I realize this isn’t THE hot topic on everybody’s minds right now, but I get enough inquiries about it to share my thoughts on the steroid subject. This way, if anyone asks my opinion, I can just say “read my blog from Sept. 17th 2008, it says everything I have to say on the subject.”
So where to begin. The most popular question I hear is “how many people are doing it?”. Well, I’ve got to be honest, I’m not sure. Especially in today’s game, since I’ve been away from it for a few years. I can say with reasonable confidence that in the era I played (1990 – 2004) it would be a solid 85%. I know that sounds high, geez it even sounds high to me as I write it, but I sincerely think that’s about right. Trust me, the Mitchell report was just scratching the surface. There were a number of guys on that report that I was pretty sure WERE NOT using, and it turned out that they were (Paul Byrd, really?). Combine those guys with the billion guys I know WERE using and you’ve got my big number.
I first began to notice the effects of steroids around 1993 with the Texas Ranger teams. In 92 they looked regular, in 93 it looked like you had stuffed 2 guys in the same uniform. I still didn’t realize what was going on…all I knew was that their arms were twice the size of my legs and I needed to get on their off season training program.
Then it was the Detroit and Oakland teams, and by the mid 90’s it was like the wild west in baseball…everybody was doing it, EVERYBODY. It was fairly out in the open and talked about and there was a general feeling of invincibility and lawlessness in the clubhouse. You would be hard pressed to find a player who ranked in the top ten of any offensive catagory who wasn’t doing it during the years I played. Ditto that for the pitchers. No lie. This is the era of baseball that I played in.
The second most popular question I hear is “did you ever do steroids or HGH?”. Well, first of all, I have to make sure that the person asking the question can see. If they can, I just show them my baseball cards and that pretty much takes care of that question. No, I didn’t. Never tried them. I was liked the last of the Mohicans, especially in the position (catcher) that I played. I was one of the handful who didn’t partake. Didn’t inhale. And I’ve got to say that competing against a whole league of guys doing it was frustrating. I played against a lot of guys who went from being fringe, borderline big leaguers to living in a mansion in ONE year.
I saw the speed and power of the game take a quantum leap over the course of an off season. Guys who normally threw in the 80’s now lived in the 90’s. Matter of fact EVERYONE, regardless of position, threw 90 mph. Guys who normally hit 10 homers now hit at least 30. Everything seemed upside down and I can remember feeling how wrong it was and wondering when the other shoe was going to drop.
To be honest though, the speed, inflated statistics, and money that was being thrown around to the guys putting up such huge numbers wasn’t the most frustrating aspect of the whole thing. The thing that pissed me off the most was their ability to bounce back day in and day out. You have to understand that the Major League baseball season is a grind. Grind with a capital G. I suppose its a lot like war in that if you haven’t actually experienced it, there is really no way to accurately describe it.It’s hard – take my word for it and we’ll leave it at that.
Over the course of the 162 game schedule I personally felt 100% in about 15 games. And most of those were in the first month. The rest of the season I hovered somewhere between 85 – 90%. Thats just the way it was, and if you ask any pre- steroid era player how they felt they’ll probably give you the same numbers. Contrast those numbers with the guys enhancing and THAT is what really pissed me off. These guys showed up to the park everyday like it was the first day of the season. Mentally and physically. That was hard for me to stomach.
Now I want to state that I’m not passing judgement on the players who did these drugs. I’ve got many good friends and teammates who did them and they’re all fine human beings. And nobody’s going to nominate me for sainthood either. Lord knows I’ve made my fair share of mistakes.
Here’s the reality. For most of us, all we ever did was play baseball. That’s what we know how to do. Alot of players reach a point where their back is against the wall. Either he puts up the numbers or some guy behind him in the minors is gonna. “Lets see here, I can either take the drug and live on a yacht in the off season or go home and pump gas. Ship Ahoy, matey!” Its not a terribly hard decision to make.
I was fairly fortunate that I was able to slip through the cracks. I played maybe the one position (catcher) where you didn’t need to hit 30 homers or throw 100MPH. I could hold down a job by playing good defense. So I chose to skip the yacht and do what I thought was right. My main reason for not using (outside of the unpredictable health risks) was that I could not sleep at night knowing that I cheated and took someone else’s job. Those last few days of spring training are a bitch. Seeing guys get sent out to the minors or cut all together is tough enough knowing that I honestly beat him out. To sit there and watch them go out the door knowing in my heart that they were better than me and I won the position because I had an unfair edge…well, I just wasn’t prepared to go down that road. I’ve got enough mental problems as it is. I didn’t need to pile that guilt on top of it all.
