Major league baseball was the last major sports organization in the United States to implement a comprehensive drug testing policy. This all started with a bottle of a nutritional supplement seen in Mark McGwire′s locker. The bottle contained Androstendione, a prohormone, or a compound which can convert into another one inside the body. In this particular case, the compound in question converts to Testosterone once in the body. Unfortunately, at this time, McGwire was en route to breaking a home-run record that had been standing for decades. MGwire retired shortly after breaking that record, but the story of steroids in baseball and the Major League Baseball (MLB) organization went ahead at full speed. Just a few short years later, Ken Caminiti revealed to Sports Illustrated that he used anabolic steroids, and that he estimated roughly fifty percent of the players in the league were using them also. This admission opened the floodgates to the media to begin their full scale assault on MLB. Jose Canseco, in a book published during the height of the steroids in baseball media coverage, estimated that 85% of all players in MLB used steroids, and also admitted using them. Remember the difference between what has been found in scientific studies vs. anecdotal statistics? This is a prime example of one such difference. The players can′t even agree on a percentage, and they′re in the locker-rooms!
Although Caminiti′s story was the earliest major media admission of steroid use by a recently retired former MVP in baseball′s professional ranks, it was one of the most influential. The following is a chart illustrating media attention to steroids in baseball for the weeks preceding and following the Sports Illustrated piece on Caminiti. Week fourteen is when the piece was published. You can see that prior to that, only ten pieces were published in the mainstream media. In the same time (weeks-wise), you can see that hundreds of articles were put out after Caminiti admission:
The most famous story in the steroids in sports is that of Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds. Both of those players were suspected of using anabolic steroids when the BALCO scandal was exposed. Giambi, for his part, told a U.S. grand jury that he used a duo of undetectable steroids known respectively as "the cream" and "the clear," both of which he received from personal trainer Greg Anderson during the 2003 season. Bonds, on the other hand claimed that his trainer told him the substances were the nutritional supplement flaxseed oil and a pain-relieving balm for his arthritis.
There were also claims that a transcript of Bonds′ entire testimony was leaked to the press, and that according to a transcript of Bonds′ Dec. 4, 2003, testimony, he admitted the following were used by him: "the cream," "the clear," human growth hormone, Depo-Testosterone, insulin and a drug for female infertility that can be used to mask steroid use."
Bonds′ attorney, Michael Rains, said the leak of the testimony was simply engineered to discredit Mr. Bonds. However, it′s important to remember that at the time they were not banned by MLB.
So did all this media attention hurt baseball? The answer is a resounding "no". Baseball sales figures and attendance were in a slump before McGwire was en route to his home-run record, and they′ve been climbing ever since. But are all the additional home runs a result of steroid use? Well, it′s easy to say we need to put asterisks on every record set during the "steroid era" of baseball, but that would give too much credit to steroids alone. Of course training methods and nutrition are part of the puzzle, but the other piece is probably not as obvious. In the mid-′90s starting in the American League and in the late ′90s starting in the National League, home runs began to become more and more common.
Although steroids are often blamed, the construction of more "homer-friendly" ballparks also has something to do with it, no doubt. Coors Field, a recent addition to the MLB stable of fields has become the most prolific run-scoring park in the history of MLB. Enron Field was also built (reincarnated into the more media friendly "Minute Maid Park"), actually has a home-run friendly left field line that was (and still may be) a clear violation of major league rules. The Milwaukee Brewers, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Texas Rangers have all also built very homerun-friendly fields in recent years, as have the Arizona Diamondbacks. For their part, the Cardinals, Orioles, and White Sox have pulled in the distance from home-plate to their outfield fence. Need I also add that the strike zone has become much more beneficial to hitters since the era of Roger Maris? Still, the questions remain, about steroids in major league baseball. Do major league baseball players use steroids? Of course they do. Can we say that steroids are the reason for the inflated home-run statistics of recent years? Of course not.
With Multi-Million dollar contracts on the line every season, the only fact that we can be sure of is that steroids are being used in baseball, and they will continue to be used for as long as players can get away with it. Congress recently chimed in and pressured MLB into instituting a comprehensive testing policy for their athletes, but steroid use in baseball is unlikely to decline considerably as a result of it.
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