Steroids Saved Baseball; Let’s Bring Them Back

Thanks to the media that we have today, it’s almost comical how massive a topic can become. There is no statistic to measure the impact of the media — at least not yet. We can only measure its impact through its enlarging of certain stories, scandals, and topics.

So when the media got its hands on the “problem” of steroid use in Major League Baseball, reporters, columnists, and everyone in between wouldn’t let it go. To grasp hold of it longer, the media blew this “problem” up to astronomical levels. It is now deemed the “Steroid Era,” and MLB would like to erase it from baseball history.

Ironically, what was left out the most, and what people forget the most about this era, is how good it truly was. They forget how steroids saved baseball. They forget the entertainment factor that was more prominent than any other time period in baseball; it beat the 1927 record-breakingly good New York Yankees. Though not many can attest to whether it was better watching Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig rather than Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire because the majority of the people who witnessed the ‘27 Yankees have passed on, it can easily be assumed and argued after looking at statistics that the Sosa-McGwire summer may have been the better one.

When it comes to steroids, the pros far outweigh the cons to the point where steroids should never have even been a problem.

There is no defined start or end to the Steroid Era — it’s vague. However, most view it as stretching from when steroids were banned by MLB in 1991 to when the league began implementing PED testing for every team in 2003. During that era, there was a strike in 1994 that could have easily thrown baseball into obscurity and oblivion. Starting on August 12, 1994, the remainder of the season was cancelled; that included the postseason and, for the first time since 1904, the World Series as well. In all, 948 games were cancelled.

Baseball Prospectus

Baseball Prospectus

This graph shows percent growth in MLB revenue, as well as GDP growth. We will just be looking at revenue growth. As we can clearly see here, revenue growth plummeted after the 1994 strike. But then we see it sky-rocket back up to about a 20% growth in revenue. How did the revenue for MLB recover that quickly after the 1994 strike?

Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated

Now, steroids didn’t just come on to the scene after the strike. As we can see, home run numbers rapidly increased from 1992 until about 1994, when they began to just steadily increase instead of rapidly increasing.

Former MLB reliever John Rocker had this to say about the steroid era: “Honestly, and this may go against what some people think from an ethical standpoint, I think it was the better game. At the end of the day when people are paying their $80, $120, whatever it may be, to buy their ticket and come watch that game, it’s almost like the circus is in town. They are paid to be entertained. They wanna see some clown throw a fastball 101 mph and some other guy hit it 500 feet. That’s entertainment. You’re paying to be entertained.”

Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated

And Rocker is right; people want to see home runs. Steroids don’t hit home runs themselves, but they sure do aid in helping players to hit them. It’s entertaining. Going off of the home run chart, anyone with vision in their eyes and sense in their brains can tell you that home run numbers were way up during the steroid era. Home runs are entertainment and with the cost of ticket prices, fans want to see the best entertainment possible. Specifically, fans of baseball during the Steroid Era couldn’t get enough of the Sosa-McGwire home run battle.

“And was there anything more entertaining than 1998 – I don’t care how each man got there – was there anything more entertaining than 1998 … watching Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire chase 61 home runs?” said Rocker to Cleveland’s 92.3 the Fan. “That was a mesmerizing time for every baseball fan out there. … The people were getting their money’s worth.”

Sosa and McGwire duked it out in 1998, as both sluggers chased after Roger Maris’ single-season home run record of 61. Both players broke it, but McGwire came out on top, as he hit 70 that year while Sosa hit 66.

After McGwire’s coming out-party with regard to steroids in a sit-down interview in 2010, and much speculation toward his then-alleged steroid use prior to that, many questioned whether McGwire’s breaking of Maris’ record was legitimate. As much as people may want to disregard McGwire’s accomplishments, the battle between him and Sosa may have been the most entertaining matchup the game has ever seen. Ratings and interest among fans soared during that season, and overall how was that not good for baseball? Imagine a home run-battle between Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper in today’s game to beat Bonds’ single-season record of 73 homers in one season.  Now imagine that same battle with the same combatants, just with both on steroids. That sounds better.

Overall, baseball would win and did win at the time because of steroids.

Now let’s transition our conversation to why steroids should never have been considered a problem in the first place. There are plenty of reasons.


Caminiti was the first player to admit to using anabolic steroids during his playing days.

In May of 2002, Ken Caminiti had a sit-down interview with Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated. In the interview, Caminiti became the first MLB player to admit to using anabolic steroids during his playing days. He said he mainly used them during his 1996 season, which was the season he won the National League Most Valuable Player Award. While many people probably would want to jump to conclusions and strip him of his MVP award, the quote he gives with regard to steroids in the MLB may make you rethink that:

“It’s no secret what’s going on in baseball. At least half the guys are using [steroids],” Caminiti said. “They talk about it. They joke about it with each other….I don’t want to hurt fellow teammates or fellow friends. But I’ve got nothing to hide.”

