Hysteria About Steroids
by Glenn Dickey
Mar 20, 2005

AS THE STEROIDS story just keeps going on and on and on, there are some two elements which really bother me:

--The idea that players who are identified as steroids users should have an asterisk after their statistics in the record book.

All we really know about steroids is that they enable athletes to work longer in their weight-lifting sessions without tiring and build muscle mass much faster.

What we don’t know is what effect that has on their performance. Obviously, they think it makes a difference, but there’s no proof it does. Mere muscle mass doesn’t make a power hitter, or Arnold Schwarznegger would have gone into baseball. For many years, in fact, baseball people thought that weight-lifting was counter-productive for hitters because it would make them muscle-bound.

Hitting is about hand-eye coordination, and it’s hard to see how steroids makes a difference there. Barry Bonds has tremendous bat speed, which he has always had. He also has a focus which he probably didn’t always have, and he has learned how to look for the pitch he can hit for a home run, as many hitters do later in their careers.

Hank Aaron was never a big guy. In the Baseball Encyclopedia, he’s listed as 6 feet, 180 pounds; having seen Aaron up close during his baseball career, I’d say that’s accurate. He became the all-time home run leader because of his powerful wrists and bat speed, not muscle mass.

As for the argument that steroids users are “cheaters”, are you kidding me? Cheating is the name of the game in baseball.

Gaylord Perry is in the Hall of Fame, though he admitted in a book that he threw the spitball, a pitch that was outlawed in 1920. Perry was a mediocre pitcher used in long relief until he discovered the spitter. So, should he be expelled from the Hall of Fame and an asterisk put alongside his statistics?

Batters have sometimes corked their bats to make their fly balls go further; Sammy Sosa is the most recent one to get caught. Teams have been known to put baseballs into the refrigerator to deaden them – if the strength of their team is pitching – or in the oven to liven them – if the strength of their team is hitting.

Groundskeepers have graded foul lines to make bunts go fair or foul, depending on whether their team has good bunters. In 1962, when he was managing the Giants, Alvin Dark had the groundskeeper water the basepaths to near-swamp conditions to stop the Dodgers Maury Wills from stealing bases. When they were playing in New York, the Giants were accused of having an employe using binoculars to steal signs from the opposing catcher.

There are many more exmples. Steroids users aren’t the first to try to get an unfair advantage.

There’s considerable hypocrisy in many comments about supposed steroids users. After Mark McGwire refused to answer his questions – or any others – at last Thursday’s Congressional hearing, Missouri Democrat William L. Clay said he wanted to have McGwire’s name taken off the stretch of I-70 that runs by St. Louis.

McGwire’s name was added to that freeway after he hit 70 homers in 1998. He had already admitted to taking andro, a steroids pre-cursor, but, strangely, I don’t remember Rep. Clay objecting to the naming at the time.

In recent weeks, I’ve talked to many of my colleagues, both in the newspaper and radio-TV business, and they all say that they thought McGwire was on steroids earlier, but they gave him a pass. Suddenly, though, he’s fair game, even being called a coward for exercising his Constitutional right to refuse to answer questions that might incriminate him, a right that is bolstered by a similar rule for the House of Representatives hearings.

--The idea that, because they’re being accused of using steroids, athletes are not being good role models for youths.

This idea that athletes should be role models has always bothered me. Nobody suggests the same standard should apply to entertainment figures. The pop music world has long been notorious for the cocaine/heroin use. . . and then, there’s Michael Jackson. The movie world is full of stars who flit from one bed to another and from one marriage to another, but nobody suggests that they should be concerned about being role models.

Athletes are young men who are often trying to find themselves; they’re not in a position to be a role model for anybody. In earlier eras, they often ruined their own lives with alcohol or cocaine use.
Now, it’s steroids, but at least, they’re trying to improve their performances, not just getting high.

Yes, young boys, especially, idolize athletes, but it’s up to the parents or other family members to make the distinction between admiring an athlete for his performance without trying to emulate his often-flawed life. When I was a youngster, I had pictures of Ted Williams on every inch of my bedroom walls, but my role models were my parents, hard-working people who set an example that has sustained me throughout my life.

THE REAL issue in the steroids discussion should be about the health of those taking them. We really need to be studying the results of extensive use of steroids. So far, all we have in sports is anecdotal examples and shaky speculation.

Before they were used in sports, steroids were used to help people recover from illnesses or injuries. There should be at least some studies which could help determine the dangers of steroids use.

That should be the focus, but it isn’t because of the hysteria surrounding what should be irrelevant issues.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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