Steroids in Baseball
Over the past three decades use of steroids in baseball has been brought to light and has been the forefront of much discussion and controversy. Newspapers, Magazines, Sports works, and all types of mainstream media have been covering stories and rumors of players using performance enhancing substances. Steroid use in baseball has become so prevalent that even the United States government has had to step in and help with ongoing investigations to help control the epidemic. Experts on both sides of the argument have done extensive research on both sides trying to prove or disprove the benefits of steroids. Nevertheless, it has become increasingly clear that steroids, do in fact, not just improve an athlete’s performance but help assist in the longevity and endurance of a player’s career.
In December of 2007, one of the most dramatic and game changing documents was released to the commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig. The name of the report was officially called “Report to the Commissioner of Baseball of an Independent Investigation into the Illegal Use of Steroids and Other Performance Enhancing Substances by Players in Major League Baseball.” Today we know that document as “The Mitchell Report.” The investigation revealed the results of a 20 month federal investigation by U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell. Senator Mitchell concluded that between 5 to 7 percent of all Major League Baseball players tested positive for Steroids during a series of random drug tests. In the end, 89 player’s names were released as testing positive for steroid use. Of those 89 players, 31 were All-Star players, and 7 of them had won the league’s MVP (most valuable player) Award at some point in their career. (Chittom, and Griswold 2-3)
With all that information, players still continued to use performance enhancing substances. I interviewed newly appointed Assistant Director of Operations for the Atlanta Braves, Matt Grabowski. He understands that players, even in the Braves Organization, at all levels from Rookie-A all the way up the Major Leagues still use substances to help improve performance. “Players at all levels continue to use steroids because of the advantages it gives the player athletically. From pitchers to outfielders to catchers, we know that atleast 1 out of every 8 players we have in our organization will test positive for PED’s (Performance Enhancing Drugs) at some point in their career. Some do it to stay healthy, some use them to improve their ability and boost their own personal stats to help themselves move up in the organization.” (Grabowski)
Arthur De Vany, an economics professor at the University of California, did a study using just the statistical data on home runs hit by players using steroids. De Vany uses information from decades before steroids were found in baseball till present day. De Vany found that in 1961 there were 2,730 home runs hit in Major League Baseball in 1,430 games that season. The maximum number of home runs hit by a single player was 61. That player was Roger Maris. He had an unprecedented year unlike any of other player had since Babe Ruth. Mickey Mantle was not far behind him that year hitting 56. Steroid and performance enhancing substances are not thought to have been used that early in baseball making those statistics “Pure.” (De Vany 489)
Forty years later however, 5,458 home runs were hit in 2,429 games. The maximum number of home runs hit by a player was 73. (De Vany 489) That player was Barry Bonds, who has been proven to have used steroids throughout the latter half of his career. De Vany also notes that in the 1970’s and 1980’s home run production also dipped. The belief is that the style of the game was played much different in those eras. Team’s were not trying to hit the “long ball,” but were using other styles of play to manufacture runs such as hit and runs and bunts. It was not till 1993 till player’s started “swinging for the fences” says De Vany.
The stat that caught De Vany’s eye the most however was single season home run record. Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs has been broken in 4 different seasons since 1927. Roger Maris did it in 1961. However, in a four years span from 1998 through 2001, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds all broke Babe Ruth’s record. McGwire and Sosa, did not just break it once, they broke the record twice in different years! De Vany continued to do more research and attempted to use the numbers to prove how known steroid users such as: Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire were aided and assisted by Steroids to help hit more home runs than ever before. On the contrary, not everyone agrees with Professor De Vany. Robert Cessna wrote an article on a meeting with many of the baseball greats and legends that took place in 2008 in Texas. Hall of Fame players and managers were at the meeting and discussed various topics. One of the topics was steroids. Many members argued that the game has evolved too much and people researching this information, like De Vany, did not take into account other tangibles outside just the numbers. For instance, since 1927 baseball parks and stadiums have shortened the height and distance of the fences, therefore making home runs much more prevalent. Not only have the dimensions changed, but so have the equipment.
