• Drawing The Line On PEDs, Cheating & Tainted Records

    Posted by on March 15th, 2010 · Comments (26)

    Over the last decade – or has it been longer? – I’ve found myself vacillating between camps with respect to the whole issue of baseball players using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). Actually, I’ve gone back and forth on this one quite a bit through the years. But, now, I believe that I’ve reached a point where my position on the matter is final – or, it’s as close to final as I’ve ever been on this topic.

    Basically, the end issue on PED-usage for baseball fans usually boils down to three things: The question of cheating, the claims of tainted results/records, and the matter the law.

    That last item is a tricky one. Illegal drug use/sales is a felony. Whether it’s possessing and/or using controlled medications without a doctor’s prescription, or, if it’s abusing legal drugs dispensed by a shady and/or fake prescription, illegal drug use is against the law. (Duh!) And, baseball players who are using PEDs, are probably breaking the law 99% of the time…or so…I would imagine.

    Then again, there are certain “drugs of abuse” such as cocaine, marijuana, LSD, methamphetamine and various opiates which are illegal – and have been against the law for a long time. Yet, people still obtain and use them…just as baseball players do the same thing in obtaining and using PEDs.

    On one side, here, we have “the law is the law.” And, on the other side we have parties who probably feel that they should have control over their own bodies and what to put in them – regardless of what the government mandates. To me, it seems, as a society, we have yet to solve this conundrum. Therefore, I’m not going to attempt and address it. File my position on this as “It is what it is.” And, I’ll move on to the baseball-related arguments of cheating and tainted records.

    Drug testing in Major League Baseball has been subject to collective bargaining since 1986. In time, baseball and the players union got around to agreeing on “Survey Testing” (for PEDs) to be done in 2003. And, that resulted in mandatory testing for PEDs with punishments for the first time in Major League history during 2004. But, in reality, baseball didn’t have a drug policy with any teeth until January of 2005 – after the Senate Commerce Committee and the President got on their case about baseball’s drug policy not being strong enough. (For the record, baseball unilaterally implemented its first random drug-testing program in the Minor Leagues back in 2001.)

    Looking at this timeline, it’s reasonable to say that Major League Baseball didn’t have a system in place to catch and punish players for using banned substances, including anabolic steroids and other illegal drugs, until 2004. (Some may want to defer to 2005 since that was the strengthened drug policy with tougher penalties. But, the fact of the matter is that players still could have been caught in 2004.)

    What about prior to 2004? Well, in baseball, before 2004, when it came to PED-usage, you had no laws (meaning a policy) and you had no police (meaning no tests) and you had no court system (meaning penalties). Prior to 2004, in big league baseball, it was like the wild, wild, west with respect to using PEDs. Players were on their own and there was no one trying to stop them. Therefore, if a player was using PEDs prior to 2004, was he cheating? I would offer that it’s pretty hard to “cheat” when there’s no rule (policy) in place that says you shouldn’t “cheat.”

    Breaking the law? Yeah, probably. But, not “cheating” by baseball rules.

    Take a minute and consider “the spitball.” This is a pitch thrown with a ball that has been altered by the application of some foreign substance – with the goal being to alter wind-resistance and weight on one side of the ball and make it do funky things in motion thus presenting an unique challenge to the batter. After the 1920 season, Major League Baseball banned the spitball completely – sans for 17 “spitballers” who were grandfathered and allowed to keep throwing the pitch legally until they retired.

    I should add here that after the 1919 season, baseball had partially banned the spitball – allowing each team to designate up to two pitchers who would be permitted to legally to feature the pitch. But, clearly, we have a line here: Through 1919 there was no policy in baseball banning the spitball; and, somewhere between 1919 and 1920, the pitch became outlawed. Therefore, if you threw a spitball prior to 1919, you were not “cheating.” And, if you threw one after 1919, unless you had some dispensation, you were cheating.

