The Short Porch: The Great P.E.D. Debate

Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.

– Yogi Berra

 

Walk into any bar in any city around the country and ask the same question and you would get a different answer every time. The question you would ask is “should P.E.D.’s be banned in baseball? Why or why not”?  This is a loaded question and may get you into an argument trying to prove your side of the argument to be correct. There will be arguments made about preserving the tradition and integrity of the sport, to arguments that it is still entertainment and you want to see some action, to the always famous response “what about the children?” (My fiancé brought this point up to me when discussing this topic).  There is little to no doubt kids look up to professional sports players and will try to mimic what they do and say, but to what extent do athletes need to go and give up because they are in the spotlight? Where are the parents on this issue? Do we attribute a student getting straight A’s to an athletic performance?

I remember watching the chase for 70 between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998 both denied taking P.E.D.’s at the time, but there was excitement at every at-bat. Every fly ball was watched to see if it would make it over the fence.  It brought Baseball back to relevance. Mark has recently come out and said he could have hit 70 without P.E.D.’s (sure). I also remember watching Barry Bonds and wondering if he would break the home run record, eyes glued to the T.V. for every at-bat Bonds had. Hell, they even interrupted other programming to show you his plate appearance, pure excitement.

I was, however, not in the stands June 9, 1946 to see Ted Williams hit a monster 502-foot home-run.  I don’t remember listening to the radio as Lou Gehrig give his goodbye speech, the iconic speech that still gives people goosebumps when they hear it played. I did not round the bases with Hank Aaron after he broke Babe Ruth’s home-run record. I was never lucky enough to see Sandy Koufax pitch.  I wasn’t alive then and neither were most of you, so we have little to no reference on how good these players were, we can only look at numbers in books and what was recorded to make the judgement. We tend to build up players of the past as mythical and magical, back when an “everyday Joe” could pick up a mitt and play, making their accomplishments seem bigger than life. It is embellished and taken as gospel, measuring all that come after it with tainted eyes of nostalgia. Remember, people still live through past accomplishments all the time; Al Bundy famously reminded everyone he scored 4 touchdowns in one game in high school.

There is an old saying that goes, “if you are not cheating you are not trying,” so if that is the case then why are P.E.D.’s illegal in baseball? Should they be? If we argue for the purity of the game are we going to require players stop hiring personal trainers and chefs? Do we make stealing signs from the catcher a 50-game suspension? Do we reset time to 1845 and play the game the way it was originally played? Will the players have to get part time jobs in the off season to help feed their families? Who is going to fly in a fighter jet in two wars like Ted Williams did for the Marine Corps in WWII and Korea? Will we let them go to the state of the art hospital with all its up to date machines and consult with Doctors and specialists that the team provides?  Will they travel by train and bus?  Would we segregate the league again and deny people the opportunity to play the game based off color of skin? Would we keep the 162-game schedule we have today? The game today is different from the one our legends played, so, I ask you, is steroid use that much of a ‘cheating’ issue?

I remember when the news first broke about players using steroids to get ahead of the competition and I hated each player that was accused of using. I saw it as cheating the games’ sacred history and records that were earned by players who with pure play, the natural ability and God given talent-that I seemed to lack- were able to earn themselves a rightful a place in the sacred history.  How could someone just take a needle injection in the butt and hit 70 home runs and that would be legit?  It was obvious to me back then that it was the steroids that enhanced the skills to an unfair level, a cheaters level.  But here’s the thing that I have since realized: If you could take P.E.D.’s and make it to the MLB would you? Knowing the risks that will ensue if you used, would you still take them? What if even if you take them you are not guaranteed a spot on a roster?   Probably not, the risk vs reward would not be worth it. You can be as strong as an ox, but you still must hit the ball first to make it go out of the park. But to some that are in the game they want a little edge, so why not let them? The crowd always goes wild for a smashed Home Run, it brings energy and excitement to the ball field, so is that such a bad thing in an era of 20 second attention spans?

