While Major League Baseball Players have always sought an edge, by the 1990s, they found one that was profound. Many players began using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), also known as steroids, to improve performance. This changed the game, as players grew bigger, gained power, and hit more home runs. Eventually, Major League Baseball instituted a rule, banning the substances, and implemented punishments for those who broke the rule. This paper will look at the drugs, and the impact that it had on the game.
Players had used substances to improve for over 100 years. In 1889, Pud Galvin, a pitcher, used Brown-Sequard Elixir, a code word for testosterone derived from other animals such as dogs and guinea pigs (Lavine). Babe Ruth, one of the greatest players of all time, tried to inject himself with extract from sheep testicles in 1925; he became sick and missed some playing time (Lavine). By the 1970s, players began using steroids, and by the 1990s, it became prevalent (Lavine). From 1927-1998, only two players, Ruth and Roger Maris, hit 60 or more home runs (Lavine). But from 1998 to 2001, three players, all linked to steroid use, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, hit 60 or more a combined seven times (Lavine). Baseball purists, and the owners, became alarmed. In 2003, MLB had a sample test, with eye-opening results (Lavine). In 2005, MLB instituted punishments, and several star players were summoned to Capitol Hill to testify on PEDs (Lavine). In 2006, MLB asked former senator George Mitchell to investigate past use. When the report was released, more than 80 players were mentioned (Lavine).
Some of the drugs listed in the Mitchell Report were Anadrol-50, Winstrol (or Stanozolol), Sustanon, Deca-Durabolin, and Dianabol (ESPN.com). Anadrol-50 features dramatic gains in strength and muscle mass in a short period of time, with considerable water retention, giving the
user a massive appearance (ESPN.com) Winstrol is milder, but a reliable builder of muscle (ESPN.com). Sustanon has four different testosterone compounds, allowing athletes to increase strength, but has less water retention and side effects (ESPN.com). Deca-Durbolin provides strength gains, with very few side effects, and has a reputation for being an alleviator of sore joints and tendons (ESPN.com). Dianabol is frequently used with other steroids, but is liver toxic if used in high doses, extended periods of time, or both (ESPN.com).
The punishment of getting caught by a drug test is a major one. Originally, the punishment was a 50-game suspension for a first offense, a 100-game suspension for a second offense, and a permanent suspension from the game for a third offense (Calcaterra). There had also been a “zero tolerance” policy, in which even accidental PED use was punished. (Calcaterra). But in 2014, the rules were updated. Punishments were increased to 80 games for a first offense, 162 games (the equivalent of an entire season) for a second offense, and the permanent suspension for the third offense (Calcaterra). Players who test positive can argue to an arbitrator that his PED use was not intended to enhance performance (Calcaterra).
The impact, though, is still felt. Players such as Bonds, who is the all-time home run leader for a career with 762 and in a season with 73 in 2001, are still seen as pariahs (Bloom). In his third year of eligibility to be voted into the Hall, Bonds has received just 36.8 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America; 75 percent is needed to be eligible (Bloom). The Steroids Era is a time when a lot of home runs were hit, but also a sad time, because longstanding records were broken. One of baseball’s biggest assets is its history, and players who used PEDs ended up contributing to a dark time in the game. It will take many years for the memories to fade.
- ESPN.com (14 Dec. 2007), “Drugs in the Mitchell Report … And What They Do”, Retrieved from http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=3153711
- Lavine Joshua Z. (18 Feb. 2003), “Juicin’ In the Majors: A History of Steroids in Baseball”, NYULocal, Retrieved from http://nyulocal.com/national/2013/02/18/juicin-in-the-majors-a-history-of-steroids-in-baseball/
- Calcaterra Craig (28 March 2014) “MLB, MLBPA Announce Stronger Testing, Harsher Penalties for PEDS”, NBC Sports.com, Retrieved from http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2014/03/28/mlb-mlbpa-announce-stronger-testing-harsher-penalties-for-peds/
- Bloom Barry M. (6 Jan. 2015), “Bonds Wait for the Hall of Fame Continues”, MLB.com, Retrieved from http://m.mlb.com/news/article/102119154/barry-bonds-wait-for-hall-of-fame-continues