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The Dip: The Needle and the Damage Done

This is The Dip, a column penned by our regular commenter, The Dipsy.

http://blogs.suntimes.com/sportsprose/assets_c/2009/10/mark-mcgwire-hitting-coach-thumb-300x300-12772.jpgSo Mark McGwire apologized for doing steroids. I guess that’s nice and I’m sure that it makes him feel better that he won’t be hounded every place he goes in his capacity as St. Louis Cardinals batting coach this season. I kinda feel bad for McGwire in a way because, in part, he is a victim. That’s right I said “victim”. The terse statement put out through his press agent merely contained an apology for something that he didn’t have say sorry for in the first place. McGwire did nothing wrong by taking steroids so he could recover from injuries, train more efficiently, and possibly acquire keener eyesight (according to Larry Bowa) so he could hit more homeruns. The only thing he did wrong was lie about it.

After the 1994 baseball strike, MLB did the stupidest thing in the world by making an owner of a baseball team the commissioner, and yes, the Brewers do count as a baseball team. Attendance was down and people were turned off. So when Bud Selig and everyone else within the inner sanctum of baseball suspected or knew that PEDs had become part of the game, they winked and kept on walking. Steroids and HGH and whatever else had been around for awhile. The Olympics had been fraught with PED’s for years. As it seeped into Major League Baseball, and more balls started flying out of ballparks and at greater distances, the turnstiles to started to smoke and the cash started to roll in. With the strike a distance memory, fans renewed their fixation with the long ball. It was in this environment, permissive and perhaps tacitly encouraged, that the slugger, armed with the knowledge that he could shoot a drug into his body to make him perform better and hit more home runs, and in turn make more money, had a choice to make. Many chose to use steroids.

Prior to 2002, when steroids were banned in baseball (the Anabolic Steroid Acts of 1990 and 2004 merely made it a crime to possess or unlawfully dispense steroids), any player was free to choose whether he wanted to use steroids or not. The only choice players had to make was whether they wanted to sacrifice their long term health in exchange for the perceived benefit the drugs would have on their game. For most players who took them, the effect was probably none. But if I’m McGwire back in 1998, knowing that MLB didn’t give a damn whether you took them or not, that they actually delighted in seeing you hit home runs as much as you enjoyed hitting them, that you would get paid more for your superior performance, I’d have done them too. No question. The only problem I have with McGwire is that, when asked, he didn’t man up from the beginning and stand behind his decision to do them.

The good times rolled, that ridiculous Sosa-McGuire-Bonds home run orgy came and went, and then, like every good scam, everyone got busted and all those complicit lawyered up. The most galling aspect of it all was MLB’s feigned surprise that this had been going on under their noses the entire time. Then, laughably, the U.S. Government suggested (strongly) that MLB put a stop to the use of steroids. Oh, how that must of hurt Bud Selig and the rest of the fellas. Not only does the golden goose get killed but they had to stick the knife in themselves. In the age of “bubbles”, the “steroid bubble” had burst.

So, here we are, after all the haggling between baseball and union, Mitchell reports, anonymous/non-anonymous player lists, juiced statistics, grand jury investigations, etc., And for the most part, I think the steroid policy that has been put in place is effective. And that’s a good thing. Now, I guess we’re left to ponder how to view what will surely become known as the steroid era in baseball. If you would wanna pick a year, say 1992, and have it generally regarded that 92-02 represents this era, that’s OK by me. I will look at most players and stats from this era with a jaundiced eye. Example: I don’t believe that Brady Anderson was drug free when he hit 50 of his 51 career homers in one season. If that is unfair to the clean players and the stats generated by them, well, that’s the way its gonna have to be. But as for McGwire, I didn’t wanna hear him say used steroids and was sorry sorry. I would have just rather him acknowledge that he’s a liar and leave it at that.

37 Comments

37 Comments

  1. The Second John

    January 13, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    The only reason he “apologized” is because he’s the new hitting coach for the Cardinals.

    I agree that if anything, the MLB front offices, and the Bud Selig should have more blame on them, than the players. They are the ones that let this happen in the first place.

    On a different note, I wonder how many former/current Phillies used steroids?

  2. Aaron

    January 13, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    Read or listen to Big Macs newest interviews and he explained why he chose to apologize now. Not to mention he would be hounded everywhere he went on the issue if he never spoke up. We know Lenny Dykstra was mentioned in the Mitchell Report but who knows or really care at this point who was on steroids.

    All I wonder is how tempted Larussa will be to use Big Mac as a pinch hitter in one of those 13 inning games where he uses the whole bench. It would be funny and interesting if that was a possible option.