    And, that’s what you can say about using PEDs in big league baseball too: Through 2003 there was no policy in baseball banning the use of PEDs; and, somewhere between 2004 and 2005, baseball had a policy in place to catch and punish players using banned substances, including anabolic steroids and other illegal drugs. Therefore, to me, it sure seems like if you used PEDs prior to 2004, you were not “cheating.” And, if you used them after 2003, you were ignoring baseball’s policy on PEDs and you were cheating.

    Drawing these “before” and “after” lines, to me, also allows us to address the issue of “tainted records.”

    Hall-of-Famer “Big Ed” Walsh Ed Walsh, dominated the American League from 1906 through 1912 using his spitball. Should we consider his record to be “tainted”? Why? Because he threw an illegal pitch?

    But, at the time, the spitball was not an illegal pitch. And, therefore, Walsh was not cheating (meaning breaking a rule). So, how/why should his statistics during this time be tainted?

    Moving back to PEDs, the 2000 Yankees had many players on their roster who were later named in the Mitchell Report as being suspected PED users – including Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Jason Grimsley, Glenallen Hill, Chuck Knoblauch, Denny Neagle, Andy Pettitte and Mike Stanton. So, should we consider the World Championship that the Yankees won in 2000 to be “tainted”? Why? Because so many on the team were reportedly using PEDs?

    But, at the time, like with “Big Ed” and his spitball, there was no rule in baseball that banned players from using PEDs. And, therefore, the 2000 Yankees were not cheating (meaning breaking a rule) if some of their players were using PEDs. So, how/why should their title that season be tainted?

    Bottom line: If there’s no rule/policy, then you can’t be called a “cheater” for breaking it. And, if you didn’t cheat, then your accomplishments are not “tainted.”

    And, that’s the way I see it now with respect to baseball players using PEDs. If they did it before 2004, they were not cheating and their records before 2004 are not tainted. And, if they did it after 2003, then they were cheating and their accomplishments during that time are tainted. (Also, at any time the player used PEDs, there’s an excellent chance that he took part in committing a felony. But, that’s up to society and the government to settle out and not something that I’m going to shake around in my mining pan.)

    Lastly, shame on Major League Baseball and the players union for waiting until 2004 to get a PED-policy in place. It probably should have happened five years earlier…and maybe even ten years before that.

    Comments on Drawing The Line On PEDs, Cheating & Tainted Records

    1. BOHAN
      March 15th, 2010 | 2:52 am

      even though i still consider hank aaron the hr king and roger maris to old the single season record, id have to agree with you on this. cant be labeled a cheater when your technically not breaking a rule that isnt there. i also dont really blame any of the players who used PEDs for using.

    2. thenewguy
      March 15th, 2010 | 3:29 am

      @ BOHAN:

      I like the way you look at this. For me, though, it’s hard to consider Aaron anymore of the HR king than Bonds (or anyone else who might break the record.) All of the different eras, with different rules, mounds, umpires, equipment, different stadiums, etc. make it really hard to compare players across eras. For me, you either include them all, or you simply say you cant compare different generations.

      I do agree that you can’t label them a cheater if there are no rules against it. (And in truth, it’s not just that there were no rules against steroids. Everyone intimately involved with the game knew it was going on and nothing was done about it, which is essentially condoning it. I certainly can’t blame anyone for using steroids, whether its a low-level minor leaguer trying to feed his family or Barry Bonds trying to prove to everyone that he really IS the best offensive player of the generation.

    3. redbug
      March 15th, 2010 | 5:34 am

      Since use of PEDS was illegal, (whether MLB looked the other way or not), and since it gave those using PEDS a distinct advantage over those who didn’t, I can’t agree w/ letting those earlier users off the hook and say that guys like Bonds, McGwire Sosa, Clemens and Arod records should be respected and compared to the likes of Aaron, Ruth, Ford, etc.

      We know those guys used PEDS and have really have no idea what their records would’ve been w/o them. As far as I’m concerned they’re cheaters. And a guy like Arod who had such a great yr and postseason last year is suspect in my mind.

    4. March 15th, 2010 | 7:58 am

      Eh, this really, really comes across as “I like Andy Pettitte et al, so their steroid use is okay.” Sorry.

