Wednesday, August 8, 2007


I usually try to steer clear of topics that everyone and their mother is talking about about, but the situation afoot merits discussion from anyone and everyone.

Unless you've been living in Siberia and your only source of the news is my blog (or were sleeping at the time...), you know that in the bottom of the 5th inning in last night's game between the San Francisco Giants and the Washington Nationals, Barold Lamarcus Bonds hit the 756th home run of his career, thus passing Hank Aaron to become the all-time career home run leader.

There is no hiding that not many people like Barry Bonds as a player or a person, and fans everywhere were sad to see one of the most hallowed records in sports fall to such a character. Personally, when I saw that there was a delay in the game during the bottom of the 5th after he hit his home run, I hoped that it was because God decided that the record wasn't going to go in this fashion, so he hit At&T (formerly Pac Bell) Park with a devasting earthquake, thus killing BLB and striking the game and all accumulated stats from the record (since it had not gone past 5 innings yet). Much to my dismay, this was not what happened; they were just doing a short on-field celebration of the feat.

However, unlike most people, the reason that I didn't want to see the record go was not because of any suspicion that BLB was using performance enhancers. Maybe it's because I did not grow up loving the game, but I fail to see how it is bad that a player wants to do anything he can to improve. I, for one, don't really care that he may have taken steroids. Rather than face alienation from all of my friends and the sports world, I'll detail why the tradition reasons for thinking that steroids are bad don't really hit home with me.

1. Using steroids is a dishonest way to get better without working hard.

First of all, I'm pretty sure most people know this, but steroids aren't like instant muscle-gro. What anabolic/androgenic steroids do is increase protein synthesis and embiggen muscle fibers, which means that players will get bigger faster, but not effortlessly. A major effect of steroids is that, because of the higher rate of protein synthesis, the recovery period after a workout is significantly shortened, which means that users will be able to work out harder and more often, thus enabling themselves to get much stronger in a short period of time. In that respect, protein shakes and creatine supplements have much of the same effect, albeit to a much smaller degree.

To say that this isn't fair to players who are "doing things the right way," is not a very sound argument. For one thing, if steroids are only stigmatized because of their effect as performance enhancers, then what separates them from the widely accepted, legal methods of bettering yourself? This is a bad analogy, but why aren't contact lenses outlawed for the same reason? I'm not even talking about the special high tech lenses that changes the way you see colors so that the ball is more contrasted against the infield grass, but rather normal, vision correcting lenses. Players with the ability to correct their sight to 20/20 or even 20/15 or 20/10, have a huge advantage over those who choose not to, but we aren't out there advocating daily eye exercises.

Moreover, if I'm a fringe major league player, and someone tells me that steroids are the difference between my being a superstar and my making 30,000 dollars a year in the minor leagues and constantly worrying about losing my job with no other skills to fall back upon, I think I'd be crazy not to be using. Yes, you want to do what is for the good of the game, but when it really comes to putting food on the table, sometimes you have to cut corners. Sure, this argument doesn't hold weight with people like BLB who still would have been superstars in their own right without steroids, but for the Paxton Crawfords and Robert Machados of the world, people who have now been long forgotten by most of the world, you see why they do it.

All an individual player can do is work to get better any way that he can. If a player decides that that involves countless hours in the gym, careful analysis of scouting reports and endless reps on the field, then good for him. If another decides that the best way to do it is through steroids, I don't think he should be blackballed for that choice.

2. Steroids are illegal, and thus using them is cheating.

For one thing, many players started using performance enhancers while they were still legal, and then their popularization prompted the subsequent banning of the substances. If you look at it strictly by the book, then BLB has never tested positive for a banned substance, so either he was using something that the MLB hasn't outlawed yet, or he is masking it (very probably the latter).

The more pertinent issue is whether it is really cheating if, as rumored in Game of Shadows and Juiced, 50 to 75 percent of major leaguers did it at the peak of the steroid age. I'd liken it to a class graded on a curve, where the median grade is shifted to be a 75 and all the other grades are changed accordingly. If everyone in the MLB is better, then really no one is better, as it all cancels out.

Maybe I'm not the most unbiased person on the topic of cheating given my history (readers who don't actually know me as a person might ask "What history?"), but like I said above, you do what you can to get where you want to be.

3. Glorifying the benefits of steroids without addressing the side-effects sets a bad example for kids.

There are many things in sports that kids should not be imitating, just there are many such things in life. This does not mean that professionals who know what they are getting into should be ostracized for engaging in such activities.

For example (this will be the last really bad analogy that I'll give), I wouldn't suggest that an 8-year-old regularly throw curveballs because of the effect the ptich has on his arm and also the danger to the other players (I remember when one of my friends was hit in the face by a pitch and hospitalized). This doesn't mean that Barry Zito shold be barred from doing so (though maybe Mark Prior should be). Kids as young as 12 or 13 are electing to have Tommy John surgery after seeing their favorite pitchers come back stronger after the procedure, but people aren't ostracizing AJ Burnett for that reason (or Tommy John for that matter).

So yes, I agree that it's bad that reports show that 5th graders are using steroids. However, I also think that kids are dumb, and major leaguers should not be held responsible for that.

In conclusion, BLB's career achievements are a testiment to both his tremendous natural ability and the amount of work and passion he has devoted to the game and should not be diminished by the fact that he (allegedly) took steroids. That said, while I salute him for his accomplishment, as I mentioned before, I guess I just don't like him as a person and was sad to see the record fall. I'd probably have the same reaction if Zack Randolph ended up as the all-time career scoring leader (knock on wood).