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League Discipline

The Hypocrisy of Performance Enhancement

My future co-commissioner recently wrote a piece on the merits of PEDs for fringe players. I’d like to explore this general topic a little further, focusing on how Major League Baseball – and the larger sporting world – defines and polices cheating and, more specifically, performance enhancement.

In 1951 Mickey Mantle famously tore his knee up during the World Series. Just as famously, it’s been speculated that he played the remainder of his career with both torn cartilage¬†and a torn ACL. Think about that for a few minutes. One of the greatest players of all time played his entire career with a debilitating injury that is now fixed by a straight forward surgery with a clearly defined recovery time.

In 1974 Tommy John was the first pitcher to have the procedure that has subsequently been named after him. Prior to that point in time a tear of the Ulnar Collateral¬†Ligament meant the end of a pitcher’s career. Now? Minor league pitchers are having the surgery before the ligament is torn and coming back a year later throwing harder.

Babe Ruth was fat, out of shape, ate hot dogs for breakfast, smoked in the dugout, used a 42 ounce tree branch as a bat and still hit 714 home runs. Imagine if he had access to modern trainers and used a maple bat?

Reggie Jackson wore crazy, super-thick glasses – which he somehow made look cool – at the end of his career. When was the last time you didn’t hear a story about a hitter getting LASIK surgery and upgrading his vision to 20/15 in the offseason?

Here’s my point. There are countless innovations and enhancements that have occurred over the last century, all of which have lead to improved performance. Fitness, surgery, better equipment, cortisone shots, protective gear, video equipment, better trainers. It all amounts to the same thing. The modern baseball player has a million advantages his predecessors did not possess.

And this is a good thing.

It’s resulted in better players playing better baseball over longer careers. Athletes are doing things now they never could have done before. The baseball we are privileged to watch is the best that has ever been played. And this is what we want, right? The best players in the world playing the best game in the world at the highest level.

So why do we draw the line where we do? Why are steroids, amphetamines, and HGH banned and considered PEDs when all of these other innovations – including cortisone shots, caffeine and aspirin – are not?

Now let me be very clear. I’m not advocating that athletes take illegal, dangerous drugs. If the FDA determines that something is harmful and illegal it deserves to be on the banned substance list. Against the law is against the law.

Amphetamines are not against the law. HGH is prescribed to the elderly and the sick and has been determined to have extremely positive results when used in proper dosages. Testosterone is prescribed every day to men across the world. Certain steroids are safe and legally prescribed. Why, then, are all these things banned from baseball? I ask again, why are they considered unfair PED’s when so many other things are not?

I remember an interview I read with Mike Greenwell. He was talking about his 1988 season. It was easily his best season – 7.3 WAR, .946 OPS – and he finished second to Jose Canseco in the MVP voting. This interview took place after Canseco released his first book revealing his steroid usage (and shocked the world, I’m sure). The Gator was arguing that he lost millions of dollars, and an award that was rightfully his, because Canseco cheated. Canseco was breathtaking that season. He did things that no one had done before. I couldn’t care less if he was taking something that made him capable of doing it – I wish Greenwell had taken the same thing. The travesty wasn’t that Canseco had access to steroids; it was that he was taking them without proper medical supervision and that players like Greenwell had no access to them at all.

Modern science is remarkable. We live longer, better lives and can all do things we’ve never been able to do in the past. It’s silly that we draw arbitrary lines regarding what can be used in baseball and what cannot. If it’s safe and if it’s supervised by a doctor and if it leads to better baseball then it should be available to players.

Better science equals better baseball. Better baseball is just . . . well . . . better.

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