Amid widespread reports that Major League Baseball is about to announce suspensions resulting from the investigation brought about from the Biogenesis scandal this Monday, Philly Sports Rant will be doing a series of articles on PED use in baseball, the history of the drugs and hormones used, the players known and speculated to be have done PED’s, and the effect on the game as we see it. We will make no accusations against any player(s) who has not tested positive or admitted to PED use, but will mention some players who’ve had rumors swirling around them for years, and how or why those rumors got started. As the writer tasked with bringing you these stories and a former competitive power lifter, I’ve seen first hand the effects PED’s can have on athletes, both good and bad. I’ve known many PED users over the years, seen it in the sport I competed in and just about every serious bodybuilding and power lifting gym in the area. Let’s start with the obvious; when properly administered PED’s work. If they didn’t, why would so many athletes be doing them at what we believe to be an alarming rate, particularly in baseball where literally millions of dollars are the carat the players are chasing?
Performance enhancing drugs, better known today as PED’s may have a longer history in the sport of baseball than many are lead to believe. According to Tom House, an admitted user of PED’s and relief pitcher with the Atlanta Braves from 1971-75 (House finished his career in1978 with the Seattle Mariners after also spending time with the Boston Red Sox), there was widespread use of PED’s in baseball in the 60’s and 70’s, when there was far less knowledge of the dangers of PED abuse and players were looking for any edge they could get to enhance their game and prolong their careers. You can read the USA Today article from 2005 in which House is interviewed by clicking http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/baseball/2005-05-03-steroids-house_x.htm
House has written several books such as “The Art and Science of Pitching” and “The Pitching Edge” as well as several others, but to our knowledge (in the interest of full disclosure we have not read all his books cover to cover) the books were indeed about the mechanics of successful pitching. After retiring in 1978 House went into coaching where he spent years as a pitching coach with the Houston Astros, San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers and in Japan. House is the first professional baseball player of his era to admit using steroids, and we can find no evidence of any financial incentive for him to so. The two books referenced in this paragraph were published years before his interview was published in USA Today. Had he been looking to generate book sales it is this writers opinion the interview would have coincided with a book release, but again that does not seem to be the case.
It is interesting to note that after the 1973 season a Congressional Committee issued a finding that steroid use was rampant in Major League Baseball, and the 1974 season saw significant decreases in home runs. The total number of home runs hit in the major league’s in 1973 was 3,102. In 1974 the total number dropped to 2,649. In 1973 the American League adopted the designated hitter rule, giving those teams an extra hitter in the lineup. However the AL teams hit 1,552 HR’s compared to the NL’s 1,550. As noted, both leagues saw a significant drop in the 1974 season but the NL saw a much larger decrease percentage wise. Whereas the AL saw home runs dip from 1,552 to 1,369, the NL saw a drop from 1,550 to 1,280. Were more NL players juicing than AL players? It can be assumed House had a greater knowledge of what happened in the NL as there was no inter-league play in his day.
In 1973 House’s team mate Davey Johnson of the Atlanta Braves hit 43 HR’s as a second baseman, a record that still stands today, and an unheard of number for a 2nd baseman of that time. In 1974 Johnson hit 15 HR’s. Johnson’s career best aside from the 1973 season was the 18 HR’s he hit in 1971. Are we alleging Johnson was juicing in 1973…no we are not. We’re merely presenting the numbers and you, the reader, can draw your own conclusion about him or any other player who had exceptional power numbers in a given year.
Fast forward to 1993 and the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phils came out the gate on fire that year sweeping the Houston Astros to start the season and never looked back. They went wire-to-wire in first place in the NL East that year and beat the favored Atlanta Braves in the NLCS to advance to the World Series, where they eventually lost to the Toronto Blue Jays in six games. It was a great year to be a Phillies fan as not only did the team win, but they did so with a cast of characters the city loved and affectionately dubbed “Macho Row”. One of the leaders of the team that year was Lenny “Nails” Dytstra. Dykstra was the teams leadoff hitter and a force to be reckoned with that year. In 1993 Dykstra played in 161 of a possible 162 games and led the NL in plate appearances (a MLB record 773 times), at bats, runs, hits and walks. He amassed career highs in doubles with 44 and home runs with 19 (his 2nd best HR season was 10 in 1987). Dykstra finished the season second to Barry Bonds in MVP voting that year, and picked up his first and only Silver Slugger Award.
After years of denying any use or involvement with PED’s, including to investigators who compiled The Mitchell Report, Dyktstra boasted in an interview with the Daily Beast that “I was a pioneer for that stuff” going on to state “The juice, I was like the very first to do that. Me and Canseco.” Dykstra continued offering details in in his interview with reporter Randall Lane “At first it wasn’t even illegal. Then, after a few years I had to go to a doctor, and get a prescription. You know how I got my stuff, just walking into a pharmacy bro.” For Dykstra it was all about the Benjamins. He knew entering his age 31 season he was going to sign his last big, major-league contract…and he did. After his incredible 1993 season “Nails” signed a four-year 24.9 million dollar contract making him the highest paid leadoff hitter in the game. To read the entire Daily Beast article click
I was a big Phillies fan in those days (still am) and I’ll never forget the first time I saw Dykstra in a Spring Training game and commented to a friend about how much weight and muscle Dykstra had added in the off-season. “The Dude’s juicing” I said to my friend that day, calling Dykstra by another of his nicknames. I had seen enough steroid users at the gyms I trained in and with people I knew to know you can’t add 25 – 30 lbs. of solid muscle in one off-season without saucing – you just can’t.
Tomorrow, in Part II of Philly Sports Rant expose on PED use in baseball we’ll go back to the mid 90’s moving forward and explore players such as Brady Anderson, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGuire, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa and more… to look deeper into how PED use forever changed the game of baseball, making mockery of one-time fabled statistics and legendary players. You won’t want to miss it.