    5. March 15th, 2010 | 8:06 am

      Besides, as redbug notes, PED use was illegal. The above argument is like saying it’s okay for players to smoke crystal meth before games because there is no specific MLB penalty against doing so.

      IMHO, the only argument that really holds up here with this issue is the “everybody was doing it” defense, as lame as that sounds. There was a twisted level playing field back then, with so many players doing it.

    6. March 15th, 2010 | 8:17 am

      And incidentally, Fay Vincent added steroids to MLB’s drug policy in 1991. So you can’t say it was somehow okay for players to do steroids back then.

    7. jay
      March 15th, 2010 | 9:24 am

      FWIW, I think you need to check your research. I’m almost positive that there is anti-drug/PED language in MLB policy that dates back well before 2003/2004.

      For a different spin, consider the assumptions that mostly everyone here (and anywhere else this conversation is taking place) are making about these drugs. We’re a bit cavalier to label them as “performance enhancing.” There’s a lot of research to suggest that some of these drugs do nothing but help players heal quicker. Is that an advantage? Sure. Are there legal drugs that allow you to do the same thing? Yes. Will the drugs make you hit a baseball if you can’t do it without the drugs? Probably not.

      That’s a slippery argument, but what’s not slippery is the arbitrary line that’s been drawn between “acceptable” drugs and “not acceptable” drugs. Guys get platelet injections to recover from TJS quicker these days – how is that any different? Amphetamines (greenies) are banned, but caffeine isn’t? How about the cortisone injections we routinely heard about Giambi and Matsui getting? The list is a lot longer than I’ll get into here. Who has drawn these lines, and why are people so easily convinced to adhere to them? I’m sure it wouldn’t be that hard to label these drugs as “Drug A”, “Drug B”, “Drug C” etc, list their respective effects and cautions, and make it all but impossible for a layman to pick out between the illegal and legal.

      Am I saying I want drugged up athletes who destroy their bodies to perform as well as they can for 10-15 years? No, if only because it would inevitably filter down to the college and high school levels, and then have a serious affect on each of our lives, instead of just being a headline on a blog and a good way to waste time on a Monday morning. But while I admit finding objectivity here is difficult, I would say with confidence that the journalistic community has chosen to take those arbitrarily drawn lines and use them to pass judgment, and thus failed miserably and even trying to achieve any objectivity. And while Steve’s judgment isn’t so harsh (as it’s an attempt to be based on the rules set forth by the organization that these players were members of) it’s still missing that lack of objectivity.

    8. March 15th, 2010 | 9:49 am

      lisaswan wrote:

      And incidentally, Fay Vincent added steroids to MLB’s drug policy in 1991. So you can’t say it was somehow okay for players to do steroids back then.

      jay wrote:

      FWIW, I think you need to check your research. I’m almost positive that there is anti-drug/PED language in MLB policy that dates back well before 2003/2004.

      I’m very comfortable with the dates that I’ve mentioned here.

      See the following two links which are excellent timeline summaries on this matter:

      http://www.baseballssteroidera.com/steroid-era-timeline-text.htm

      http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,316730,00.html

    9. March 15th, 2010 | 9:56 am

      http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/news/mitchell/report.jsp?p=88

      6. 1991: Fay Vincent Adds Steroids to Baseball’s Drug Polic

      In September 1989, Francis T. (“Fay”) Vincent was elected to succeed A. Bartlett Giamatti as Commissioner, after Giamatti’s sudden death. Vincent was the first Commissioner to expressly include anabolic steroids among the substances prohibited under baseball’s drug policy, which he did in the June 1991 version of the memorandum.130 Steroids were added to the drug policy at that time, apparently as a result of the enactment of the Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 1990. Under that statute, anabolic steroids had been reclassified as Schedule III controlled substances, and the illegal use of them became subject to substantially increased criminal penalties.

    10. March 15th, 2010 | 9:57 am

      And from your baseball steroid era link:

      Commissioner Fay Vincent Issues Memo Regarding Steroid Use
      June 7, 1991

      After the U.S. Congress raises penalties for steroid possession, Commissioner Fay Vincent sends a memo to each team indicating that steroids would be added to Major League Baseball’s banned list. The memo stated: “The possession, sale or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance by Major League players or personnel is strictly prohibited … This prohibition applies to all illegal drugs … including steroids.” The seven-page document didn’t include a testing plan — that had to be bargained with the union — but it did outline treatment and penalties.

