Tuesday, January 29, 2013

On Alex Rodriguez and current-era PED usage

News came out today from the Miami New Times that a number of current players have been utilizing one anti-aging clinic operator (Anthony Bosch) to acquire a variety of PEDs including testosterone, IGF-1, and HGH. The clientele included Bartolo Colon, Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, and Alex Rodriguez, amongst others.

My take, below.

Why can we acknowledge the fact that sports feed off of and breed competition but not the fact that high-stakes, high-competition environments inevitably breed potential outcomes like this?

If "brain-enhancing" drugs were available like athletically-enhancing drugs are, is it not a logical conclusion that a portion of people in high-stakes jobs (high up in government or business, for example) would utilize them to maximize their occupational value? Same thing occurring in baseball and sports in general.

In competition, some humans are inevitably drawn to potential ways to get a leg up on other humans, especially if rewards are involved...in this case, money/the potential for long-term financial security, the potential for fame and a long-term position in the collective memory.

It's not something that you can root out, because it's inherently tied to the nature of all sports.

Am I disgusted that A-Rod had the balls to continue taking PEDs as recently as last year even though he makes between twenty and thirty million dollars a year and has been for about a decade now? Absolutely. One of his only reasons

Am I surprised in any way that people are still taking PEDs? Not at all, and it doesn't surprise me that baseball's current resident liar is the biggest name in the group.

I don't find HGH to be a performance-enhancing drug, in that it doesn't enhance performance in any meaningful way. They have not proved the allegations that it makes you stronger (though it does induce hypertrophy, which is why bodybuilders use it), allow you to recover faster, or increase your LBM, and it doesn't function in the brain in a manner that would allow you to enhance your cognitive ability (say, focusing better, increasing the speed at which your body reacts to a brain signal, or "seeing the ball better"). Baseball might still find HGH use objectionable, but it's a pretty impotent threat (unless you are HGH-deficient to begin with). He is certainly in the wrong for this whole renewed fiasco, but I don't find fault with the HGH use specifically.

One item that now becomes an issue, as mentioned by some of the bloggers at HardBallTalk, is how we judge this era of players versus the prior era of PED users. We often hold up players from prior eras as bastions of pure natural ability, but it is fairly common knowledge amongst those ravenous for baseball that a number of Hall of Famers abused amphetamines (Mike Schmidt, Willie Stargell), cocaine (Fergie Jenkins), and early steroids (Mickey Mantle). Chalk it up to what you may (fallacious thinking, a romanticized account of the age, reminiscence of the innocence of youth), but every era of baseball players has its own version of "steroid users".

Baseball, like all sports, is not a "character game", yet we sometimes hold its players up to be that way. Piousness is not usually a quality that is held above skill. Certainly here are and have been many men of true character to have left a mark on baseball (Gehrig, Musial, Jim Thome), but there have also been a plethora of anti-heroes as well (Anson, Cobb, Barry Bonds).

Crossing the commissioner's office, however, is a quality that will keep you out of baseball (Eddie Ciccote, Shoeless Joe, Pete Rose) and out of the Hall of Fame. So how will we, as baseball fans, look upon the current group of players which we currently condemn? These are men who utilized PEDs at a time when they were in a legal grey area in the sport. Now, however, we have an era of players who are also utilizing PEDs, but at a time when they are disallowed, and they provide a contrast to the prior generation's transgressors.

The Hall of Fame voters have admitted a number of PED users and more general rule-breakers to the Hall in the past. Will this news be the catalyst to shift that accepting line of thinking towards Bonds, McGwire, Palmeiro, Clemens and the rest? Perhaps, as has been the case in the past, time will heal those wounds.



1. "A Miami Clinic Supplies Drugs to Sport's Biggest Names." Miami New Times, January 29, 2013. http://www.miaminewtimes.com/2013-01-31/news/a-rod-and-doping-a-miami-clinic-supplies-drugs-to-sports-biggest-names/full/

2. Sturmi, JE and DJ Diorio. "Anabolic agents." Clinics in Sports Medicine, April 1998 (2). Discusses the effects of four oft-utilized anabolic agents common to professional sports, including human growth hormone.

3. Calcaterra, Craig. "Clinic records suggest Alex Rodriguez purchased HGH as recently as 2012, other players named." NBC HardBallTalk. January 29, 2013. http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/01/29/clinic-records-suggest-alex-rodriguez-purchased-hgh-as-recently-as-2012-other-players-named/

4. Chass, Murray. "Schmidt an Open Book on greenies." New York Times. February 28, 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/28/sports/baseball/28chass.html

5. "Willie Stargell Gave Out Amphetamines, Dale Berra Testifies." LA Times. September 10, 1985. http://articles.latimes.com/1985-09-10/news/mn-3448_1_willie-stargell

6. "Fergie Jenkins - BR Bullpen." Baseball-Reference. Last modified February 10, 2012. http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Fergie_Jenkins Fergie Jenkins was arrested by customs in Toronto on August 25, 1980 with possession of cocaine. He was subsequently banned from baseball and shortly reinstated thereafter.

7. Chafets, Zev. "Let Steroids Into The Hall of Fame." New York Times Op-Ed. June 19, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/20/opinion/20chafets.html Details Mantle's early steroid and amphetamine usage, including the 1961 "M&M Boys" season.

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