Wednesday, April 27, 2005

ESPN Radio Tackles MLB's Steroid Problem

This, courtesy of Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio.

And it echoes the basic sentiments of baseball fans everywhere -- that you couldn't pick those who have been identified through Major League Baseball's steroid testing as having tested positive for steroid usage. The two guys who look like they suffer from asthma probably are M&M Show staffers Liam and Joaquin, but Greenie and Golic make their point.

The fellows were talking this morning about the positive steroid test of Jamal Strong, a minor-league outfielder in Seattle's system who happens to be on Seattle's 40-man roster. Strong last played in the majors three years ago. -- in 12 games. Click on the link and read the newspaper article, and it's hard to believe that Strong got any benefit from whatever alleged juice he was on. As Golic put it, Mariners fans are mourning, because their playoff hopes have been dashed now that they know that Strong won't be able to play for a while.

Jamal who?

Which prompts a few questions:

1. What, pray tell, did he allegedly take?
2. Did some devious teammate switch urine samples on him?
3. Did some conniving teammate conspire with him to switch urine samples, and does Strong now have a Swiss bank account?
4. Not that they ever have been before, but was the U.S. Congress way off base in blasting Bud Selig and the Lords of Baseball (and the Trade Unionists of Baseball) for no good reason?
5. Where are all the steroids users? Where are all the big names? Was it really only the minor leaguers who were using? Are the American people caught up in such a game of "gotcha" that they needed to come up with an evil conspiracy theory about how onetime skinny players playing in bandboxes started hitting home runs?
6. Is the test faulty?
7. Is G. Gordon Liddy working undercover at the testing lab on behalf of the players' union?

Yesterday (or, earlier in the season), Damien Moss (and others).

Today, Jamal Strong.

What's up for tomorrow?

Former commissioner Fay Vincent is pushing for an investigation on the alleged misdeeds of one-time Phillies and Mets CF Lenny Dykstra, who is testimony that they really don't make baseball players like they used to. Dykstra is old news (which is too bad, because at least he was colorful). Is that the best Major League Baseball can do?

Look, no one wants a witch hunt, but the reports were out there, bubbling under the surface, that Major League Baseball had a problem. The BALCO case brought that problem to the surface.

So now we must contemplate possible results:

1. Everyone who wasn't clean suddenly became clean.
2. They haven't tested everyone yet.
3. They haven't released all the results yet of those whom they've tested.
4. They are covering something up.
5. Steroid use never was a significant problem.

I rule out #4 immediately, because there has been so much scrutiny and it's so hard to avoid leaks that hiding bad results just doesn't seem possible. Moreover, I think that those running the program have integrity, so even absent all-encompassing scrutiny they wouldn't cheat. In addition, the stakes are too high. Pull Congress's tail, and they'll bite. Hard. I rule out #5, because the evidence suggests otherwise.

My guess is that they haven't made all the rounds yet, and I further suspect that many former users have quit using the stuff. Whatever the case, there is more to this story, and there have been projections (by former MLB pitcher Rick Sutcliffe) that big names will test positive at some point. The odds suggest he's probably right.

Say it Ain't So, Jose!


Amateur said...

Another hypothesis:

6. Testing is nowhere near 100% effective at catching steroid users.

On the other hand: the percentage of athletes using illegal drugs is probably much, much lower than the public would estimate. Everybody who gets caught (or who voluntarily confesses) tells us that "everybody is doing it," but this is only a justification for their own cheating. There is no objective reason to believe it.

Of course some high-profile players will get caught eventually, because undoubtedly some of them are using. But I wouldn't expect a flood of positives.

As for the little fish who have been caught so far, they may be cheaters, or they may have inadvertantly taken an illegal substance in a dietary supplement. Either way, it is naive to expect that steroid use = super strength. Even on steroids you still have to work hard to get big.

SportsProf said...

Good to hear from you, Amateur.

Steroids without ability certain doesn't make a star, and the minor leaguers who tested positive proved that.

It's hard to estimate how many Major Leaguers at one time were taking the stuff. My guess is that it probably was between 10% and 25%, but then you get the question of "how do you define a steroid?" It's clear that not everyone was doing it; Fred McGriff, who hit 493 career HRs, certainly did not (he looks more like an NBA shooting guard than a slugger).

I agree with your point on the testing. As the testing gets more sophisticated, so do the drugs and the means of avoiding testing positive.

If MLB runs its compliance program properly, it should be able to distance itself from this scandal rather quickly. Right now, doubts linger, and I think many are waiting for the proverbial "other shoe" to drop.

Amateur said...

I'm a regular reader.

I would put the estimate lower (5-10%) but you are right, we are essentially just guessing and will never know for sure.

Part of the shame here is that the public comes to believe that it is impossible to accomplish these home run feats without drugs. When in fact Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays all put up astounding numbers without steroids. And drugs aside, the game has changed dramatically in many ways that make it easier to hit home runs. I am absolutely certain that there are 50-home-run guys out there today who are completely clean. I just don't know for sure which ones they are!

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