    11. March 15th, 2010 | 9:59 am

      @ lisaswan:

      Sending a memo to teams and implementing a policy with tests and punishment are night and day. Bascially, Vincent was sending a CYA letter which meant nothing in reality.

    12. March 15th, 2010 | 10:07 am

      But that’s because of the players’ union’s intransigence (sp?) on this issue. True, there was no penalties until 2004. But that doesn’t mean that PEDS weren’t banned from baseball. It’s not like players didn’t know they shouldn’t be doing it.

    13. March 15th, 2010 | 10:13 am

      Put it this way – look how much grief/controversy Mark McGwire got from using andro, which was perfectly legal in both the law, and in baseball rules, at the time. Imagine what it would have been like for him if his steroid use had come out in 1998. How far do you think McGwire would have gotten if he had said, “Hey, there’s no MLB steroid policy with tests and punishment, so it’s okay”?

    14. March 15th, 2010 | 10:17 am

      lisaswan wrote:

      But that’s because of the players’ union’s intransigence (sp?) on this issue. True, there was no penalties until 2004. But that doesn’t mean that PEDS weren’t banned from baseball. It’s not like players didn’t know they shouldn’t be doing it.

      Hey, it’s the real world. If the government sent a letter to everyone’s home and told them “Driving over 50 MPH is now banned.” But, at the same time, they didn’t have anything in place to monitor speed limits or even punish anyone who they somehow found out was speeding, do you really think that “memo” would prevent most of the drivers out there from exceeding 50 MPH?

      No. That’s how the real world works. If you have a rule with no muscle (pardon the pun) behind it whatsoever, it’s not worth the paper the memo was written on.

      Again, Fay was just playing CYA because Congress was starting to poke around.

    15. egghead71
      March 15th, 2010 | 10:20 am

      I find the whole premise of the post to be ludicrous. Whether or not you believe that the drug laws of this country are fair or well thought out, they are still the law of the land.

      The idea that we are saying it’s ok to break the law in an attempt to win a baseball game, or break a record, or win a championship really says all we need to know. In what other pursuit in life would we condone the breaking of a law to further our career?

      That being said, I don’t care about “PED” use. It’s still debatable whether most PEDs actually enhance performance. Besides that, there are so many other ways to enhance performance, whether it’s equipment, cheating (such as doctoring the ball), contact lenses, laser eye surgery, it’s far too arbitrary to single out PEDs, except for the fact that they are ILLEGAL.

      It’s an argument that can’t be won, so forget about it.

    16. Tresh Fan
      March 15th, 2010 | 10:21 am

      For me it all comes down to what you mean by “cheating.” There are two different ways you can look at this. First, in a narrow, legalistic sense “cheating” is committing an infraction against prescribed regulations(i.e. “breaking the rules”). By this view Mark McGwire was no more of a cheater than Ed Walsh since neither broke any rules.
      But there is also a wider, ethical sense of “cheating” regardless of whatever rules there may be. By this view “cheating” is acting wrongfully, contrary to conscience or morals, for your own personal benefit. By this view Mark McGwire was indeed “cheating” because using steroids is “wrong.” But by whose conscience or by what morals? Just as the legalistic view is too “black and white,” the ethical view admits to too many shades of gray. In the end I suppose it’s a personal opinion that could be argued ad nauseum. Suffice to say that I’m of the ethical view.

    17. March 15th, 2010 | 10:49 am

      @ Tresh Fan:

      It’s a tricky thing for me. Until you had a policy in place, with testing, and with punishment, to the players, I’m sure using steriods, HGH, etc., was just the next step after Flintstone Chewable Vitamins and Creatine. And, if was up to the player to decide if he wanted to take it to that ultimate level. Is that cheating, or, just a choice that was not subject to testing and punishment? At this stage, I’m starting to feel like it was more of the latter and less of the former…until 2004.