  3. Amanda Orr

    January 13, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    I heard that Larussa said he would activate McGwire in a playoff contention situation. Not sure the truth in that, but that was a rumor.

  4. WFC010

    January 13, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    Regarding Phormer Phillies that took roids: Dykstra has long been rumored to have taken some, and I think there were a few others that none of us care about, or probably even remember in some cases. Didn’t that Nunez guy take them, as sucky as he was?

    Somebody also mentioned David Bell as a possible user, but i’m not sure.

  5. George

    January 13, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    The entire steroids thing was mishandled from the start, and is still being mishandled. Like good politicians, both owners and players are sidestepping until they think they’ll be forgiven.

    I think if a person wants to dig, he’d find all sorts of things being done for money, for an “edge,” for popularity, for whatever. It’s just the way people are built. And when those people are caught, there will always be covering of @sses. It’s only a matter of who covers his @ss the best that separates the powerful from the powerless.

    At least in sports, it’s only record books and reputations at stake when a situation is allowed to get out of hand. In other other fields, sometimes real LIVES are at stake.

    Maybe we’re making too big a thing about the so-called “steroid age.”

  6. George

    January 13, 2010 at 11:28 pm

    “…according to Larry Bowa.”

    Now, how did Larry Bowa come to know so much about steroids? Did he do them, or is he a doctor, medical researcher, or what?

    Or is he what I’ve always suspected, a loudmouth who thinks he knows it all?

  7. WFC010

    January 14, 2010 at 12:32 am

    “Or is he what I’ve always suspected, a loudmouth who thinks he knows it all?”

    That’s our Larry, yes. Even when he’s completely wrong about something, he still childishly clings to it for as long as possible.

  8. johnkrukslovechild

    January 14, 2010 at 12:40 am

    Guys like Kruk and Stairs are proof positive that you can be an out of shape slob and still be a great hitter and decent fielder. There is no excuse for steroids and Bud Selig is a complicit and incompetent moron who’s tenure is an insult to everything for which baseball stands.

    If they are going to keep Rose out of the HoF for his transgressions, then every jerk who took steroids should be barred as well. Pete may have made mistakes in his life and career, but everything he did on the field came from his drive and talent. It’s mind-blowing they stick it to him and there is an attitude of sneering towards his mistakes, but all these baseball gods are being exposed as frauds and will still make it into the Hall.

    They are a disgrace to baseball and the way this whole thing has been handled and “forgiven” is just as bad. Barry Bonds and the like should hang their oversized heads in shame !

  9. bfo_33

    January 14, 2010 at 7:02 am

    First – nothing to do with the post – Beltran had knee surgury yesterday, out 8-12 weeks. Sounds like more than a clean-up. Mets have filed a grievance with the players association and the commisioner’s office – surgery was not approved by the Mets – potential contract void if Beltran is out longer. That organization is a mess. Players don’t trust the med staff, mgmnt doesn’t trust the players. Could be another long year for NYM.
    Phils players rumored to be on roids at one time or another: Hollins, Ingcavalia (sp?), Dykstra, Daulton. The As brought steroids into baseball in the late 80s (I don’t think Canseco was ever clean as a pro – was a 3rd base prospect, then gained 40 lbs one year, moved to outfielder – not sure if in college or the minors), 93 Phils brought it up a notch. Steroids started pre-strike, but became more common just after it.
    While in principle the same, steroids and gambling are completely different. Rose knew he was breaking the rules. Gambling was clearly banned, but baseball had no policy on roids. Whether legal or not doesn’t play into it. But it is clearly cheating. While the players get soem of the blame, Bud gets the lion’s share. Evidence that he knew it was an issue since at least 93. Stating the the union wouldn’t let him address it is a bunch of crap.
    If it were up to me, the hall would have a new Bud Selig wing, everyone who played from 92 until they get an HGH test implemented would be in it as suspected PED users. Anyone who admitted or tested positive would be clearly marked as a cheater, but would still get in if their stats were good enough.
    The thing that really gets me is A-Rod and Petite are going to get a free pass. 5 years from now, the anger will have worn off. Big Mac, Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa are not going to get in since they were on the leading edge (I don’t feel too bad for them, since they are all a bunch of jerks anyway, but more so, victims of timing).
    While very un-American, every player is suspect until real testing gets implemented – guilty until proven innocent. The only guy on the current Phils that would really surprise me if he was using is Utley – he wears down cinsiderably as the season goes on, where a lot of the roiders maintain. Howard would also surprise me, as he is the little guy in his family – certainly has the genetics for his size. No one else would shock me, and it sucks to have that cynicism.

