If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, does it make a sound? If a bird doesn’t fly south for the winter, will any one actually notice? If a player who is completely irrelevant to the future of the Baseball team you like, and possibly the future of Baseball, gets in trouble for taking steroids, should anyone care?
Wait, better question: If a player who’s career batting average is .240, has only hit 5 career homeruns, and driven in 77 RBI’s in his 4-year career proof that possibly steroids don’t “work”?
Take the story of Captain America. He was a less than average man when it came to speed, strength, and agility. However, he outperformed every one else when it came to drive and wit. I know, it sounds like David Eckstein. When they gave Captain America the “drugs” to make him superhuman, his strength and agility finally matched his inner determination to be better. He could do anything, fight anything, and recover from injury quicker than anyone in history. I know, it sounds like Barry Bonds. The “drugs” took Steve Rogers from being nobody to being Captain America. Solid proof that steroids work…in a comic book.
In real life we have little proof that steroids, on their own, make that much of a difference.
The most famous steroid users of all time were Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds. Roger Clemens is on the list technically, but there has yet to be any solid evidence he actually used them. I mean he probably did, and that’s coming from a Clemens fan. Anyway, as I’ve mentioned before Clemens and Bonds were already good, if not Hall of Fame caliber players before they started juicing. If steroids did anything for those two it prolonged their careers and turned them into legends on par with Babe Ruth and Cy Young. The juice took already great players, and made them almost immortal. They were like Tokka and Rahzar from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze. Already incredibly dangerous animals, but when given TGRI’s green ooze, they instantly became enormous mutated monsters capable of almost anything. But again, did steroids really help them? If not for the crazy homerun race of 1998, Bonds may have never taken steroids, bulked up to a superhuman, and went on a tear never even thought of before. And, if he hadn’t, he would still have been remembered as one of the most athletic and productive outfielders in the games history. If not for the Red Sox forcing Clemens into Baseball obscurity in Toronto, pushing him to prove he’s still worthy of adoration, he may have never taken steroids. And, if he hadn’t, he would have still been remembered as one of the most dominating pitchers in the games history. So, in this case we have proof that steroids help make already incredible players superhuman. But, that’s not really proof that steroids “work”. It’s like if a really smart kid takes speed to stay up and study, chances are the kid would have still aced the test without the drugs.
When it comes to McGwire, there’s no proof that he ever took them at all, unless steroids help you hit homeruns immediately. He set the rookie record for homeruns with 49. He never hit less than 20 homeruns in any season where played at least 50 games. Sure, he seemed to figure out how to hit for average after a few years, but those numbers stacked against each other look more like a player maturing at the plate than juicing his brains out. Furthermore, McGwire was always big. Since day one he looked like a bodybuilder. If were too understand that McGwire was a steroid user, and that steroids make your bat and your muscle recovery quicker resulting in more base hits and power, then McGwire must have started juicing in high school. Which is possible.
Sammy Sosa is actually the most interesting case of them all. Click on his highlighted name and look at his career. It’s weird, isn’t it? With the exception of 1998 when he hit 26 more homeruns than he ever had in any single season, his numbers are fairly consistent. If anything his numbers resemble a highly touted prospect maturing and becoming the player everyone hoped he would be. His power numbers progressed little by little every year, as did his batting average and RBI totals. When you look at pictures of Sosa over time, he didn’t get bigger all of a sudden, he gradually grew and bulked up. Which again would beg the question: Did he start taking steroids before he joined the major league ranks? Completely possible, but then we still don’t have proof that steroids “work”, because Sosa gradually got bigger and better.
McGwire and Sosa were not the caliber of player Bonds was, but once they became starters they were always pretty good. So, it looks like we could have a case of steroids making already above average players into great players. In fact, one of the most glaringly overlooked stats in all of this steroid talk, is the time frame in which these monstrous seasons were happening. Modern day expansion, and modern day ballparks (which saw many teams bringing their fences in) all began around the same time – 1993. Just four seasons later in 1998 the league expanded again, which just happens to be the year McGwire and Sosa went apeshit. In fact, during that timeframe Bonds, Rafael Palmiero, Ken Caminiti, and Mo Vaughn all went apeshit. Hell, even Jose Canseco, who hadn’t hit more than 31 homeruns since 1994 (or more than 40 since 1991) hit 46 dingers in 1998. So, what’s more realistic: That all these guys pulled banner numbers during the exact same time that Baseball was expanding and building smaller parks, or they all started juicing in 1993? However, herein lies the rub – they could both be accurate, because we don’t know if steroids truly “work”, because we don’t know what steroids actually “do”.
Now normally I wouldn’t have even looked into this, or thought about it, or even put it up for debate. Because, in all honesty these guys totally took steroids; most of them have been linked to them or caught with them or look like athletic Frankenstein’s. But, when I heard that Everth Cabrera was linked to steroid use, and has all but admitted to it, it made me stop and think. I remember a few years ago when Jason Grimsley got busted for steroids, and I remember back then thinking that was weird. Grimsley was a terrible pitcher. His career ERA is 4.77 and he struck out almost as many batters he walked. Yet, he was caught red-handed with steroids. In fact if you look at the Mitchell Report, you’ll see a collection of names that suggest steroids don’t help at all. Over 75% of the names on that list are forgotten, underachieving players, who you would have probably never even drafted in an AL only fantasy auction league. Steroids certainly didn’t help Everth Cabrera in any way we could see, or Jason Grimsley, or Gary Bennett, or Larry Bigbie. Are guys taking steroids after seeing above average players become good players in hopes that it will make them at the very least average players? It seems like the majority of the time this doesn’t work. So, do steroids “work” like we think they do?
I’m not a scientist, and have done very little research into the medical side effects of steroid use. From an outside perspective it would definitely appear like they do help to some degree, but to what end? After looking at people’s numbers, when they did what they did, and when they stopped doing it, things don’t really add up. Either the steroid era happened in a much shorter time frame during which Baseball was going through massive changes, or it takes steroids awhile to “set in” once you start using them. It might be both, and it probably is. We’ve seen already good players use steroids to make them great players who then took advantage of the Major Leagues when their talent pool was spread thin from 1993-2001. It was a perfect storm that made every person overreact for the rest of time. Now, when we see guys like Prince Fielder hitting the ball into the upper deck we immediately question its validity. But, when I see guys like Everth Cabrera get caught, and then look at his numbers; I question the validity of the juice.
We’re definitely not making any Captain America’s, but we’re not really trying to stop it are we?
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