thing, and hitters tend to spend a little more time there than most pitchers.
GH: How much benefit is there, really, to using steroids?
Trainer: That would vary wildly from individual to individual. There is definitely a physical effect that allows for greater and more rapid muscle gain. But you can get enough muscles to hit the ball 400 feet without steroids. It's more of a question of what you do with the muscles. For some guys, though, it's the difference between making a few million bucks and staying in Double-A.
GH: Do the clubs know about the extent of steroid use in baseball?
Trainer: Of course they know. A lot of clubs are really good about it, and work with their medical staffs to watch out for it and educate their players in the minors.
It's a very difficult problem to deal with for a lot of reasons. These drugs are available all over the place, and a lot of young guys still don't fully understand the risks. Even if they did, a lot of people would be willing to accept the health risks for the chance at the Alex Rodriguez-sized payoff. And, truth be told, what can the clubs really do to stop it? This is drug abuse, just like crack, cocaine, heroin, or anything else. Stopping drug abuse of any kind is extremely difficult.
GH: What's the difference between the use of something like Dianabol, which is a prescription steroid, and something like Androstenedione?
Trainer: The supplements are fairly lightweight. They do get converted into testosterone, and there is some benefit. I don't know the clinical details, but it's like a cup of coffee compared to a serious amphetamine.
BP: What can be done to stop steroid use?
Trainer: In a perfect world, there would be more education, and random testing of all players starting in rookie ball. In the real world, education starting at the junior-high or grade-school levels. Without some sort of comprehensive testing, it's never going to go away, though. The average MLB player makes in excess of two million bucks a year. Steroids and the confidence that comes with them can be the difference between working at Wal-Mart and being among the richest people in the world. When you're a teenager, the long-term risks don't seem real, but the money and fame does.
There is no easy solution to the problem, and certainly none that doesn't trample on some very important rights. I would encourage all the young players who read your site to also check out http://www.crchealth.com/addiction/about-steroids/ or http://sierratucson.crchealth.com/treatment/steroid/ [ed – the original reference was to a now-defunct site steroidabuse.org], and to visit a family of someone who's been hit by the effects of steroid abuse. Hitting a baseball 420 feet and having lots of money will not restore the use of your kidneys, or give you the ability to be a father.
Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.