Talking Baseball

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Posted by Jon on Friday, March 05, 2004

Accusations on Steroids

We’ve all mentioned it before: we’re unwilling to feed the frenzy that has been the suspicions of steroid use in baseball. But with the latest BALCO accusations now the leading story across baseball, it's about time I elaborated on my thoughts about steroids.

While I contend that regular and random tests should be instituted with severe penalties for steroid use, there is no such policy currently in place. Without a testing system with more authority over the players, we are forced to continue to speculate as to who we as fans believe are taking performance-enhancing supplements and steroids. Although it’s all we can do, we must refrain from joining the witch hunt. As fans, we do not actually know whether players use steroids.

Players, too, do not necessarily know whether their teammates use steroids, although ex-Bonds teammate Andy Van Slyke (Andy makes headlines only weeks after he was mentioned in one of my latest posts at Talking Baseball. How’d I know it’d happen? I must be on steroids) tries to will it otherwise. Andy Van Slyke, who said in an interview with FOXSports.com’s Jim Ballou that “without equivocation [Barry Bonds has] taken them. I can say that with utmost certainty.” But he also adds that “I never saw him put it into his body,” and then says, “You decide. I think he did.” Van Slyke thinks Bonds used steroids. He does not know Bonds used steroids.

The circumstantial evidence against Bonds and other players appears damning, but no matter how much of it you pile on, it’s all circumstantial. As of yet, there is no hard proof that Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, Benito Santiago, Marvin Bernard, or Randy Velarde – the men accused of receiving steroids by the San Francisco Chronicle – actually used them, or that they were requested. We only know that they were received. If we can’t yet prove that Bonds, who most of us believe took steroids, actually did, then how could we speculate about other players?

In the Van Slyke interview, Ballou asks whether Andy has noticed that “some players, some sluggers, look thinner this year in spring training.” Andy has. “There’s no doubt,” he says, estimating that almost four players per team were probably on steroids last season. To Van Slyke, all sluggers who come into camp under their 2003 spring weight were on steroids last season.

This physical evidence is merely more speculation and circumstantial evidence. In this atmosphere of intense speculation, almost anybody can be accused of using steroids. As a case study, let’s look at Mike Piazza.

In 1997, while on the Dodgers, Piazza had this to say about steroids, responding to rumors that he and other ballplayers were taking them:

"I think it's unnecessary in baseball. I mean, would you drug-test billiard players or chess players? You can take a .200 hitter and give him all of the drugs you can find, and would that make him a .300 hitter? No."
A tad defensive, Mr. Piazza? But whether he’s merely expressing what he believes to be the truth or whether he’s covering for the indiscretions of his fellow players, this quote means nothing. Piazza is merely stating an opinion. He believes steroid use does not enhance performance in baseball.

On Wednesday I read an article in the New York Times (yes, some of us do still read the print media) about Piazza and his new age health guru. Yes, folks, he’s off of the red meat diet. At his age (35), muscle mass isn’t his top priority. It’s all about flexibility, he claims. This regimen change reduced his weight, meaning that he has reported to Mets camp at a weight lower than he did in 2003.

So we have an aging slugger who denied the utility of steroids in baseball coming into camp below his 2003 Spring Training body weight. In this environment, these two facts would be enough to cause speculation and accusation against Piazza, when in fact there is no evidence against him of which to speak. It is possible that he could have used steroids, but it cannot be proven.

We have to be careful when analyzing the likelihood a player has used steroids. Although it is acknowledged by most fans that players use steroids in baseball, there is no legitimate evidence to support this claim.

So let’s calm down and wait to acquire some evidence before we continue to throw hay on the fire.

Doing some research, I came across a two-and-a-half year old San Francisco Gate article defending Bonds against the accusations of steroid use he faced back in 2001. An excerpt from the article, written by Tony Cooper, follows.

As far as Bonds goes, insinuations in the media that he is using steroids, or is in anyway a "bodybuilder," are absurd. Bonds merely looks like a man who keeps himself in condition -- he has his own fitness guru, for crying out loud.
After the BALCO scandal, this quote struck me as strangely still accurate. It looks as if Bonds’ fantastic physical conditioning was in fact a result of having his own “fitness guru.” But for crying out loud, this guru provided him with steroids! The dramatic irony is amusing.

Nonetheless, the baseball season is beginning, with or without a resolution to the issue of steroids in baseball. MLB drug-testing policy should be altered, and government investigations into BALCO will continue. Circumstantial evidence, though, is not enough to convict any ball player of using steroids, from Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield to Mike Piazza, or anybody else. Stop the witch-hunt. We should soon have the facts.

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