It's time for the steroid hysteria to end. The sooner we realize that 'roids aren't pure evil, and that those who use them aren't ruining the integrity of the game, the better off baseball will be.
Let me be very clear: Rafael Palmeiro is a douchebag. Anyone who is dumb enough to get caught red-handed lying to Congress deserves to be thrown in Guantanamo Bay and left to rot. Palmeiro's arrogance and stupidity are absolutely stunning; it takes a very special human being to lie about steroid use under oath only to test positive a few months later.
Ironically, Palmeiro was one of the few ball players who left Capitol Hill with his reputation intact. Instead of mumbling into his microphone like Mark McGwire or forgetting how to speak English like Sammy Sosa, Palmeiro went to Congress with guns blazing, wagging his finger at the camera and emphatically denying ever using steroids. Palmeiro's appearance was a hit at the time with the sports media who, in all their wisdom, complimented him for answering every question in a forthright, confident manner, unlike McGwire and Sosa. Too bad he was, uh, lying.
With Palmeiro's credentials as a Grade-A bum established, I think it's time to get a little perspective on this whole stupid steroid hysteria. If I hear another blowhard talk radio host or newspaper columnist proclaim that steroid users like Palmeiro are ruining the integrity of baseball, I'm going to barf.
Players today, we hear over and over, don't respect the game, don't play it the right way, and are dishonoring America's pastime. Hogwash. Pro baseball players who use steroids are simply using every available means to make themselves better. Period. Do you know why Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, or Joe DiMaggio never used steroids? Because they didn't exist when they were playing.
If those guys were stars in the year 2005, you can bet that most, if not all, would be sharing a stall with McGwire and Canseco, sticking a needle in their butts. Does this mean that they are bad people who want to sully the image of America's pastime? No, it simply means that these are competitors who will do whatever it takes to get ahead.
The only thing that separates guys who always appear on the short list of known (or assumed) steroid users (Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro, Giambi) from those angelic names of days gone by (Ruth, Mantle, Mays, Williams) is time and technology. They are all products of their environment who are going to follow the example of their peers. In Ruth's day, players ate a steak and drank a beer before a game. In Mantle's day, they popped a few "greenies" — amphetamines that helped pump them up and shoo away last night's hangover. These were the best performance enhancers science had to offer at the time and all were used in excess. In the modern era, players inject stanozolol and HGH, human growth hormone. If drinking Drano would help boost a slugger's OBP, you better believe most ball players are going to try to clean out their pipes.
Of course, your average sportswriter or talk show host will never admit that the old-time players would gobble up today's drugs like candy, preferring instead to trot out the same tired lines that today's juicers are lazy ingrates looking for shortcuts.
Let's kill one misconception right now, shall we? Steroid users might be a lot of things but one thing they certainly are not is lazy. Steroids do nothing for you by themselves. You still need to work your butt off in the gym for them to be of any use.
With this dedication to the gym that the steroid craze has brought to baseball, you could easily make the argument that the players of today easily blow away the players of yesteryear in terms of dedication to training, fitness, and doing things "the right way."
Think I'm crazy? Consider who is really respecting the game: Mickey Mantle, who showed up to countless games drunk or hungover after a night of debauchery, or Joe Juicer, who watches his diet, works out every day, and injects himself with steroids in order to be the best ball player he can possibly be?
I'll never understand why Joe Juicer is considered a social pariah and why the Mickster is considered a saint. Because of his alcoholism, Mantle never came close to fulfilling his potential, shortchanging fans from seeing one of the all-time greats play at his highest level. Why is a drunk like Mickey Mantle considered a god in baseball circles but Mark McGwire is thrown under the bus for taking his game to unseen levels with the help of steroids?
Oh yeah, because steroids aren't natural. They provide an advantage. An unnatural one. It's cheating. And we all know there's no history of that in baseball.
What I'd like to know is, where is the outcry against LASIK surgery? It's unnatural. It's a potentially harmful procedure — no one know what the long-term effects of the procedure will be. It certainly provides a competitive advantage for the batter. After LASIK surgery, players who once had mediocre eyesight can now see at 20/15 levels, giving them a huge advantage over rival pitchers.
Another unnatural procedure that has produced nary a peep in the media is Tommy John surgery. Should pitchers who blow out their arm hang up their spikes because the surgery wasn't around during Sandy Koufax's era?
Of course not. Times change, science improves and as a result we are going to see bigger, faster, stronger ball players thanks to advances in medicine. As steroids evolve, injuries will be cut down, extending players' careers.
