In part one of our exploration into PED use in baseball we started out in the late 60’s and early 70’s bringing you testimony from a former user of that era and his experience with steroids. What we’re not going to do is discuss the amphetamine use the 1980 Phillies were alleged to have used or any of the other teams that used “ups” or “greenies” to eliminate fatigue to get ready for a game; these stories have been told ad nauseum. We’re talking about the drugs and hormones that make a player stronger and assists in muscle recovery times such as steroids and the king of all PED’s, Human Growth Hormone (HGH).
Picking up after where we left off yesterday with Lenny Dykstra’s monster 93 season we begin to see the explosion of steroid use in the mid-90’s. Let’s also remember that MLB had no PED policy in place at the time, so technically speaking anyone who was juicing wasn’t breaking any baseball rules per se, but the users were re-writing the record books at an alarming rate and tarnishing the achievements of the stars who paved the way for the multi-millionaire ball players of today.
The next player to draw an unusual amount of attention was the Orioles Brady Anderson with his break-out 1996 season. Coming into the 96 season Anderson had spent eight seasons with the O’s. Generously speaking he was a mediocre player who had a career slash line of .250/.349/.393. Brady began his major league career in Boston and was traded mid-season to the Orioles in 1998 while still a rookie. In his first four seasons Anderson had 10 HR’s in 1,081 AB’s. This came to an average of one bang per every 108 AB’s. Not exactly a power hitter. In his next four seasons (1992-1996) Anderson became an everyday player for the Orioles amassing 2,190 AB’s, but still showing very little in the power department. His slash line rose to a modest .265/.267/.436 while averaging one HR per 35.32 AB’s – good for an average of 15.5 bangs per season.
Then in 1996 Brady Anderson captured the attention of the baseball world when me mashed 50 HR’s while leading the AL in extra base hits with 92. His slash line of .297/.396/.637 far surpassed any numbers that could be expected from the eight-year veteran and the baseball world couldn’t help but notice. In 96 Anderson averaged one HR per 11.8 at bats. He was a star, belting 29 more HR’s than his previous season high.
Anderson wasn’t the only player in 1996 to go over 50 HR’s either. Mark McGuire of the Oakland A’s lead the AL with 52 bombs that year. It was far less surprising coming from McGuire, who had 49 HR’s his rookie year with the A’s and 153 in his first four major league seasons. Before the 96 season McGuire had six seasons of 30+ HR’s and two seasons of 40+ HR’s. But the home run assault was on and baseball would never be the same again.
A little history is in order here to put in proper perspective what was taking place. On August 12th, 1994 the MLBPA went on strike and for the first time in history the World Series was cancelled. Baseball fans were furious and showed their frustration by not opening their wallets to the game for several years. Attendance took a major nosedive and the powers to be that ran the game had to find a way to get them back. We’re not suggesting there was any agreement between owners and players to take steroids and start hitting home runs at a pace never before seen in the history of baseball, but the owners and Commissioner turned a blind eye to what the players were doing because everyone loves the long ball, and baseball needed to get their fans back somehow.
A little more history is needed to help understand the significance of the home run numbers we started seeing in the mid 90’s. Babe Ruth was the first baseball player to ever hit 50 bombs in a season, going yard 54 times in the 1920 season. In the next 70 years of major league baseball there were only nine other players to eclipse the 50 HR mark. It was an elite club to be sure. In order, the players who achieved this once revered milestone with the number of times they hit more than 50 or more homers (with the number of times they did it in parentheses next to their names) are; Babe Ruth (4), Hack Wilson (1), Jimmie Foxx (2), Hank Greenberg (1), Johnny Mize (1), Ralph Kiner (2), Willie Mays (2), Mickey Mantle (2), Roger Maris (1) and George Foster (1). There were 10 players total in the 50 home run club and it had been achieved only 17 times total.
Between 1990 and 2010, a period of just 21 years, sixteen players have hit 50 or more HR’s a total of 25 times. There’s no doubt a literal explosion of 50 home run seasons has taken place in the last 20+ years. Are we at Philly Sports Rant saying every player who hit 50 or more in a season was juiced – no, we’re not. Do we believe this massive uptick in home run hitting is in large part due to the use of PED’s in baseball – yes we are. There’s no other rational explanation that could account for such a massive increase in the amount of home runs hit in what will forever be known as “The Steroid Era”. Some people will say hitters today are better trained athletes than they were from 1920 to 1990. We don’t disagree. We would however like to point out that hitters are not the only athletes in the sport who are better conditioned and trained…so are the pitchers.
Iconic Hall of fame players who have hit 500 or more career homers but have never hit 50 in a season (with the number of Home Run Titles in parentheses next to their names) are Mike Schmidt (8), Harmon Killebrew (6), Mel Ott (6), Reggie Jackson (4), Ted Williams (4), Ernie Banks (2) Eddie Matthews (2), Frank Robinson (1) and Mel Ott (1). The 500 career homer club was yet another elite collection of some of the finest players to ever grace the diamond.
