The Current State of Baseball and Illegal Drugs

It is no secret to people who know me or anyone who follows this blog and has read my occasional baseball posts but I love baseball.  I follow certain basketball teams but I really don’t watch unless one of them is playing.  Baseball on the other hand, particularly live baseball is a love.  If it is live, I can watch any two teams at any level play.  I think I like the game so much because it one one of the things that my grandfather who spoke little English and I could watch in common.

This spring training 2009, what is the state of baseball.  Well, I think that the use of steroids is down.  George Vescey writes in the New York Times in his column titled “The Incredible Shrinking Baseball Player.”

Baseball clubhouses seem to be getting bigger this spring, with more room to move around. Or maybe the players are becoming smaller.

Out of the roughly 1,000 major leaguers in spring training camps, a couple of dozen appear to have lost significant weight in the off-season, all in the name of health and agility.

Some of them did it by eating grilled fish. Others played active video games with their children. Some went on diet programs or took up yoga. Others cut back on alcohol. Whatever they did, clubhouse attendants are coming up with smaller uniforms all over Florida and Arizona.

Whether or not it is because they are no longer using steroids or because, like many of us non ballplayers, they are discovering a healthier lifestyle, Vescey can’t say.  But he has his suspicions.

“You have to be a little skeptical, given the context of watching bodies change,” Dr. Gary Wadler, an internist and member of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said Thursday. “The explanation then was that they were eating more and working out more. Now if you hear players say, ‘We changed our ways,’ all you can do is be suspicious.”

But the weight loss can be good.

The model for clean living and technique over brute size is Derek Jeter of the Yankees, whose physique and hitting style have never fluctuated since he came up in 1995. Jeter seemed to be quietly seething last week when having to discuss revelations of steroid use by Alex Rodriguez. Not all of us did it, Jeter veritably hissed. That is an important fact to remember as players assert their inner athlete.

Baseball players did not necessarily need all the bulk they were sporting in the last generation, said Dr. Michael Joyner, deputy director and vice dean for research at the Mayo Clinic, an expert in exercise physiology.

“I think it’s better to say people were going in the easier direction,” Dr. Joyner said, referring to past weight gain. “Athletes are supercompetitive. Many of them are almost sociopaths in almost a friendly way,” he added, saying that players would compete in anything, including body mass.

Dr. Joyner recalled the power of a small hitter like Jim Wynn and a slender pitcher like Ron Guidry, of the 1960s and 1970s. He also praised the immortal lefty Sandy Koufax and the four-time Olympic discus champion, Al Oerter, who combined athletic ability and technique.

Still, thin just may be in. This minitrend has been labeled the Pedroia Effect by Greg Lalas, retired soccer player and writer for Goal.com. He was referring to the 5-foot-9-inch, 180-pound second baseman with the Red Sox who hit .326 with 17 home runs last year and was named most valuable player in his league.

I knew I’d get a reference to a member of the Red Sox in there someplace.

But the big story, at least in my mind, is the tie between the Barry Bonds trial for perjury and the tactics of the Bush Justice Department.  Who knew that all those questionable tactics would come home to roost in the trial of a baseball player for using steroids?

David Zirin writing in The Nation and also appearing of the Rachel Maddow show makes this connection.  His story “The US v. Barry Bonds” begins

This is a story about garbage. There’s the actual garbage overzealous federal investigators examined in their efforts to prosecute a surly sports celebrity. There’s the shredding of the Bill of Rights, crudely ignored by the government in the name of obsession and ambition. Finally, there’s the thorough trashing of people’s reputations, not to mention the game of baseball. Welcome to The US v. Barry Bonds; please disregard the stench.

The embodiment of this obsession was IRS agent Jeff Novitzky. He broke open the BALCO case after spending a great deal of time, to the adulation of the press, literally sifting through garbage and sewage.

Novitzky was given the green light by President Bush and Ashcroft to go for the jugular. In 2004, accompanied by eleven agents, he marched into Comprehensive Drug Testing, the nation’s largest sports-drug testing company. Armed with a warrant to see the confidential drug tests of ten baseball players, he walked out with 4,000 supposedly sealed medical files, including every baseball player in the major leagues. As Jon Pessah wrote in ESPN magazine, “Three federal judges reviewed the raid. One asked, incredulously, if the Fourth Amendment had been repealed. Another, Susan Illston, who has presided over the BALCO trials, called Novitzky’s actions a ‘callous disregard’ for constitutional rights. All three instructed him to return the records. Instead, Novitzky kept the evidence….”

It was a frightening abuse of power, all aimed at imprisoning a prominent African-American athlete. Yet despite the landfills of trash, the government’s case always rested on a flimsy premise. Bonds’s contention under oath was that anything illegal he may have ingested was without prior knowledge. The only person who could contradict Bonds was his trainer and longtime friend Greg Anderson. The government pressed Anderson to give testimony. He refused, citing a promise made by the feds that he wouldn’t have to testify after pleading guilty to steroid distribution and money laundering in 2005. The feds stuck him in jail for thirteen months to soften him up, but he didn’t crack.

We all knew that the Bush Justice Department was completely ignoring the Constitution to keep us safe from terroists, but to convict baseball players who used steroids?  I guess it could be a threat to the American pasttime.

It’s way past time to say enough is enough.

Whether or not you are a Barry Bonds fan, or consider him to be just a step above a seal-clubbing, pitbull-fighting bank executive, every person of good conscience should be aghast at the way the Justice Department has gone about its business. Barry Bonds, Greg Anderson and maybe thousands of others have had their rights trampled on, all for the glory of a perjury case that looks to be going absolutely nowhere. Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama have strongly indicated that the government is getting out of the steroid monitoring business. That is welcome, but after so many years, so many tax dollars and so many reputations destroyed, it all feels positively Pyrrhic.

You can also watch Dave on the Rachel Maddow Show.

I’m sure that there will be another drug.  And I sure that ball players get through the long season and the travel using the occasional upper, but for now at least healthy living seems to be a trend.

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