  10. Jeff Dowder

    January 14, 2010 at 8:51 am

    A lot of the ’93 Phillies were rumored to be juiced, and the Braves dropped hints to that effect after the Phillies beat them in the playoffs.

  11. Joepa

    January 14, 2010 at 8:57 am

    Dipsy,

    Great article. I’ve enjoyed all your articles and posts over the last year. I agree with your article, I’d like to add one point. I’d like to see MLB banish the cheaters from the record books. I have a 10 year old son who has become a huge Phillies fan and baseball fan over the last 3 years. I’d like to take him to Baseball HOF like my dad took me. I’d like him be amazed like I was in the incredible accomplishments the players have made over the last 100+ years. Instead he’ll probably be comparing the achievements to those made by Bonds, McGuire, and Rocket in the last 15 years. That’s sad – don’t you agree?

  12. JBP

    January 14, 2010 at 9:36 am

    Dipsy –

    I think you’re being a little too flippant about the 1990 legislation. That legislation made anabolic steroids a Schedule III controlled substance which–to my admittedly untrained (as in not legally trained) eye–basically means that it cannot be possessed or used without a prescription. Now, you can argue that the letter of the law seems to be restricting the dispensing and the possession of the substance (as opposed to the using) but I clearly think the spirit of the law is simple: can’t use it unless prescribed by a doctor.

    So, in my mind those that use anabolic steroids after 1990 DO have something to apologize for. They did something illegal to gain a clear competitive advantage.*# I don’t think the “guilt clock” starts in 2002 like it seems you’re saying here.

    JBP

    *: Usually when I argue that the illegality of the use of steroids as an issue I get, “well, what about greenies?” to which I say I don’t think there is a clear performance advantage there. Yes, being more alert by using greenies could lead to better performance but you’re not talking about a physical change that was gained illegally that directly affects your performance.

    #: The other major “tainted” era in my mind is the Segregation Era but the players had no control (yes, I guess they could have protested but maybe that’s asking too much) over that situation. I’m still annoyed that pre-1960 (around 1960 seems to be when the leagues were fully integrated) stats are held is such reverence but that’s more of an annoyance with our sports media and baseball historians (overwhelmingly old white guys) than the players of that era themselves.

  13. Ed

    January 14, 2010 at 9:45 am

    A good point writes an article, exagerated vocabulary takes away from it. You always have a good point, so stop negating it with the thesaurus.

  14. Manny

    January 14, 2010 at 9:56 am

    I have no idea where to post this, but here it goes:

    “The Pirates and D.J. Carrasco have agreed to terms on a minor league deal, reports Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. If the right-handed reliever makes the team, he will earn $950K in base pay plus as much as $250K in performance bonuses. The Pirates will have the chance to retain Carrasco beyond 2010 as an arbitration-eligible player.

    The 32-year-old posted a 3.76 ERA, 6.0 K/9, and 2.8 BB/9 in 93.3 innings for the White Sox last season. Despite this, the club decided to non-tender him, citing budget concerns. Carrasco and new Pirates addition Brian Bass ranked #1-2 in relief innings in MLB last year.”

    Why didn’t we (or any other team) go after this guy? He’s a good option for the pen, and he ended up getting just a minor league deal! WHA!?

  15. mikemike

    January 14, 2010 at 10:32 am

    I really can’t see any of these steroids guys, getting any sympathy from me. The clearly gain a big advantage, by taking these drugs, cheated to gain records, put a lot of kids at risk, by trying steroids to be better, and make the big leagues. why should they be forgiven, they knew what they were doing was wrong, no hall of fame for them, ban them from baseball for life. How many kids have hurt themselfs and died from these drugs, and the players didnt help by taking them as a example to the kids.

  16. The Dipsy

    January 14, 2010 at 11:00 am

    To all –

    I don’t feel that I’m being “flippant” about the 1990 legislation. The legislation made it a crime to possess or distribute. With a little background in this area, I can tell you that if its “use” is not restricted in the language then its not included. Criminal statutes are to be construed by its plain language and courts feel that if “use” was to be criminalizedb then the legislature would have provided for it. Ed – I’m sorry you don’t like my writing. I think that players who have tested positive or have admitted use should have an asterisk placed next to their name whenever they appear in the record book. I believe that a lot of great players during the “steroid era” never touched a drug. I think its up to all of us to use our common sense on how to regard these guys with the information that we have. EX: McGuire will never get in the HOF. Barry Bonds has been excommunicated from MLB. Andy Petitte gets a little slack because I think most people believe that he actually did use for a short period of time to help rehab an injury like he says.