Jose Canseco also declared that an incredible amount of players were “juicing” — 85 percent was the exact figure that he gave.

With all of the players “juicing,” why should Caminiti’s MVP be stripped or considered invalid? It’s not like he was the only player using at the time. According to Canseco, most of the league was using. Oddly enough, that levels the playing field. That’s not him cheating. That’s him keeping up-to-date on the latest methods of training and just having more talent since everybody was using.

Two very common arguments by people who are against steroid use in baseball are that they are a danger to their health when using and that the game loses its integrity. Health risks with steroids are real: basically like with any drug or medicine. But the problem lies with how exaggerated the media made it. It became a moral panic over the steroids, rather than what they’re chemically capable of.

When it comes to baseball’s integrity, steroids are no greater risk to it than other advantages were in the past. Babe Ruth became arguably the greatest hitter of all time without ever having to face a person of color. Chuck Klein of the Philadelphia Phillies displayed some incredible numbers but with a right field fence at the Baker Bowl that was only 280 feet from home plate. He took incredible advantage of it. Hal Newhouser, a pitcher for Detroit, won two MVPs and was inducted into the Hall of Fame by dominating thinned-out competition due to World War II.

“Take any baseball statistic, and something is either inflating or depressing it to some degree,” writes Dayn Perry in The Problem of Steroid Use in Major League Baseball is Exaggerated.  

The Baker Bowl had a right field that was easy to expose.

The Baker Bowl had a right field that was easy to expose. Andrew G. Clem

Steroids just inflated the numbers. People may look at it as cheating, but in reality, it was a continuation of “unfair” advantages.

But allow me to ask this: how is it an “advantage” when the majority were using them?

With regard to health effects of steroids, they’ve been exaggerated to astronomical levels. “We know steroids can be used with a reasonable measure of safety,” says Charles Yesalis, a Penn State epidemiologist and steroid researcher for over 25 years, per The Problem of Steroid Use in Major League Baseball is Exaggerated. “We know this because they’re used in medicine all the time, just not to enhance body image or improve athletic performance.”

Steroids were also used for medical purposes in the 1930s. That was several decades before the Food and Drug Administration put their rules into place.

Perry also writes that anabolic steroids are commonly used to treat breast cancer and promote red blood cell production and androgen deficiencies. Not only that, but they are used in “emerging anti-aging therapies and to treat surgical or cancer patients with damaged muscle tissue.”

One large fear of anabolics is that they cause liver cancer. The evidence supporting oral anabolics causing liver cancer is debatable. But here’s the thing: athletes rarely take steroids in liquid form taken orally.

AP, 2002

Barry Bonds during his 2002 season. AP, 2002

And of course, there’s the fear of “roid rage.” But again, another case blown out of proportion by the media. Barry Bonds‘ late-career home run hitting and built up body have raised questions in almost everyone that has ever watched him on whether or not he was a user. In 2002, Bonds got into a shoving match with teammate Jeff Kent. This led to columnists such as Bill Lankhof of the Toronto Sun and Jacob Longan Stillwater News-Press diagnosing “roid rage” from afar.

Yesalis disputes this: “There’s very inconsistent data on whether ‘roid rage’ even exists. I’m more open to the possibility than I used to be, but its incidence is rare, and the studies that concluded it does exist largely haven’t accounted for underlying factors or the placebo effect.”

There are also many other fears about steroids with regard to health. People associate cancer, heart enlargement, increased blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, and musculoskeletal injuries. Again, these are way too inflated.

Reports associating heart enlargement with steroid use often ignore the role of natural, non-threatening enlargement brought on by physical exertion. It also ignores the effects of other factors that can affect heart enlargement. Because steroid-related injuries are indistinguishable from those occurring normally, evidence showing a link between steroids and ligament and tendon damage is unclear at best. With regard to anabolics linking to testicular cancer, that is another myth since no studies have ever showed any sort of connection.

“We’ve had thousands upon thousands [of long-term studies] done on tobacco, cocaine, you name it,” Yesalis says. “But for as much as you see and hear about anabolic steroids, the haven’t even taken that step.”

Clearly, the health effects have been intensified to a degree that people believe the lies they hear. Assumptions have been made that persuade baseball fans all over the country. But once the facts are addressed by a credible source like Yesalis, the idea of steroids being a health hazard needs to be tossed off of a cliff.

Yes, there are some health hazards involved. But the same can be said of every other medicine on the market today.

Prohibition was ultimately a failure for the United States.

Prohibition was ultimately a failure for the United States.