Balls are wound much tighter and made more durable since the 1920’s. Bat’s are engineered to be much more effective and at the highest quality. (Cessna 1-2) Now as a collegiate coach, I also have some input the evolution of the game as well. The mechanics used to swing even just a few decades ago are much more improved today than in the past. We have a better understanding of how to hit effectively and correctly as to just swinging a bat at a ball. Today, we know backspin is very important when trying to “drive” a baseball. Today you see all major league players start their swing with a downward path towards the point of contact. Upon contact is when our barrel levels out and then becomes our follow through which is then at an upward trajectory. This then creates backspin causing the ball to travel a greater distance. Watching film, many players previously to the 1990’s had either started their swing with an already level or upward trajectory to try to hit balls in the air a great distance. Another point to take into consideration is the velocity that pitchers throw today compared to years ago. A pitcher throwing 90 miles per hour a few decades ago was a rare and uncommon feat. Today, over 90 percent of major league pitchers average fastball is over 90 miles per hour. Some pitchers even reach the triple digit 100 mile per hour mark. The reason this is a relevant statistic is that the harder a pitch is thrown, the farther a ball will go when contacted directly on the barrel of a bat. John Dinardo and Jason Winfree, Professors at the University of Michigan, wrote a paper called “The Law of Genius and Home Runs Refuted.”
This paper was directly aimed to refute Arthur De Vany’s previous research. Dinardo and Winfree used mathematical formulas such as they’re most popular formula, “Does X follow a power law?” The answer they came up with was no, yet they only tried to discredit De Vany, not come up with their own way to prove De Vany was incorrect. Dinardo and Winfree claimed that the power law in itself was questionable. De Vany took all of the home runs hit in the past decade and added them together using the 162 game schedule. He then divided that total amount by 10 seasons to come up with an average amount of home runs hit per season. Once that was complete he used that number as a standard number that would be used for every season. Winfree and Dinardo have a problem with the fact that some seasons many more or much less total home runs have been hit than the average that De Vany came up with. They felt this helped skew his numbers to prove his point and change the perception of the “Power Law.” (Dinardo and Winfree) With all of this being said however, De Vany was able to show that regardless of all other information and ever changing variables, players who tested positive for performance enhancing substances simply hit more home runs than players who did not take them.
Winfree and Dinardo even wrote in their concluding remarks “Though not the focus of this article, we do believe that there may be a link between steroids and home runs. Indeed, numerous players have admitted and/or tested positive for performance-enhancing drug use…. Casual observation would also suggest that over the past 10 to 15 years, there has been an increase of players hitting a large number or home runs at surprisingly older ages.” (Dinardo and Winfree 62) Dinardo and Winfree’s goal may have been to disprove De Vany’s research. Fortunately for De Vany, Dinardo and Winfree actually wound up agreeing and proving De Vany’s main focus of players using steroids hit more home runs. Not only did the two professors from Michigan agree that steroids help boost an athlete’s performance, but so does the majority of baseball. Even players such as Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco have noted the benefits of taking steroids. Jose Canseco wrote an auto biography about his life and career in baseball titled “Juice” that was published and released in 2005. Being on the “Juice” is common slang term for steroids in baseball so Canseco felt that would be an appropriate title for his book. Only a few months later, Jose Canseco took the stand on March 17th of 2005 under federal oath to talk to the United States government about Steroid use in baseball. Canseco spoke to congress saying, “When I decided to write my life’s story, I was aware that what I revealed about myself and the game I played for the majority of my life would create a stir in the athletic world…. I hoped that what I experienced firsthand, when revealed, would give insight into a darker side of a game that I loved…” Canseco named player after player that he claimed took steroids with him. Canseco went so far as to say that 85% of major league baseball players have taken steroids at some point in their career.
Topic:Steroid Use in Baseball
Thesis: Different Viewpoints and Different Perceptions of the use of steroids in Baseball and their effects on the game. 1. Hepp, Christopher K. (1998) Androstenedione sharing center stage with Mark McGwire. The Philadelphia Inquire Summary: The article discusses how Androstenedione is a performance enhancing substance that was used by Mark McGwire but was never a part of Major League Baseball’s drug testing program. 2. Chittom, Griswold. (2011) Counterpoint: Performance Enhancing Drugs Should Be Banned. Points of View Summary: The article argues against allowing professional athletes to use performance enhancing substances like steroids. 3. Cessna, Robert. (2008) Talking Baseball, without the Juice. The Eagle Summary: This article discusses how many fans and even players are not concerned with how steroids have affected the game of baseball. 4. Verducci, Tom. (2006) Hard Number. Sports Illustrated, 20, (104) Summary: This article discusses the controversy over Barry Bonds setting the all-time Home runs record while using steroids. 5. Dinardo, Winfree. (2010) the Law of Genius and Home Runs Refuted. Economic Inquiry. 51-64 Summary: This research study discusses and provides information about the direct relationship between Steroid use and Home Runs hit. 6. Canseco Jr., Jose. (2005) Steroids in Major League Baseball. FDCH Congressional Testimony. Summary: Former Major League Baseball player Jose Canseco talks to congress about how much steroid use in prominent in the game and their effects on playing. 7. De Vany, Arthur. (2011) Steriods and Home Runs. Economic Inquiry. 489-511 Summary: This article discusses the research behind home runs and steroids.