Eleven reactions to the A-Rod/steroids story

arod_250_020909.jpg1. Not steroids again. Not A-Rod again. I have seen both of these movies before, and wasn’t clamoring for a re-release or a sequel. This is how I imagine most people feel about Steve Martin’s “Pink Panther” films.

2. I’m still not certain what we’re upset about. We don’t know how performance-enhancing drugs affect a hitter’s performance. We intuitively feel that it should, but actual evidence is nonexistent. I have had acquaintances and fellow writers tell me, “They help you hit the ball farther,” or, “They help you see the ball better.” Unfortunately, none of them could cite a legitimate source for these effects. Indeed, any attempts to tease out the evidence of PED use in baseball statistics tend to come up with few persuasive results (for one effort, see Nate Silver’s chapter on PEDs in Baseball Between the Numbers — in the interest of full disclosure, I contributed a chapter to said book). The key fact is this: steroids help one build muscle. They do not necessarily help one hit a baseball. Indeed, there is no evidence for the latter.

3. Most of the players caught taking steroids have been of the most fringe-y types. These fellows did not turn into Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez. It’s hard to see that they received any benefit at all. When we turn to a Bonds or an A-Rod and say that they received a great benefit from using, not only are we automatically in the realm of conjecture about the basic effects, we’re also positing that they received a benefit beyond what other users received. While it is known that certain medications will affect various individuals differently (the impact of side effects varies, for example), it is something of a stretch to say that one guy gets nothing and the next guy gets 50 home runs, or even 10 extra home runs. If you’ve had radiation administered to your eyes, as I have, you will find out that some people have their vision reduced, and some go completely blind (as I have). One guy in a hundred does not turn into Cyclops of the X-Men and go about shooting bad guys with his optic force beams. That kind of result just isn’t on the menu of possibilities.

4. Given the chimerical benefits of PED usage and the fact that Rodriguez lacked the monetary incentives to use that seem to inspire most of the aforementioned fringe-type users, I am forced to fall back on one of the great explanations for everything, vanity. We already knew, or suspected, that Rodriguez was something of a narcissist. This is the confirmation.

5. Rodriguez had the best offensive season of his career in 2007. His 2008 offensive output wasn’t too different, when adjusted for context, than his now-tainted 2003 performance. How do we reconcile these things, assuming Rodriguez was clean after 2003 or 2004? Wouldn’t it be nave of us to believe that 2003 was the only time A-Rod was using?

6. Clearly, using PEDs does not help you come up with the big hit in a postseason game.

7. Rodriguez could play for another eight or 10 years. He won’t be eligible for the Hall of Fame for another five years after that. Get ready to become intimately familiar with this topic, because we’re going to be kicking it around for something like a decade and a half.

8. The bigger story here is not that A-Rod might have used, but that what should have been a confidential testing record was picked up by the government for no particular reason, and further that the government, as custodian of those records, were sloppy enough in their handling of them that we and Rodriguez have come to this reckoning. Whatever one thinks of what Rodriguez did, whatever one thinks of about Rodriguez, he does not deserve to be a victim of drive-by assassination in a legal proceeding against somebody else, and it seems like the 4th Amendment would give him (and you, and me) the right not to be. Of course, the 4th Amendment ain’t what it used to be.

9. The second-biggest story is the Gene Orza of the Players Union might have been tipping players to upcoming tests. That would throw the whole testing regime into question.

10. The “good” part of the Bonds story was that A-Rod was likely going to erase his home run record anyway, so we would have a “clean” all-time home run leader. Now, not so much — despite the complete and total lack of evidence that what Rodriguez might have done has had any impact on his home run totals anyway. This is yet another aspect of the story that will never, never go away. Thanks, A-Rod. Thanks, Feds.

11. The ‘net is teeming with unqualified advice for A-Rod and how he should handle these disclosures, and I’m not even tempted to join the parade. Despite the points cited above about the lack of evidence for the impact of PEDs on hitting performance, that doesn’t mean that Rodriguez should be perceived as being any less corrupt for having failed a test. The records may be safe but our estimation of this already unpopular player is not, and I imagine it will never be restored.