When the United States enacted the prohibition on alcohol from 1920 until 1933, the black market-sale of alcohol became incredibly prominent. The same can be said for steroids when they were criminalized under the 1990 Anabolic Steroids Control Act. With steroids becoming contraband, various athletes in many different sports were buying steroids on the black market. This made them understandably apprehensive to talk to their physicians about it.

The side effects of steroids, though sometimes noticeable, result from the misuse of the drug.

According to Rick Collins, an attorney who specializes in steroid law, steroids can be used with a high degree of safety: “It would need to be under the strict direction of a physician and administered only after a thorough physical examination, and it would need to be taken at reasonable and responsible dosages.”

The problem here is that as people argue that athletes use steroids safely, the illegality of steroids makes physician oversight almost impossible.

It’s time to legalize them.

Also, many baseball players have openly used other substances such as creatine monohydrate, which accomplish the same goal as anabolic steroids. Many substances similar to creatine monohydrate increase a naturally occurring substance in the body to aid the building of muscle tissue — anabolics just accomplish this much faster.

Correlation does not imply causation. Therefore, during the steroid era, it wasn’t just steroids that aided in the growing number of home runs. There were many other causes.

Several hitter-friendly parks opened during the era. Coors Field opened in 1995 and in just the small 21 year sample size that we have, it has become the greatest run-scoring environment in MLB history. In 2000, the Houston Astros switched from their pitcher-friendly Astrodome to hitter-friendly Enron Field (now Minute Maid Park). It ranks second in terms of helping hitters. Don’t forget about the Pittsburgh Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers, and Texas Rangers, who also got brand new stadiums during this time that aided hitters. When The Arizona Diamondbacks came into the league in 1998, they too played in a park that “significantly inflates offensive statistics.” Plus, the St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Seattle Mariners, and San Diego Padres have all moved their outfield fences in.

Coors Field is the most hitter-friendly ballpark in MLB. It opened in

Coors Field is the most hitter-friendly ballpark in MLB. It opened in 1995.

With these hitter-friendly updates to parks, and hitter-friendly parks added, it’s hard to pin these high home run numbers on just steroids.

With the “issue” of roids being heightened to what they have become, people also forget about raw talent. You think Barry Bonds was just some bum who shot up and then became the home run-king? No, that was not the case.

Chris Yeager, a human performance specialist, private hitting instructor, and longtime weightlifter, believes that with all players being on steroids, it isn’t making a difference: “Upper body strength doesn’t increase bat speed,” he explains per The Problem of Steroid Use in Major League Baseball is Exaggerated, “and bat speed is vital to hitting home runs. The upper body is used in a ballistic manner. It contributes very little in terms of power generation.” Arms are simply a means to transfer energy.

But back to the talent aspect of things.

Yeager believes that Bonds had the perfect swing.

Yeager believes that Bonds had the perfect swing.

“Mark McGwire hit 49 home runs as a 23-year-old rookie,” Yeager says to Perry. “And while I think he probably used steroids at some point in his career, he hit home runs primarily because of his excellent technique, his knowledge of the strike zone, and the length of his arms. Barry Bonds could be on steroids, but his power comes from the fact that he has the closest thing to a perfect swing that I’ve ever seen.”

Yesalis also says “most professional athletes who use steroids know how to pass a drug test.” With that being the case, and there being so many users, why are we trying to make steroids a problem? The game has evolved, and it was evolving into something most fans couldn’t take their eyes off of. But since the league has been doing everything and anything possible to get them out of the game, runs have gone down, as well as the increase in revenue. With the new generation having a shorter attention span, a longer, and sometimes more boring game like baseball needs the action. It needs the offense. Steroids help aid in providing that without compromising the game’s already faulty integrity.

So why are we shunning steroids and making them into a problem when they clearly aren’t? I get the fact that the media likes to blow things up into things they aren’t, but this has really gotten out of hand. It’s time to accept steroids, acknowledge them as part of the game, and stop treating them as if they are a problem.

Let’s have a little moment of honesty right here. Are you paying in excess of $200 to see a game full of ethics, or to be entertained? I’m guessing the latter.

3 Responses

  1. J. M.

    Your argument is that everyone was using steroids so therefore it was a level playing field is just wrong. You quote players who benefited from cheating and therefore have a reason to make it seem like everyone was cheating and therefore they throw out numbers like 85% were juicing when those players give no evidence to support their claim. You forget that in 2003 there was the league wide anonymous testing where 104 players tested positive and only 96 of those tested positive of a substance banned by the MLB at that time. If for the majority of the season each team has a 25 man roster and there are 30 teams this means that 104 players out of 750, or roughly only 14% tested positive of steroids or HGH. Another way to look at it, lets take 104 players and divide that among the 30 teams and this would mean that roughly each team had 3.5 players juicing and if they were starters than 33% of their starters were juicing. Even if you look at it this way, 33% is hardly a majority and would show that the cheaters had the advantage.


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