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.