Again, just because I felt that way doesn’t make it right. I’m just sharing my opinion. I tried very hard to not to let my opinions effect my relationships with teammates or make me into a bitter idiot. It was what it was. I chose my path and fully realized that when the dust all settled, it all boiled down to putting up numbers and competing. No general manager was going to give me a contract because I chose to do the right thing. Bitching about it wasn’t going to help my cause either. Regardless of the beast on the mound, I needed to hit him. Period.
In my opinion, this was the reality. Nobody cared if I did the right thing or the wrong thing. The fans didn’t really care. They want to see 500 foot home runs and 100 mph pitches. That’s what we’ve become accustomed to. The players themselves don’t care. How did you feel at 25? You certainly weren’t thinking about your long term health and I already mentioned the pressures and decisions involved in throwing up the big numbers.
The owners and front office don’t care. Trust me, their main concern isn’t the welfare of the youth or the purity of the game. They’re businessmen and money is their game. They simply want to put butts in the seats and for you to turn on the TV and wear a Yankee hat when you do. For them to lead on like they were unaware of what was (is) going on is a crock of it. These guys are the some of the best business people in the world and know where every last one of their pennies are. For them to make a 150 million dollar investment into a guy they don’t know every last thing about is ludicrous. They know how many times a day the guy goes to the bathroom, trust me.
So where does that leave us? Well, let me just start out and pop everybody’s bubble by saying that in my opinion, the day of the pure athlete is LONG gone. There is just so much more money in the taking side of drugs than in the catching side. The drugs will always be about 5 -10 years ahead of the tests to detect them. Like I said, nobody really cares, they want what they want and they want it fast and big and right now. In some lab in the hills of San Francisco they have probably have a rat bench pressing 200 pounds for crying out loud. And its in every sport, not just baseball. Even the pro surfers are doing it! I can’t wait till they catch a golfer.
So where is the problem you might ask. After all, the fans are happy, the owners are raking in the glue, and the players are indestructible in their own minds. Well, I’ve got a couple problems with the deal. The first problem is I’m a dad and my son likes baseball. Now he’s only 9 and I’m not saying he’s gonna be a grande leaguer or anything, but I would love to see him compete on a level playing field where excellence depends on skill and hard work rather than how good a chemist you are. Call me crazy, but I’m not thrilled about his hat size changing from a 7 1/8 to a 8 1/2 in an off season. A red flag goes up in my brain right there, it just doesn’t seem healthy for some reason. I really don’t want him to get to the crossroads where he has got to chose between hitting the industry standard 40 homers or going home.
The second problem I see is all those great players who have come before us. What happens to them? How do you compare the game of today with the game back then? After all, this is as Ken Burns says “a haunted game in which every player is measured against the ghosts of all those who have gone before.” Tell me, how are you going to measure Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron? Sorry folks, can’t do it.
We’ve only got a couple options when it comes to comparing players the way I see it. One, we clean the game up (impossible for many different reasons, a few of which I stated above). Secondly, we just accept that there is no longer a pure athlete and get on with it. Thirdly, we lock the doors of the Hall of Fame and throw away the key. Because really, who the hell is going to get in there now that wasn’t, or isn’t partaking? Maybe Derek Jeter, maybe Jeff Kent. But remember I was the guy who was sure Paul Byrd WASN’T doing it and I was a teammate of his for years. Maybe Jeter and Kent are users, I don’t know. The point is, NOBODY is above suspicion and how are you going to prove it. Are you going to keep McGwire out and let Jeter in when you don’t REALLY know about either? It’s a mess and I’m glad that I’m out of it for the time being.
So actually, I don’t know how to end this commentary other than to say that I can sleep with the decisions I’ve made. We all have choices to make and I’m equally fine with the players who used and those who decided not too. (Well, that isn’t exactly true, there were a few guys I could have done without, but that didn’t have anything to do with the drugs.) I understand where the owners are coming from and I understand where the fans are coming from. I just hope for my son’s sake, for the sake of all the baseball youth, and the sake of players past and present, that somehow there’ll be a happy ending. Anyway you slice it, baseball is still a great game. And that is just one guy’s opinion. See ya next time….