    The Dipsy

  17. Dudley Monk

    January 14, 2010 at 11:09 am

    Fine article on the steroid era. Good point about the foolishness of an owner being made commissioner. Bud Selig really stinks as a commissioner and I hope MLB dumps that stupid bastard soon. Mark McGuire really is a horses’ ass. I hope I get the chance to boo the hypocrite this year.

  18. Aaron

    January 14, 2010 at 11:12 am

    I dont think you put an * next to their name. They know what they did, they admitted it, they were still voted in. People know the era they played in and know what was going on and will look at that and take it into consideration when they see their numbers. Look at the HOF as it is right now, not every player was a good clean fair guy. Even Ruth was a fat alcoholic abusive mean ass slob.

  19. The Dipsy

    January 14, 2010 at 11:21 am

    Aaron – They know what they did but kids who look at the record book 50 years from now won’t. I’m not talking about the HOF guys, I’m talking about stats in record books.

    The Dipsy

  20. James Kay

    January 14, 2010 at 11:21 am

    Good article. The Bud Selig wing of the HOF. I love it. It should enshrine not only PED abusers with HOF numbers but also baseball’s other deserving enshrinement morals criminals such as Pete Rose, Shoeless Joe Jackson… Such a wing would serve as a giant inclusive asterisk for the accomplishments of these stars who like it or not performed at levels all ballplayers aspire for and fans revere. These players should not be ignored. They should be displayed as special cases worthy of heated philosophical debate for generations to come. Baseball will always have some great controversial players.

  21. Brooks

    January 14, 2010 at 11:28 am

    I asked my nephew a few years ago when he started at Temple, “What’s next on your list?”.
    His response was that he had to do something, the juices were burning inside.
    Competitiveness, the desire to be the best. Even Michael Jack said if these drugs were around when he was playing there was a good chance he would have been taking them as well.
    Who do you blame? The guns don’t do the killing, people do – OK, but does that mean we (or the MLB in this case) should enable its members to do whatever steps they deem necessary to gain the edge? The line should have been drawn a long time ago. This entire period is a black eye for Major League Baseball.

  22. therookie300

    January 14, 2010 at 11:41 am

    If steroids made Brady Anderson hit 50 homeruns, what happened in the years that followed for him? If they really helped him, why would you stop taking them? Davey Johnson had a year in ’73 like Anderson had in ’96. Anomalies do occur, case in point, these two seasons. Now if you want to go the PED angle for these two instances, then we have to realize that PEDs have been around longer than anyone thought. Another case, the 1963 San Diego Chargers. This team was fed steroids by the coaches. Low and behold they won the title that year. Maybe we should be looking even further back in time for people that used instead of blaming just the current ones.

  23. Chuck

    January 14, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Speaking of Brady Anderson….he actually has 210 career home runs….not 51…

    He had double-digit homeruns 9 years in a row….besides the 50 in 1996..only 2 of those years did he hit more than 20….

    So maybe the 50 was as a result of steroids…or maybe it was just a fluke…like the example of Davey Johnson back in the 70’s..

    We’ll never REALLY know about some of these guys during this period…and until someone is proven guilty…or admits it …I’m going to presume that he’s innocent….that’s how our judicial system works.

    As for McGwire….one could pretty well assume that he used steroids when he did..based on his size…and continued performance…year after year…and I guess if it wasn’t illlegal at the time…you really can’t fault the guy for wanting to get an edge…

    But the fact that he lied about it…and comes out now….before he’s set to assume his new role with the Cardinals…yeah…I kind of have a problem with that.

  24. The Dipsy

    January 14, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Chuck – This is the court of public opinion, not a court of law. All we have is our opinions based on what we think we know. The Brady Anderson example that he only had 51 career homers was tongue in cheek. I think if you ask the average Joe on the street about Anderson’s year they would probably tell you that they thought steroids had something to do with it. I don’t really know that much about the ’63 Chargers but I would be glad to learn.

    The Dipsy

  25. Greg B

    January 14, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Good. Now write a piece on how all these muckraking cheerleader journalists need to shut up instead of pine about ethics, morals, and the damage done to the game.

    Gammons, Stark, Caple, etc. They were all there with locker room passes while fans heckled players with “steroid” chants. They watched guys like Pudge Rodriguez go from muscular to popping out of his jersey in one season. They did nothing but report on mammoth Home runs.

    Where were the exposes and whistles from them? Now I listen to them tell me how the players ruined the game? BULLSH$T, I say, those journalists are just as responsible.