    18. March 15th, 2010 | 10:51 am

      egghead71 wrote:

      In what other pursuit in life would we condone the breaking of a law to further our career?

      I would bet that there are some doctors, lawyers and brokers out there who have broken some laws and are not losing any sleep over it.

    19. jay
      March 15th, 2010 | 11:11 am

      Steve Lombardi wrote:

      lisaswan wrote:
      But that’s because of the players’ union’s intransigence (sp?) on this issue. True, there was no penalties until 2004. But that doesn’t mean that PEDS weren’t banned from baseball. It’s not like players didn’t know they shouldn’t be doing it.
      Hey, it’s the real world. If the government sent a letter to everyone’s home and told them “Driving over 50 MPH is now banned.” But, at the same time, they didn’t have anything in place to monitor speed limits or even punish anyone who they somehow found out was speeding, do you really think that “memo” would prevent most of the drivers out there from exceeding 50 MPH?
      No. That’s how the real world works. If you have a rule with no muscle (pardon the pun) behind it whatsoever, it’s not worth the paper the memo was written on.
      Again, Fay was just playing CYA because Congress was starting to poke around.

      This memo from Vincent is what I was referring to. It’s a judgment call – to argue the difference between a policy in the CBA, and a memo from the commissioner’s office.

      Also, your example about the government sending you a memo is ridiculous unless you’re blogging from Germany in the 1930s. Our system of law and government doesn’t work that way. Baseball on the other hand, works much differently. The commissioner is essentially the judge, jury and executioner, and is held responsible potentially only by a dispute through the union. You see this happen in every sport all the time – players are suspended based on the judgment of the commissioner.

    20. egghead71
      March 15th, 2010 | 11:15 am

      @ Steve Lombardi: The fact that they do it does not mean that we condone it, much less canonize them for it.

    21. March 15th, 2010 | 11:16 am

      As A-Rod infamously put it last year, he knew he wasn’t taking Tic-Tacs back then. These players knew what they were doing was cheating, even when there were no MLB penalties for it.

      Like I said earlier, IMHO, the only explanation/justification for steroid use is the “everybody’s doing it” defense. Barry Bonds won three MVPs without juicing, and reportedly never touched a steroid until after the 1998 season, when he saw inferior players like McGwire and Sosa vying for the home run record. When even the best player in baseball felt the pressure to keep up with the Jones by juicing, that’s a systemic problem.

    22. BOHAN
      March 15th, 2010 | 1:27 pm

      lisaswan wrote:

      When even the best player in baseball felt the pressure to keep up with the Jones by juicing, that’s a systemic problem.

      Barry Bonds was not the best player in baseball at the time. Griffey was the best. He is the best player ive ever seen.

    23. March 15th, 2010 | 2:24 pm

      Just a tack on, for the record, as a baseball fan, I don’t WANT to say that I support and endorse what McGwire, Sosa, Bonds and the others did from the late 90′s through 2003. I’m just saying that, today, based on all that we know, that I UNDERSTAND what happened and see how there’s a case to be made that it was not cheating, and therefore it’s hard to say the records are tainted, because there were no hard rules in place that spelled it out (and were enforced), etc.

    24. Corey Italiano
      March 15th, 2010 | 2:25 pm

      BOHAN wrote:

      lisaswan wrote:
      When even the best player in baseball felt the pressure to keep up with the Jones by juicing, that’s a systemic problem.
      Barry Bonds was not the best player in baseball at the time. Griffey was the best. He is the best player ive ever seen.

      Agreed 200% (yes, 200).

    25. Raf
      March 15th, 2010 | 9:02 pm

      “Cheating is baseball’s oldest profession. No other game is so rich in skullduggery, so suited to it or so proud of it.” – Thomas Boswell

    26. Raf
      March 15th, 2010 | 9:11 pm

      BOHAN wrote:

      Barry Bonds was not the best player in baseball at the time. Griffey was the best. He is the best player ive ever seen.

      Griffey may have had more talent, but Bonds was better. Griffey had the benefit of playing in the Kingdome, as well as pitchers who would actually pitch to him.

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