Steroids in Baseball

Posted on March 2, 2010 by

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Yet again we have two of baseball’s big names being dragged through the muck of innuendo. This week Jose Reyes and Alex Rodriguez are both to be “questioned” in a HGH investigation being run by the FBI. Personally, I do not care in the slightest, nor do I care about the issue of steroids in baseball, and neither should you.

Let us quickly dispense with the main arguments driving the so-called Performance Enhancing Drug (“PED”) issue:

They harm players’ health. Let’s even assume that steroids shorten a player’s life (which is by no means true, in fact there is no proof of this, Lyle Alzado and his medical education notwithstanding). “Abuse” of steroids is far different than the mere usage. It is not for me to say that this is not a worthy trade off; playing major league ball and gaining economically is a choice that many people might make.

That said, there is simply no proof of this. At all. There has never been proof that using steroids shortens a player’s life, and there never will be. Does “usage” harm their health? Damned if I know, or anyone else for that matter. But driving cars harms your health. Most foods harm your health. Working in a city harms your health. Yet, somehow, we do not find it necessary to ban these things. If you think that steroids are more harmful than driving, then you need to think about risk and reward.

You want to point to so-called scientific studies? Fine, but consider the following. These studies use a 95% confidence interval, which means that the results are only 5% likely to be caused by random variations (this is not the same as saying that it is 95% likely to be true, as most people think). If you do one hundred studies, at least five are likely to be wrong just based on randomness.

This is why we always get contradicting information from the media on things like whether Vitamin C helps colds, whether coffee causes cancer etc. There are hundreds of studies on these topics, and even if they are done perfectly 5% will be wrong. But since these 5% rebut the conventional wisdom and prior findings, they are trumpeted as “proof” when in fact that are anomalies with no probative value.

PED’s are different than greenies. Why? There is no reason we should treat Hank Aaron and Willie Mays differently than Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens. Well, aside from the fact that the baseball media tells you that they are different.

The hypocrisy of older players is stunning. It was fine, in their minds, to take greenies by the handful; but let someone provide them with a soapbox on the steroid issue and they may never get down from it. The media creates the story. Then they continue to publish it and raise it as an issue as if there was a vast uprising among the people. Hogwash; we all know that no one even thought of steroids until the media made it an issue.

What about the children? The appeal to “the children” is laughable in my opinion. Yet again the public chooses to prop up a boogeyman rather than confront its own failures, abdicating one’s own responsibilities for the easy out of a straw man. On virtually any political issue “the children” are trotted out as a trump card to play that ends the discussion. Again, trying steroids once or twice is far different than “abuse” and should be recognized as such. But we, in this sad country, want to blame everyone but ourselves for everything that befalls society. McDonalds is to blame for obesity, not parents. Cars are to blame for accidents, not bad drivers. Guns kill people and not morons who do not know how to handle them. Please spare me the hypocrisy and hand-wringing.

Baseball records are not sacrosanct. The day that someone took the first greenie the records were no longer special. PED’s are PED’s no matter how slippery you want to make the slope. Players today have all sorts of advantages, medical and otherwise that have radically changed the game on the playing field. The effect of PED’s is not nearly as large as the effect of not playing against minority players; and that was a deliberate decision on the part of the sport. Let’s negate any pre-Jackie Robinson records first and then we can talk about the ridiculousness of the PED’s issue.

The entire issue is an easy straw man for the easily misled. We can talk about PED’s only with blinders; ignorant of the relatively small effect they have had on the game as compared to racism and oblivious to the fact that players of old used PED’s also. Show me that Hank Aaron would not have taken HGH were it available and then we can talk.

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Posted in: Perspectives