With the numbers and history supporting our position we now move the story forward to 1998. Baseball had still not recovered the attendance losses due to the strike-shortened season of 1994 and baseball needed a narrative to grab the nation’s attention. That drama was provided by Mark McGuire, then with the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs, as they went head to head to not only win the NL home run crown but to break Roger Maris single-season record of 61 home runs in a season set back in 1961. It was just what baseball needed. McGuire played the role of the humble big man and Sosa that of the gregarious, playful swatter from Chicago’s north side. These two players battled up to the final two weeks when McGuire pulled away and was baseball’s new single-season home run champion. He finished the season with a record smashing 70 home runs while Sosa finished with only 66 bangs. Baseball was back.
In what seemed at the time to not be a very big story in 1998 was a bottle of Androstenedione seen in McGuire’s locker when being interviewed after a game. Better known as “Andro”, Androstenedione was a OTC supplement that belonged to a new and burgeoning rage in weight lifting circles, the pro-hormone. One can only imagine that McGuire saw no need to hide his use of Andro as it was a legally obtained supplement that could be purchased in many sports supplement stores throughout the country. Is it a steroid – technically speaking it is not. Androstenedione is a pre-cursor to testosterone and taken in proper dosages shows a significant increase in serum testosterone levels. In January of 2005 Androstenedione and other pro-hormones were made illegal to sell or possess by the Anabolic Steroid Control Act. Pro-hormones are now considered “controlled substances” and are banned by MLB, NFL, USOC, NCAA and the NBA. The World Doping Anti-Agency has banned the use of all pro-hormones in Olympic competition.
Watching the hype of the McGuire-Sosa HR battle in 1998 infuriated Barry Bonds according to testimony given by his girlfriend in the now famous Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) trial. She claimed he was livid because they were getting so much attention and he didn’t consider either player to be of his caliber. In 1999 Bonds became a client of BALCO labs, who claimed to be on the leading edge of manufacturing legal sports supplements such as ZMA. While they did manufacture legal products they were also a huge dispensary of steroids and HGH with a client’s list of who’s who in sports. Along with Bonds a partial listing of BALCO clients included, but was not limited to 5-time Olympic medalist Marion Jones, Former NFL linebacker Bill Romanowski. Jason Giambi and many more world-class athletes.
BALCO was also the inventor of “The Clear”. The Clear was synthetic testosterone that was not picked up in most steroid tests due to the fact it raised epitestosterone along with testosterone levels. The average person has anywhere from a 1-1 to 2-1 ratio of epitest to test. Because the clear also raised the Epitest levels along with Test levels (the first test administered in looking for steroid users) it was virtually undetectable. It became the drug of choice for Bonds and many others as they laughed their way into the record books and made millions. Three years after McGuire’s 70 home run season Bonds broke his record by going deep 73 times. The record books continued to get re-written as juiced players were everywhere, signing fat contracts and putting up previously unheard of numbers – especially by older, supposed past-their-prime players.
In 2001 Alex Rodriguez signed the biggest contract in MLB history to play for the Texas Rangers. The contract was for 10 years, $252,000,000. In 2009 Rodriguez admitted taking a substance he called “Boli”. He said his cousin got it for him on a trip to the Dominican Republic and Rodriguez said he thought it was a legal substance as it could be purchased over the counter in the Dominican Republic. Rodriguez claimed to take it because he felt the pressure to live up to the massive contract he had just signed, but many people, including Jose Canseco believes he was juicing long before then. For the record “Boli” is not sold legally in the Dominican Republic.
Boli is actually an anabolic steroid known as Primobolan (methenolone acetate). Without getting too technical Primobolan is a favorite of body builders in their pre-contest phase as it helps them shed fat while maintaining muscle mass. While Primobolan helps the body maintain a positive nitrogen balance necessary to build muscle, by itself it does very little. It is often “stacked” or taken with other androgenic steroids, as it has very little androgenic properties by itself. It is expected when the Commissioner’s office hands out their suspensions from the Biogenesis scandal that Rodriguez will be the most severely punished. Most reports say the Commissioner’s office will suspend him for the remainder of the 2013 season and all of 2014. Rodriguez will be 40 in 2015, out of baseball for two full years if the suspension is upheld (he’s expected to appeal) and his career seems to be in jeopardy.
In January of 2013 the BBWAA failed to induct any players on the ballot as superstars such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens failed to even get half of the 75% vote needed for induction. Clemens is thought to have taken HGH to extend and enhance his career. His trainer, Brian McNamee rolled on Clemens and claimed he shot him up numerous times with HGH. He is said to have saved one of the syringes he injected Clemens with to prove his assertion, but it could not be introduced as evidence due to chain of custody procedures. Clemens was a power pitcher who had won three Cy Youngs by the time he was 28 years old. After his 3rd Cy Young Clemens seemed to go downhill posting a 30-26 record and a 3.83 ERA in the next three seasons. He left Boston as a free agent and resurrected his career in Toronto where he won back to back Cy Young’s his first two seasons as a Blue Jay. Clemens won a 6th Cy Young at age 38 with the Yankees and his 7th Cy Young at age 42 with the Houston Astros. No other pitcher has more than four Cy Young’s.