  26. bfo_33

    January 14, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    I don’t really know why football gets a pass on PEDs, but it does. Granted, there are genetic freaks out there, but that doesn’t explain how the average offensive lineman gained 45 lbs and cut a half second off their 40 times in less than 25 years. The big problem in baseball is even if all the guys on the Mitchell report were identified, it’s still only 105 guys over a 15 year period. Like cochroaches, for every one you see, there are 10-100 hiding elsewhere. So you’ll get a few prominent names, but a lot of other cheaters will slip in.
    I don’t even know where to begin on the record books, especially in regards to team stats. Are the 93 Phils in the playoffs if clean? Do the Braves win 2 or three more rings? Does Torre win any? To simplify it in my mind, the era was (and continues to be) covered by a black cloud – while we know some of the suspects (mostly idiots who didn’t cover their tracks, grew a third ear on their forehead, or gained 35 lbs in one year), the smarter users covered their tracks well enough.

  27. Chuck

    January 14, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Dipsy…

    I fully well realize that your “51” example was tongue in cheek….and I actually meant to acknowledge that I knew what you meant…when I posted my comments…my bad..

    However, we really don’t know what any of these guys did…WE weren’t in the training rooms…THEY were…

    Some guys…like McGwire, Sosa, Bonds….that had spikes in power that lasted awhile….and based on their ridiculous size….yeah…I guess one would have to assume they took drugs…

    But for others it’s different….did Brady take steroids?….maybe..maybe not…I don’t know…nobdy does..

    I think we just have to chalk up that 10 year period as “The Steroid Era”…and leave it at that..

  28. JBP

    January 14, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    @Dipsy (11:00am)

    Don’t you have to “possess” the steroids so you can inject/ingest them? If so, they still broke the law to achieve their “performance enhancement”…

  29. therookie300

    January 14, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    Here is the link about the Chargers:

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/otl/news/story?id=3866837

  30. Drolz

    January 14, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    How about Selig using McGwire’s confession as an opportunity to declare that drug testing works? How stupid does he think we are? Of course it works, which is why he and the rest of MLB don’t have the balls to test for HGH.

  31. The Dipsy

    January 14, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    JBP – No. If someone shoots you in your butt with a needle, they have the needle. They possess the steroids. Example: You’re sitting around your doom room smoking weed with your friends and the R.A. breaks in and the guy next to has the bong in his hands. He has bong, you don’t (but at least you’re high 🙂

    The Dipsy

  32. mikemike

    January 14, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    What does drinking have to do with, what this guys did, makes no sense, why defend what they did, Just like saying ty cobb killed someone, what did that have to do with his baseball career, most ballplayers are creeps, i work in restaurants and have meet a lot of them ,personality isnt the reason a player performs or not. But drugs gave them a big advantage.

  33. Chuck

    January 14, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    “Most ballplayers are creeps.”

    Now there’s a statement for you…

  34. The Original Chuck P

    January 14, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    My argument has always been for these guys (I wrote a bleacher report on the subject last year)… unless you can say with 100% certainty that the HOF is steroid-free (that no one in the Hall took steroids), then I would argue that these guys should be allowed in. You can’t blame the guys that took them when there was no testing policy in place. Yes, they were illegal but so is weed and driving under the influence and I’m pretty sure that you could find plenty of professional athletes that do both regulrly. The only thing that ever made remarks to steroid use being a violation of any rule is a weak memo that was sent out to the owners by Faye Vincent… teammates of Hank Aaron have openly admitted to taking amphetamines, HGH and whatever steroid they could find to be competitive – Congress did a one-year study in 1973 that brought this to light, describing improper use of steroids and amphetamines to be alarming. This stuff has been around forever… baseball is doing the right thing by drawing the line but the fact that they’re letting it linger by outing players and ridiculing guys like McGwire as a result of tests that were supposed to be anonymous is despicable. All of these guys should be in the hall… as for the guys that didn’t take them, I guess they can live long and feel good knowing that they did things the right way.

  35. therookie300

    January 14, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Very well said Chuck.

  36. Aaron

    January 14, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    Dipsy – Kids/Adults now, and in 50 years wont/dont know the things that glorified hall of fame players did back then to cheat too. Baseball always had players cheating (pitchers using pine tar or other things for grip, corked bats, etc) and the game has adjusted to banning such things. Players found a new way to cheat in the late 80’s through a couple years ago and now the game is adjusting toward it. In another 10 years or so I am sure there will be something else players will be doing to try to find a way to cheat and the game will be adjusting to that as well.

  37. Georgie

    January 16, 2010 at 11:17 am

    “I watched the needle take another man…Gone, gone, the damage done….”

    Great reference using the Neil Young tune, Dips.

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