  1. debbpowers@yahoo.com

    My heart is broken over this story. First, I am sorry for Alex for feeling he needed or wanted to use anything when he was already competitive. He already had the natural talent and work ethic to become one of the best, if not the best, in the game. Why he tampered with that, I don’t get it. Secondly, my heart is broken for the Yankees with spring training about to begin. This should be their year and they do not need this distraction!! Stay focused guys – this will be your year!!! Finally, in addition to loving the Yankees, I just love baseball in general. This leaves a bad feeling with me. It makes me really sad. I will go to Copperstown when Jeter is inducted someday, but apparantly I won’t need to go for Alex.

  2. juliasrants

    When the story broke this weekend, it was a sad day for all of baseball & it’s fans. You’re right – we will be READING about this for decades to come and #9 above should make everyone’s blood boil! This needs to end once and for all.


  3. bigjay21

    A-Rod is not the issue, the MLB’s PED testing is the issue… A-Rod is just another victim left in its wake which includes Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds… Besides the fact that Baseball is a SKILL game and all PEDs do is increase your muscles (the only muscles that REALLY affect baseball are forearms, legs and abs), the emphasis on their affect on the game really comes down to the increase in injuries using PEDs causes on the player’s bodies. Every time I hear about a player going in to have a joint “cleaned out”, that is a red flag, as steroids make bones brittle and really degrade joint health. This is one of the biggest side-effects that steroids have on baseball, as 100% of baseball movements require healthy joints, and a career requires healthy joints for 80% of 15 years…
    I personally have dealt with the temptation of steroids in college while I contemplated a serious run at professional baseball, and ultimately decided against using the millions of steroid / vitamin / creatine / supplements that are out there on a daily basis. Professional baseball is a constant struggle to be bigger, faster, and stronger than the next guy 100% of the time, and the second you are slower, you just lost your spot on the team. This can make even the best players paranoid, as everyone is now in competition for your job, and the only way you can go is down the depth chart – which leads even great players to experiment with drugs that they would otherwise avoid just to keep their half-step lead over their nearest competitor…
    Again, A-Rod was not the problem…..

  4. narrowpiker@yahoo.com

    I have played enough competitive baseball in my life to know when your own genetic talent will take you only so far… PED will not contribute to your ability to choose within one second to swing at a pitch, nor increase your gross and fine motor abilities to hit a fastball or off-speed pitch within that second. Nor will PED change the fact that you will never have the arm slot, nor the genetic ability to throw a 90 plus fastball consistently into a strike zone. These are born talents. Will testosterone or growth hormone turn back the clock some years so your joints, connective tissue and muscles feel younger, more resilient and recover like they did in your early 20’s? Absolutely…. But you must have major league talent first, unlike other professional sports where brute strength/force can compensate for a lack of agility. Baseball, as we all know, is a mental game. So is bowling and golf… Are they next in line to be picked apart?

  5. jjt120@comcast.net

    “We don’t know how performance-enhancing drugs affect a hitter’s performance. We intuitively feel that it should, but actual evidence is nonexistent.”

    Are you serious? Have you been watching the game for the past 20 years?

    “I’m still not certain what we’re upset about.”

    Hello? “Dad, there was no way I was gonna make the team without the Deca-Durobolin. Like over half of the MLB guys are on the stuff. I’ll be fine.”

  6. wnybirds

    I don’t like the argument made in #2. I think the impact on performance is irrelevant. If I go to Harvard law, and buy the answers for the bar exam, and then caught, I get expelled regardless of the quality of the exam answers. I don’t think the honor board at Harvard will be overly impressed with my, “well, all the answers were wrong anyway” excuse. The goal of taking PED is to gain an unfair advantage over your peers. Whether or not it actually works is not the issue at all… Attempted murder is still a crime, just because you don’t achieve the desired results of an illegal act, doesn’t make the act less illegal or less honorable.

