Steroids in Baseball: Will the Controversy Ever End?

Normally all the discussion in the baseball off-season would be about trades, new prospects, free agent signings and other “hot stove” topics. Today, the discussion is about steroids and other “performance-enhancing drugs” that are apparently being used in baseball. While many people would like to be talking about batting averages, injury reports, and roster moves, they are stuck talking about syringes, congressional hearings, and which person under oath is actually lying to the government. The issue has become less about sports, and more about litigation, press releases, and “spin control”. It seems unlikely that this topic will be resolved anytime soon, for several main reasons.

How much, how many, how long?

More than any other professional sport, baseball is about records and statistics. Even the casual fan knows who has the home run record, but do football fans know who the all-time reception leader is? Do basketball fans know who the all-time rebounding king is? Baseball records are somewhat hallowed, which makes “the steroid era” a particularly troublesome issue. People want to have a sense that those wonderful records were attained by mostly “fair” play.

Steroids taints certain records and forces people to ask whether they will always have a cloud or an “asterisk” over them? Obviously every era of baseball is different due to equipment, training regimens and facilities. However, how do you judge an era where there is alleged steroid use but no one knows how much, how many, or how long? What happens if someone was a star in this era but was totally clean? Do they get lumped in with everyone else? Because we may never know the extent of usage, this issue may never go away due to “doubt” about this era.

What stuff haven’t we talked about?

The other challenge with this era is that much of the chemistry is uncertain. Steroids can be detected to a certain extent, but human growth hormone (HGH) is difficult to detect. In addition, many suggest that players have been using amphetamines for years, but this doesn’t seem to be any part of the discussion at this point. What really clouds this issue is the fact that MLB and the players union were so slow to get any sort of policy in place. Therefore, you probably had users for years that technically did not violate the rules of the game. In addition, how do you go back to times when testing was not done? The only way to “prove” that someone was using certain substances is for them to admit it or be accused of using by someone who can provide definitive evidence.

People are still denying

Roger Clemens is the latest “superstar” to be implicated in the steroid controversy, with accusations from a former trainer that were published in the Mitchell Report. This may come down to a case of “he said, he said” unless Brian McNamee can produce “iron clad” physical evidence of usage by Clemens. At this point, many people think Clemens is guilty, but he is taking the Pete Rose approach of denial to the bitter end. This is another reason why this issue may not go away soon. If accusations and denials are unresolved, it will allow the discussion to continue. All we have to do is observe how long the Pete Rose discussion dragged on until he finally admitted that he bet on baseball.

I wish we could just talk about baseball, but since this issue is now on the political stage and in the national media outside of just sports, it is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. There is too much history and too many questions that may remain unanswered forever. Roger Clemens and other will probably continue to deny usage, and Major League Baseball will do everything in their power to protect their interests. Therefore, the last 20 years of baseball history may be forever labeled “The Steroid Era.”