Steroids in baseball

The odds of making it in professional sports are very slim, and it is no secret that athletes will attempt to get an edge over their opponents. When fighting for spots on baseball teams with a chance to land a contract potentially worth millions of dollars, using anabolic steroids can be a big help at reaching goals. What we will examine in this particular article is the use of performance enhancing drugs in major league baseball (MLB), and how it has changed testing procedures and reputations of some athletes.


Table of Contents

What is baseball and MLB?

The early form of baseball was started in England in the mid 18th century, and immigrants brought it to the US where the modern version developed. By the late 19th century, baseball was considered the national pastime sport in the USA, and has spread in popularity to Latin America, the Caribbean (especially Dominican Republic), and East Asia (specifically Japan).

Baseball is a bat and ball game between two teams, with 9 players each, who take turns batting and fielding. There are many complexities to baseball, but a simple explanation is this: runs are scored by hitting a ball that is thrown by the pitcher, and players running counter clockwise around 4 bases. Once a player reaches home plate, a run is scored. The team with the highest runs after 9 innings wins, and if there is a tie they continue playing additional innings until the tie is broken.

When it comes to the sport of baseball, Major League Baseball (MLB) has the best and highest paid athletes in the world. The organization was founded in 1903 and there are currently 29 teams based in the US, and 1 in Canada. However, it started to grow in popularity only during the 1920's, and in the decades of 50's and 60's the league expanded teams at a rapid pace. Today, each team plays a total of 162 games, with only 5 teams in each conference making it into the post-season. Due to the high number of games, there isn't a sports league in the world that has more spectators.

BALCO scandal

BALCO was founded by Victor Conte in 1984 as a sports supplement company, with the main focus on correcting mineral deficiencies. It blossomed in the mid 90's, when high profile athlete customers like Bill Romanowski started using undetectable PED's (performance enhancing drugs), which were developed by the chemist Patrick Arnold. Among these PED's, the popular EPO, The Cream, and The Clear were given to athletes to give them an edge. However, a federal investigation was started on BALCO in 2002, which exposed the entire operation, and busted many athletes from many sports.

In fact, the most high profile MLB athletes to become entangled in the mess were Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, who were both two of the top baseball players of their time. Moreover, Giambi's younger brother Jeremy (also a major leaguer) has openly admitted to using 'supplements' he received from BALCO, including steroids.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that Bonds and Giambi never actually failed a drug test, and thus were never punished by MLB, even though Giambi has admitted he used steroids in front of a grand jury. Bonds meanwhile, has never admitted taking steroids, but critics point to his rapid size increases later in his career and his association with BALCO as proof of him using steroids.

Testing procedures and punishments

MLB looked the other way when it came to steroid use up until the BALCO scandal surfaced, and stricter rules and punishments were put into place. For instance, before 2004, if a player failed a test they would not be named nor suspended. However, in 2005 a first positive test would result in a 10 game suspension, then 30 games, then 60 games, then 1 year, and then a 5th fail resulted in commissioners decision of penalty.

Furthermore, the very next year these punishments were increased where a 3rd fail would result in lifetime ban. As a result, today the punishments are severe - a player who fails the first time gets an 80 games suspension, a 2nd fail gets a whopping 162 games, and a 3rd is a lifetime ban. Random testing is done during the season for growth hormone, and testosterone; with every player tested a minimum of once per year.

Common steroids used

Looking back at the BALCO scandal, we can guess that players used The Cream, The Clear, and EPO quite heavily before stricter rules came into place in 2005. In baseball, recovery is very important, as players often play back to back nights, and pitchers are rotated every few games (with relief pitchers called to action to finish games). For this reason, Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is very popularly used.

On the other hand, sluggers want size and power to be able to launch home runs, so steroids such as deca durabolin, dbol, and testosterone were very popular before testing started.

Interestingly, there has been a rash of fails by pitchers recently, who had taken winstrol, which is odd because winstrol, being a DHT derivative, dries the joints. Pitchers have enough elbow and shoulder problems as it is, and yet some of them were using winstrol. Most likely they took it with the hope it would help fast twitch muscle fibers perform, unaware of its negative implications, or its easy detection.

History of busts and estimates

The recent pitchers suspended for winstrol use were David Rollins, Arodys Vizcaino, Ervin Santana, and Jenrry Mejia.

Alex Rodriquez was busted for Primobolan, and his longtime assistant Yuri Sucart was sentenced to 7 months in prison for his role in the Biogenesis scandal. This scandal broke in 2013, where MLB players were accused of obtaining PED's, especially HGH, from the rejuvenation clinic. Such players as A-rod, Ryan Braun, Everth Cabrera, Jesus Montero and Nelson Cruz were connected to Biogenesis, and all of them got suspended for at least 50 games.

David Wells, who was one of the top pitchers of his time, has estimated that 25-40% of Major Leaguers took anabolic steroids or other PED's. Furthermore, Jose Canseco, another great player of his time, wrote in his tell all book "Juiced" that 80% of players used steroids, and he credited steroids for his entire career. Ken Caminiti won the 1996 NL MVP, and has said that he took steroids that year.

Future of steroids in MLB

With the new rules in place, it is unknown how many MLB players still use steroids, but it would be difficult to use undetectable versions while traveling on road trips. After all, it wouldn't look good when being searched getting on a plane and getting busted with a bunch of needles and oils. I would guess that no ester compounds that are short lived in the body and undetectable could be used when NOT traveling, the challenge would be the numerous injections from daily use.


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