Michael Wilbon, an outspoken critic of steroids, wrote in his Washington Post column "Steroids help you stay fit, help you recover from injuries and wear that are accelerated by age." I guess it's a bad thing that steroids help players stay in shape and heal faster, although I'm not quite sure why. Wilbon is on TV, though, so I guess I'll have to take his word for it.
Wilbon continues, "Isn't it curious that Bonds, now that there's steroid testing, can't seem to get healthy for the first time in years and years?" Yes, I guess it is. I don't know about you but to me this sounds like an endorsement of steroids. Barry Bonds on steroids = best player in the game. Barry Bonds off steroids = DL. If I was a Giants fan, I would be begging Barry to get back on the juice, pronto.
But steroids are dangerous, we're told, almost as deadly as black tar heroin and addictive as Crystal Meth. Again, I don't buy it. If Major League Baseball has been swamped by steroid abuse for the better part of two decades, where are all the dead ballplayers? Shouldn't McCovey Cove be littered with dead bodies like the river scene in War of The Worlds?
Now, am I advocating every high school baseball player who can hit an 80-MPH fastball start a steroid cycle? No. The average Joe should stay as far away from steroids as possible because most of the junk available on the street is just that: junk. Pro ball players have access to the best, most pure steroids; if they're smart, they take them under strict medical supervision, a luxury Little Johnny batting .220 for the JV team can scarcely afford.
Yes, there have been deaths related to steroids, such as Ken Caminiti, and strange illnesses like what happened to Jason Giambi. In both cases, though, these players lived reckless lifestyles filled with drugs and alcohol — substances that most likely had more to do with their health problems than steroid use.
Ultimately, the argument in baseball circles against steroids boils down to one topic: records. Your average baseball geek couldn't care less if steroids made every user drop dead at 50; all they care about is the idea that baseball should be played on a level playing field, with little to no deviations, throughout the ages. Which, of course, is ridiculous and impossible.
Perhaps I'm not the world's biggest baseball fan, maybe I don't "respect the game" like I should, but to me, records are kind of silly. First off, shouldn't every record established during the Negro League era have a giant asterisk next to it? These records were established when many of the country's most talented players were banned from the league. Babe Ruth, great athlete, giant of the game, played against inferior and incomplete competition.
Does this diminish his, or any of his peers', accomplishments? Should Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, or Lou Gehrig be booted out of the Hall of Fame because they played in a far more disgraceful, corrupt, and borderline evil era? No, they were of their era and their accomplishments should be judged against the standards their peers set.
The same should hold true for the so-called Steroid Era. Many, many players were doping like mad and as a result, home run totals went through the roof. Because of these historical discrepancies, many sportswriters argue that steroids make it impossible to judge against historical benchmarks. Perhaps that's true but like any sport, baseball is constantly evolving. In 50 years, when today's drugs will look absolutely Paleolithic, there will be a new benchmark for success. As with any era, it makes far more sense to simply compare players to their peers, not to some creaky black-and-white newsreel footage of the Ghosts of Baseball Past.
So again, Raphael Palmeiro is a douchebag but he isn't a douchebag because he juiced — he's a douchebag because he juiced and lied about it under oath in front of Congress. Like most American controversies, the scandal isn't the crime but the cover-up. I'm eagerly waiting for the day when a ballplayer tests positive for steroids and proclaims, "Yeah, I did it and a lot of my teammates are doing it too. And you know what? We're going to keep doing it because the drugs will be harder to screen and even more effective than you can possibly imagine. The fans are going to love it, too, because pretty soon we're all going to be able to jack 600-feet home runs on a routine basis. The drugs will be safe and effective because I'm under constant medical supervision — so cut out the nanny act. Let's get real, drop the hypocrisy, admit that steroids are here to stay, and stop fearing what is foreign to us. Maybe you'll find steroids aren't inherently evil after all."
This will take a very special baseball player to admit what everyone knows is true, a very rare, brave ball player who knows the meaning of the word "inherently" — a very tall order indeed. I doubt it will happen but it's always nice to hold out hope. Otherwise, we're in for another 50 years of the same cycle: players doping, an occasional failed drug test, a 10-day suspension and fine, a new, undetectable strain of the drug, and so on and so forth.
I don't know about you but I'm already to sick to death of the Steroids Controversy. Steroids are not going away — get over it. In a perfect world, the MLB would assign the finest doctors in the country to monitor the players' steroid intake. They would also work with researchers to develop the safest, most effective steroids possible. That, of course, will never happen in today's ridiculous political climate. So it's back to a de facto "Don't ask, don't tell" policy that doesn't work for anyone — sort of like this country's War on Drugs.