My Steroid Related Admission

February 20, 2009 | Thyrl Nelson

I Never Used Steroids, But I Definitely Would Have


Just once, it would be nice to see someone step up and admit to using steroids before being caught. We’ve heard our share of contrition and excuse making in the wake of players being outed, it’s about time someone stepped up prior to being caught and gave us a genuine take on the whole situation; one that we can believe.


Baseball needs a sympathetic figure; that much is certain. And each time that a “former” user is outed for taking performance enhancers, baseball as a whole loses another opportunity to move forward on this entire issue. But as long as players are being dragged into the public eye begrudgingly, and spinning their tales through the filters of attorneys, agents and PR machines, the court of public opinion will continue to convict those who desecrated the prestigious record book of Major League Baseball.


I for one, have never taken steroids, HGH or any other performance-enhancing drug, but am ready to make an admission. If I had been playing professional baseball between the years of 1990 and 2003, I almost certainly would have taken steroids. What’s more, I can’t imagine feeling remorseful about it.


The court of public opinion is a fickle one, but a few tried and true principles seem to hold. The first is that we want to forgive you. We love contrition, genuine contrition, and relish the opportunities to provide second chances to those who have seen the errors of their ways. Second, it helps if we liked you prior to whatever transgressions you may currently find yourself in the midst of. And perhaps most importantly, it depends on the level of your transgression.


If we can relate to the circumstances surrounding your situation, we’re much more likely to forgive your lapses in judgment. Drunk driving for example, is a crime that far too many of us can relate to, and therefore one that we’re much less likely to condemn over. Domestic abuse on the other hand, is something much less socially acceptable, and therefore tougher to get over. And dog fighting, in an extreme case, is not only a concept that’s extremely foreign to most, but also stirs the emotions that many people feel for their own pets. Therefore even though the risk to human life is much less than in the previous two examples, dog fighting may be impossible to get past. I suppose we’ll see on that one.


When it comes to steroids in baseball, I think that many of us have difficulty relating to players’ circumstances. But should we?


Obviously it’s tough to relate to mega millionaires, who work six months out of the year, playing a kid’s game. Few of us can relate to simply working the job that we’d always dreamed of growing up. As professional baseball players, they’re doing the jobs that most of us dreamed of growing up. And it’s certainly tough to garner any type of sympathy for guys, who are grossly overpaid even amongst other professional athletes, yet routinely play out their financial dramas in the eyes of the working public.


On the flip side though, I think we also can tend to lose sight at times, of the pressure that must come with having to do your job in front of millions of eyes every night, and replayed in the media daily. Or what it’s like to be in an industry where you’re sure to be washed up before 40, and in most cases long before that. I doubt that many of us can relate to working in an industry where less than 1000 actual jobs exist, or where the disparity between entry pay and veteran pay can be as much as 5000% or more. And I doubt that many of us could envision a needle that would make us that much better at our jobs.


What I can say is this; I know a lot of people, who will do a lot of things in order to get ahead in this world. I know people who will cheat at Monopoly. There are people out there today, selling their friends down the river, in order to get a leg up on a $0.50 per hour promotion. I play in D softball leagues, and there’s always at least one low B level team, playing D ball and smashing everyone. (Coincidentally, some of those guys are using steroids, and they don’t make any mosey for playing) There are kids risking their lives on the corners of this city everyday for chump change.


I also know that most people want to be good at their jobs, at least I hope so. On the low end, I suppose you have to be good enough at your job to keep it. Beyond that, excelling at your job should lead to promotion and more money. And whether we care to admit it or not, we’re all suckers for positive recognition. And a little bit of competitive spirit amongst the workforce will certainly lead to better production, in any business.


So imagine for a second, that you are a professional baseball player. The odds say that you’ll be lucky to last 5 years in the business, and in that time you could make between $1 million and $2 million. That’d be a nice start to life. If you make it to 30 years old in the business though, you’ll be looking more likely at making anywhere between $7 million and $50 million. That’s a heck of a spread based on where you fit in the pay scale, but in any regard it’s set for life type money.  And on the extreme, you see about 5% of players walking away from their careers with hundreds of millions of dollars, with the notoriety to continue to command income.


Given some of the cut throat antics that have been known to take place in the average working place, with admittedly far less money at stake, it’s a wonder so many people are so appalled at the whole steroid issue. We are after all talking about a victimless crime. If there is a victim to be found, it’s the player himself, and that’s debatable at this point too. If I’m willing to take the health risks associated with the drugs, then what’s the big deal? Really, what is the big deal?