  7. wardjr521@yahoo.com

    I reject the argument that PEDs don’t affect performance because baseball is a “skill” game. Bigger, stronger athletes almost always have an advantage regardless of the type of competition. 1) The proof is in the pudding: if PEDs don’t work, baseball players would not use them. Did anybody but me see the spike in offensive numbers in the late 90’s and early 2000’s??? Was that a coincidence? Is everybody that naive? 2) Nobody is talking about taking an average Joe, beefing him up on ‘roids and HGH, and sending him out on the field to hit 70 home runs. What we are talking about are premier players. Guys who already have the elite-level eye-hand coordination, bat speed, reflexes, and plate approach. Take guys like that, make them 10-15% or more stronger, and suddenly routine fly balls are finding the bleachers, ground balls fielded in the hole are sneaking through the infield for hits, etc. This is why “fringe” players find minimal success on the juice- they never had said talent in the first place.

  8. indiansn06

    I just don’t understand why A-Rod has to be dragged through the mud for something in 2003. It only is an issue for him if he is still using them. What is the bigger deal is the issue of confidentiality vs. trusting the union and leaking names to the media for something that was not punishable. All this appears to do is tarnish another Hall of Famer and make him a Hall of Shamer in the Baseball writers’ eyes.


  9. rich@richandcandy.com

    *sigh* I am soooo far from caring who did what ‘roids when. I really don’t give a rat’s a#%. Honestly. It will be completely impossible to a) conclusively distinguish between which players did it, which didn’t and which did it but didn’t get caught; and b) conclusively determine whether or if any numbers should be recinded or performances erased. I don’t care about all of that. All I want is the absolute best testing program available from here onward. Beyond that, I give everyone (Bonds and Giambi included) a pass.

    The only thing about this that even remotely peaks my interest is how all of it was handled. Namely, what bonehead decided to actually attach any players names to any list whatsoever? It should have been conducted as a double-blind test, and all anyone would have seen were identification numbers. If they were ever serious about keeping the 2003 tests secret, there were ways to do that and someone dropped the ball. I am not surpised that the government was the source of the leak – they are usually the curlprit, either through incompetence, mismanagement or corruption. But, your point #9 is certainly alarming, as the best testing program on the planet can be useless if it can be easily avoided.

  10. cecil.smart@earthlink.net

    I generally enjoy SG’s views on baseball but frankly the first and second reactions to Arod’s disclosure about PED usage makes me want to vomit. Why is it that those who cover/play baseball are conflicted about the potential benefits of PEDs? Any person who participates in an activity that requires explosive movement would benefit from PEDs. This includes Olympic sports, football, basketball, golf and yes baseball. Just about every governing sports body has come to this realization except those in the baseball community continue to hedge with a weak argument of “It’s illegal but we don’t really know if it’s really beneficial in our sport”.

    Before I start I will confine my retort solely to the added power PEDs provide a player and not discuss improved eyesight, which has been demonstrated and with regards to hitting a baseball is an extreme benefit.

    Well this is what we know: 1) To hit home run a player needs to have a requisite amount of power, where in terms of physics power is defined as energy divided by time 2) PEDs adds muscle, which in turn makes a player stronger 3) A stronger player when trained properly can be taught to use this new found strength more efficiently, hence, made more powerful 4) More power equates to more bat speed 5) Increased bat speed with natural HOF ability will generate more HRs and creates one of the best players ever to play the game (Note: Bonds and Arod were considered the best propsects of their respective generations to come along in years).

    So please before discounting the potential benefits of PEDs just remember that the acronym PEDs signifies “Performance Enhancing Drugs” not “Performance Creating Drugs”.

  11. bocco50@hotmail.com

    I can’t say with any scientific proof that PEDs make you a better ball player. I am pretty sure they would not have helped my inability to hit a breaking pitch although I may have swung harder as I missed it! I am glad A-Rod stopped using them for his health sake. I am not the biggest A-Rod fan but I say he came clean, he admitted making a mistake so I am going to give him the benifit of the doubt and forget about it. Others can decide for themselves.

  12. bartap74@gmail.com

    Regarding number 8: The 4th Amendment protects against unlawful searches and seizures. The secrecy of the grand jury is, among other things, covered in the 5th.

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