With supplements, nutrition experts, and workout regiments that today’s players have at their disposal wouldn’t it be like giving “old timey” players P.E.D.’s? Pro Wrestling is a show and we know it(if you didn’t then I am sorry to break it to you this way) and their performers are on P.E.D.’s as well and the fans seem to not mind that much.  Are we really going to strip away the belt from John Cena because he took P.E.D.’s? Does it really matter in the long run? We get what we paid for and he gets what he wants, money/fame.  No one is saying “yeah well I could beat up John Cena if not for the Steroids he is taking”. Like, seriously?  You don’t think this guy has spent more hours in the gym than you have spent looking into a gym before he made it big? Did the steroids give him the abilities or did it just make him stronger? Baseball players are very skilled with hand eye coordination, it takes a lot to hit a baseball when it is coming in at you faster than a blink of an eye —  literally — but that wasn’t given to them through a needle.  It took them years and years of practice to master that skill. They were in the gym when you and I were inside playing video games and eating junk food, that’s why they are in the majors and we are watching them.

I’m not a role model… Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.

– Charles Barkley

P.E.D. use has been a hotly debated topic for a while, MLB didn’t start testing players until 2003 after public outcry that this somehow destroys the legacy built by the history of the game. Critics claim to be preserving the games pure history and the health of the players by opposing P.E.D. use but with the advancement of medical technology, a Tommy John surgery-for example-has become a procedure and not a career ender. Doesn’t that count as performance enhancing? After the game is done and the players retire to the clubhouse they go and get the very best and latest medical treatment with a small team of medical professionals at their disposal.  Pain pills are handed out like candy to the players to give them the ability to get back on the field and play through minor aches and pains that may have sidelined players of a previous generation. Imagine if you took Ted Williams in his prime and brought him into the Red Sox club house now with all the advancements and technology at his disposal, wouldn’t you think he could hit .400 again easily? Watching tape of the next days pitcher and reading detailed scouting reports compiled from dozens of hours put in by the teams scouting department, would lead some to believe they would have an unfair advantage over the players of the 40’s and 50’s who did not have the same level of technology assisting their games.

For my observation I can only conclude that baseball is “guided” by the upper management to a predetermined outcome that would benefit all that have money at stake and should be labeled as entertainment. This is not to say that it is totally fixed but they made their billions by being shrewd business men that don’t make many risky investments, and a multibillion dollar team is no exception. The amount of money that can be made off merchandising and attendance have made it too lucrative to leave to chance.  The league knows that having big market teams go deep into the postseason is good for the sport in general.  They think that someone in the Pacific Northwest will watch a Yankees vs Giants World Series but someone from New York probably wont tune in to watch the Mariners take on the San Diego Padres, losing the owners millions of dollars in revenue. They are trying to “clean” up the game so that the mirage that the game is still played the same as it was in your Grandpappy’s day will make fans, of all ages, tune it to see if the amazing players of today could rival the greats of the past. Its not the same game as it was when it first came to be, we use mitts now, pitchers throw over hand, and the ball must be hit over the fence for a home run — before 1930 it could land fair and bounce over for a home run. The uniforms back then were pretty awesome though.

People need to realize that the game has changed for the best and we are all out there to see monster home-runs and eye-popping highlights that are replayed on YouTube thousands of times. The competition is fierce, and everyone is looking for an edge to give them a leg up on the competition.  Drugs are taken and abused and have been for as long as they have been around.  Bill “Spaceman” Lee used cocaine while he pitched. Dock Ellis famously claims to have pitched a no hitter while dropping LSD. Daryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden also comes to mind with their use of drugs during their playing career. Wade Boggs claims to have drank 67 beers in a trip from New York to Seattle, and according to “Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia” was able to hit .300 the series after.  Did cocaine or beers give them a competitive edge? Enough so to call it P.E.D.? Cannabis is legal in 9 states, used as medicine in 29 others and is banned in the MLB.  It is called a P.E.D. but if you have ever been high and tried to play baseball you will realize quickly that it is not a performance enhancer, you don’t even wanna get off the bench let alone be able to play the game, I know from personal experience.   We want to live in the fantasy land that everything is equal and with just hard work and talent you can make it too, cheaters are looked at like not paying their dues by working hard.  But if you want to see how the game is played sign up for a recreational league in your city and get out and play ball.  Feel free to use whatever P.E.D. you want and see if that makes too much a difference in your play.  It hasn’t worked for me, so I doubt it will for you.  Play Ball.

 

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