Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees’ superstar third baseman, is currently engulfed in a highly publicized trial against Major League Baseball (MLB). Rodriguez admitted in 2009 to using steroids when he played for the Texas Rangers. He has been suspended for 211 games because of his use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). He claims that the current suspension is unjustified and that MLB has a vendetta against him.
In spite of Rodriguez’s high-powered legal team and his pleas to the media and Latino community, there is no denying that these cheating allegations have destroyed his legacy. As a player, Rodriguez is undeniably talented and has enjoyed extraordinary success throughout his career, and it is questionable how much doping has inflated his stats. He still had to hit the ball. A-Rod is one of many prominent players whose drug use has tarnished their reputation in the Steroid Era.
Beginning in the late 1990s, the MLB looked the other way as the achievements of these superstars mounted. Business was booming. Stadium attendance was through the roof. The top players’ salaries were unprecedented. It wasn’t until Congress launched an investigation, chaired by former Senator and Bowdoin alum George Mitchell ’54, that MLB admitted it had a significant drug problem. In late 2007, the Mitchell Report documented the extensive use of PEDs in the game and the list of secret clinics that were supplying them. The public reaction was swift and strong and the integrity of America’s pastime fell to its lowest point.
In the last several years, Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, has suspended multiple players without pay, hoping to set an example and enshrine his own legacy before he retires in 2014. But these measures have done little to reduce the high number of players breaking the rules, and have done nothing to cure the perception of most fans that if a player is having a very good season, it is because he’s doping. David Ortiz rebounded this year from a stretch of disappointing seasons to lead the Red Sox to a World Series championship, while the once unknown Chris Davis of the Orioles had a breakout offensive year and was a frontrunner for the 2013 American League MVP award. Even though they passed every drug test, suspicion lingers.The taint of PED use not only clings to superstars, but also to average players simply trying to bring their stats up.
So what to do? Here’s a thought—legalize the use of performance enhancing drugs and treatments in the MLB. It’s effectively guaranteed that the quality of overall play would rise significantly. More home runs, longer home runs, faster runners, more stolen bases, more impressive fielding performances, faster pitches—what’s not to love? Furthermore, the legal use of PEDs could prolong the careers of these players.
The underpinnings of such a proposal have a footing in today’s subjectively applied use of approved drugs. Stimulants like ephedrine, Adderall, human growth horomone, and methamphetamine are verboten, but using of caffeine and muscle-building creatine, despite their widely known side effects, is deemed acceptable. Making all these stimulants legal would simplify the policies about which drugs are unfairly advantageous.
Critics are vehemently opposed to this idea. What kind of example would sanctioned doping set for young athletes who aspire to become professional baseball players one day?
They argue that by continuing to punish dopers, eventually the risks will outweigh the benefits and drug use among players will significantly diminish.
This is all fair criticism for a legitimate problem, but it’s important to keep in mind that baseball is a constantly evolving sport, and the changing conditions of its players and the game require adjustments. Baseball statistics are often inflated based on the era they’ve been achieved in. Changes to the game’s rules have had a significant effect on the performance of the game following the “dead-ball era.” Hitters received a huge advantage when the pitcher’s mound was lowered by five inches in 1969. The overall talent pool of the players on team rosters also greatly improved when the League became racially integrated in 1947. Comparing the offensive statistics of modern superstars to those of old-time greats such as Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, and Ted Williams is far-fetched to begin with. Players in today’s game are bigger, faster and stronger than before. Baseball parks are bigger, and bat construction is more sophisticated today. “Bending the rules” has always been a part of the game—whether it’s spitting on the ball, corking bats or sliding into a fielder with spikes—and with this has always come adjustments to questionably advantageous trends.
Legalizing the usage of PEDs would go a long way in helping settle the dust around the Hall of Fame candidacies of players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose once storied legacies have been ruined by alleged steroid usage. It’s worth noting that the natural talent of these players was recognized at an early age—long before their use of PEDs.
It would take considerable thought to devise a system to allow athletes to use PEDs in a fair and safe manner, but I think it’s possible, and certainly worth exploring. No matter how much League officials try to increase punishments, players will always turn to PEDs to give them a competitive edge.
By doing this, MLB would set a precedent for other major sports organizations to deal with the problems of steroid usage. The NBA, NHL, and the NFL all have the same anti-doping issues. Just because a commissioner punishes one violator for abusing league drug policies doesn’t necessarily mean that justice and fairness has been served. World famous cylcist Lance Armstrong might have been stripped his seven Tour de France medals from 1999-2005, but (according to Deadspin), all the second-place finishers during those years also were found to have doped that same year or at other times during their careers.
It’s time for Major League Baseball to have a reality check and address the hypocritical application of their drug policies. Commissioner Selig, do the right thing and stop the madness.