Am I supposed to feel sorry for the sanctity of baseball? As if such a thing ever existed. The reason why this is the steroid era, is because this is when steroids were available. If steroids had been available to players in the 1920’s, we’d be looking at triple digit home run records by now.


Am I supposed to feel badly for the guys whose jobs were being taken by the steroid users? Honestly, those guys were just hanging on no matter how you look at it. And with a fresh crop of rookies coming up every year, they were likely in that “5 years and out” group that we discussed earlier anyway.


Cheating, in my mind, is different. Altering balls or bats, stealing signs, bugging dugouts and the like are all forms of cheating that shouldn’t be tolerated. But taking a shot to help to improve your strength, alone will not make you a good baseball player. Heck, taking steroids without the right workout regimen won’t even help your strength. Steroids definitely don’t make you good at baseball, but they do make you better, and if used properly, much better. But there’s still a limit.


You could say that steroids simply help to make up for what genetics may have shortchanged you on. Obviously, steroids will only improve your game to the extent that they can improve your conditioning. If you were already genetically blessed, you certainly wouldn’t see the same proportion of benefits as someone who needed the help much more in the first place.


Try to imagine though, that someone walked into your office tomorrow with a pill that promised to make you better at your job. (This works especially well if you make commission or are paid for performance) Most of us would laugh it off. Most baseball players probably did initially too. There’s no drug that would make me better at my job. Right?


Odds are though, that there’s someone in your office right now, someone barely hanging on to their job in the first place, and someone desperate enough to listen. Maybe that guy would buy a bottle. He probably wouldn’t tell anyone but he’d buy one. But what if he set the world on fire the next month? Placebo effect or not, people would notice.


Maybe your guy would play it cool, and not tell anyone his edge. That would be the smart thing to do. But sooner or later, he’s bound to tell someone else. So now your guy has a small faction of others using his miracle pill and having success. It’s tough to tell exactly how much success, because not everyone is being honest about using it. Again, everyone loves recognition, no one wants to think that their success comes from a pill or a needle, and more importantly, they don’t want others to think it.


At this point, you’re certain that a number of people in your company are using this pill with success. Again, it’s tough to tell how much success, because no one knows for sure exactly who’s doing it. There are some people, who are using it overtly, and not all of them are superstars, but all seem to be at least better than they were before this pill came around. There are some other people who have shot up so dramatically in performance that you are sure they have to be using it, but you don’t have proof. And there’s a faction of employees still holding out and refusing to turn to a bottle to aid their performance.


Next, your company becomes aware of the drug, and because they’ve been told that it contains some illegal substances, and can be harmful to your long-term health, strongly advises against its use. They don’t however go as far as implementing a testing program. They don’t even actually acknowledge that the pill has aided in performance, they simply advise that their employees not use it.


You know what comes next; boom years for the company. All time sales records are being obliterated month after month and year after year, and everyone is happy. Everyone that is, except for those who decided against using the drug in the first place. Those who adhered to the company policy watched as management celebrated the achievements of those who ignored the policy. That is, those who were lucky enough to keep their jobs, many were squeezed out of the workplace and replaced with new employees who also seemed to be on the drug. Those who had been celebrated before this crazy pill came along were finding themselves pushed to the background. So some of them too gave in to using the drug. Who could blame them?


Need I remind you, that this isn’t the average office that we’re talking about? It’s Major League Baseball. And the employees aren’t making tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars; they’re making tens and hundreds of millions. There probably aren’t a whole heck of a lot of things that I wouldn’t do to hang on to a job like that.


Steroids in baseball are clearly a problem, and clearly something has to be done. But when it comes to the level of public outrage, I am surprised at the hypocrisy. It’s tough to put yourself in the shoes of a Major League Baseball player, or to contemplate a decision like whether or not to inject a needle full of oily syrup into your butt in order to be better at your job. But I can’t imagine that there are too many of us out there, those who have to drag ourselves out of bed each day just to make enough money to scrape by, that can say with absolute certainty that we wouldn’t.


I’ll say just the opposite. In fact, if there were a 10% chance that I could play one season, at the major league minimum by using steroids today, not only would I sign right up, I’d drag my… Well, you get he picture.