Another player not inducted in the 2013 Hall of Fame class was former L.A. Dodger and NY Met catcher Mike Piazza. Piazza is considered by many people to be the greatest hitting catcher of all time. His career slash line of .308/.375/.545 for a catcher are certainly Hall of Fame numbers. Piazza hit 427 career home runs and holds the record of 396 HR’s by a catcher. The next closest is Carlton Fisk’s 351 career home runs behind the plate. Johnny Bench held the NL record before Piazza with 326 HR’s. So why was Piazza, a 10-time Silver Slugger Award slighted by the HOF voters? To our knowledge he never tested positive for steroids (which in itself doesn’t prove much, but should count for something). There are however rumors that he did juice.
One of the more common stories told about Piazza is the unusual number of white-head pimples he had on his back in his playing days. Pimples on the back are a common side effect of too much steroid/testosterone use Also, Piazza was a 62nd round draft choice of the L.A. Dodgers back in the 1988 amateur draft. After two seasons in the Dodgers minor league system (1989-90) where he combined for 14 home runs and 70 RBI’s in single A Piazza went to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic. He came back the following year (1991) bulked up and hit 29 home runs and drove in 80 runs in 506 AB’s in A+ ball. In 1992 he played at both AA & AAA and combined hit 23 HR’s in 525 AB’s. Piazza made the jump to the Dodgers in 1993 and won Rookie of the Year and finished 9th in MVP voting. He had 35 HR’s, 112 RBI’s and a .561 slugging percentage that year. Piazza made it to the show and continued putting up big numbers year after year at the sports most grueling position, catcher. Are the rumors of his use enough to keep him out of the Hall of Fame – evidently in his first year on the ballot they were. He has 14 more tries and it’s this writers opinion he will get in one day. Piazza received 57.8% of the vote, far more than either Bonds or Clemens. With no proof that he used PED’s he’ll probably make it into the Hall, but there’s no guarantee.
On March 17th, 2005 Jose Canseco, Mark McGuire, Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Curt Schilling (summoned for his outspoken opposition to PED use in baseball) and Sammy Sosa were called before the US Senate to testify on their views of PED use in major league baseball. Sammy Sosa, who has given hundreds of interviews in the course of his baseball career felt the need to show up with a translator. When questioned all Mark McGuire would say is he wasn’t there to talk about the past. Rafael Palmeiro showed extreme displeasure in having to be there, stating unequivocally that he had never taken steroids in his life (he tested positive later that year for Stanazolol, also known as Winstrol V – an anabolic steroid). Curt Schilling backed down from an earlier statement that he believed 50% of baseball players were using PED’s and then put the number at closer to 2%…and on and on the show went.
On November 15th, 2015 MLB and it’s players agreed on the PED policy that is currently in place. It is known as The Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. It calls for a 50-game suspension for first time offenders, a 100-game suspension for second time offenders and a lifetime ban for third time offenders. The rather large and obvious flaw in the program is that MLB was only administering urine tests. This is mostly sufficient to identify steroid users, amphetamines and the rapidly growing Adderall users/abusers (which is still permissible with a doctor’s prescription). Before Adderall was added as a banned substance major league baseball had granted 28 exemptions for it’s use. That number grew to 107 within one year after Adderall was added to the banned list of substances without a prescription. Without performing blood tests MLB essentially gave a green light to Human Growth Hormone users, as HGH is not detectable in a urine sample and can only be identified via a blood test. We can only speculate how many previous steroid users just moved to HGH when the The Drug Prevention and Treatment Program went into effect. This Spring, MLB stated it is now going to perform random blood tests as part of it’s PED prevention policy.
As stated earlier, the period of baseball from the mid 90’s until the present day will forever be known as “The Steroid Era”. Great players who never juiced will still be scrutinized. Others have probably gotten away with PED use in their careers. We’ll never know for sure about some, but others have either tested positive, admitted PED use or both. Some of baseball’s most revered records have been broken. What do we do about that? Is there anything that can be done? Some have suggested putting an asterisk next to some records while others have said they should be eliminated from the record book altogether. Is that feasible? What about players like Gaylord Perry who admitted to using Vasoline and K Y Jelly to doctor the ball, or Whitey Ford who admitted scuffing the baseball with his wedding ring? They’re already in the Hall of Fame. It’s a fairly safe bet that other players found a way to circumvent the rules that govern baseball and now enjoy enshrinement in Baseball’s Hall of Fame – the ultimate individual recognition of greatness a player can achieve. We’ll never know for sure, but we do know the past 15-20 years have forever altered the game of baseball.
Follow Philly Sports Rant as we continue our in-depth coverage of baseballs PED problem and the suspensions handed out in connection with the Biogenesis scandal that rocked the baseball community this year. There are numerous reports we’ll hear from the Commissioners office this week, perhaps as early as Monday, August 5th with regards to the players involved and the penalties they’ll be assessed. Our unique experience and coverage will continue to keep you updated and informed of one of the biggest upheavals in the 142-year history of baseball – and perhaps its biggest scandal since the 1919 Black Sox.