19th Century PEDs and Andy Pettitte’s HOF Case

Today, Gary Sheffield retired. Following Andy Pettitte’s retirement earlier this offseason, that makes two players on the Hall of Fame bubble who were named in the Mitchell Report and admitted to using Performance-Enhancing Drugs — “the cream” in Sheffield’s case, and Human Growth Hormone in Pettitte’s case. Shortly after Sheffield’s announcement, Dave Cameron argued that his drug admission will keep him out of Cooperstown, writing that his stats are fine, but they’re not very different from a number of his peers in the era, and when you combine that with the drug use, “It is hard to see Sheffield gettting elected.” Dave may be right, but Bill James has argued precisely the opposite: “It is my opinion that, in time, the use of steroids or other Performance Enhancing Drugs will mean virtually nothing in the debate about who gets into the Hall of Fame and who does not.” It’s hard to know exactly how voters will regard drug use in the future, because we really don’t have any rational standard for how to deal with players who have used Performance-Enhancing Drugs. We need a working standard. Fortunately, a couple of pitchers from the 19th century give us a good place to start.

It should hardly be surprising that this issue goes back a really long time. Back before steroids, back before greenies became ubiquitous in clubhouses, back before the spitball was banned in 1920. As NPR reported in 2006, Hall of Famer Pud Galvin was known for using something called “The Elixir of Brown-Sequard,” which was basically animal testosterone, as early as 1889. More recently, Tom Shieber, the curator of the National Baseball Hall of Fame who writes a personal blog called Baseball Researcher, discovered a brouhaha over alleged performance-enhancing drug use in the 1894 Temple Cup Series — a precursor to the modern World Series — between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Orioles, which the Giants won. After the Series ended, some of the Giants were alleged to have taken a strength-enhancing “elixir,” and thereby gaining an unfair advantage. Many of the arguments from the time are very similar to drug arguments that we hear today. But I think it’s instructive, and I think it should help us develop a rubric that will help us evaluate admitted drug users like Sheffield and Pettitte when they become eligible for the Hall.

So here’s what happened back in ’94. The Giants swept the series in four games, winning the last game 16-3 on October 9, 1894. Shortly after that, a man alleged that he knew exactly how the Giants had won. Shieber discovered an article published in the St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat (which had been excerpted in a medical review) which outlined the man’s allegations. The newspaper itself redacted the names, but Shieber deduces their referents easily enough: “R” is Hall of Famer Amos Rusie, and “W” is Hall of Famer John “Monte” Ward. Here’s the news story that Shieber quotes:

R—— did not play in the second game that day, but just before W—— went to the bat in that critical fourth inning he gave him a dose from the blue phial. The effect was marvelous. W——’s strength seemed to be doubled and he whacked out that hot liner to right which saved the game to the Giants. … Those two boys have used it ever since, except in Pittsburg, when a new supply of the stuff failed to arrive. The Giants lost that game, but won the next day when the package arrived. They used the Washington physician’s elixir in every Temple Cup game, and I tell you that is the secret of the Giants holding that trophy to-day. R—— and W—— will both tell you so.

The drug wasn’t banned or illegal at the time, but when Cap Anson heard the account, he protested the use. However, as Shieber told me, Anson was known as something of a complainer, overserious and high-strung: if someone was “going to make a stink about it,” it would have been him. If anything, in the hundred ensuing years, baseball fans have become more like Anson, high-strung to the point of punishing anyone who may be suspected of taking a substance that may have been illegal. We’re still trying to figure out how to deal with success that may have been chemically aided. But this story provides a good place to start. There’s nothing wrong with what Rusie and Ward did: they took a legal substance that probably didn’t actually help their game. Any set of standards for evaluating players who used performance-enhancers should start with that fact.

In my opinion, when it comes to evaluating a particular method of “cheating,” there are only two relevant criteria: whether it was effective, and whether it disallowed by the rules. If a cheat doesn’t work, it shouldn’t be condemned. (Everything that Turk Wendell ever did was calculated to give himself an edge and make himself a more effective pitcher, from chewing black licorice while he pitched and brushing his teeth between every inning, to jumping over the foul lines to avoid touching them. But we don’t blame him for his superstitions: not only are they perfectly legal, they’re completely harmless.) Intent is important, but because one of the main problems with cheating is that it creates an uneven playing field, efficaciousness matters more.

Moreover, if a cheat isn’t against the rules, it shouldn’t be penalized as harshly. I don’t think that everything that hasn’t been expressly forbidden should be permitted — it’s often possible to violate the spirit of the law without violating its letter — but the letter of the law should matter, and it should probably be considered worse to break a written rule than an unwritten one.

Shieber digs deeper into the elixir that they may have taken, a concoction named Cerebrine, a legal drug that Major League Baseball had not banned. Cerebrine’s makers proclaimed that it was an animal extract prepared from ox brains, but contemporary doctors alleged that it was nothing more than repackaged nitroglycerin. In either case, whatever its effects on the human body, its ability to improve baseball skills is likely negligible and entirely psychosomatic. As Shieber told me, “What, apparently, Rusie and Ward were doing, was intentionally trying to enhance their performance. And yet I would assume that what they would think they were doing was completely fine. I suspect that they wouldn’t think it was any different from doing wind sprints in the preseason to get yourself warmed up. You do what it takes to get yourself to a high level of your avocation… whether it’s Powerade today, which is totally legal, or some bizarre snake oil in the 19th century.”

To draw a contemporary parallel, that also appears to be the case with regard to Human Growth Hormone, which had not been banned in baseball at the time that Andy Pettite admits having taken it. It was and remains legal in the United States, though it requires a prescription. Pettitte’s usage of it may have been illegal, if he took it without a prescription. But in other respects, he seems to have taken a legal drug that has no proven effect in improving baseball ability — and unless such effects can be proven, it’s hard to punish him for the speculation.*

*Many arguments about PED use boil down into some variation of: “He wouldn’t have taken it if it didn’t work.” To which I respond: look at Turk Wendell.

I don’t think all cheaters, attempted cheaters, and alleged cheaters should be held out of the Hall of Fame. After all, it already has a number of admitted spitballers, amphetamine users, cocaine users, liars, cheats, and scumbags. I simply think their career should be viewed through the prism of what they did to succeed. So, to deal with instances of alleged cheating, I propose a gradient: at one end would be the players whose cheating violated the rules and improved their results far beyond what they could have done fairly, and at the other end would be the players whose attempts to get an edge were legal and ineffectual. The former should have their career stats discounted the most; the latter should have their stats discounted the least.

Andy Pettitte and Gary Sheffield probably aren’t at either extreme. (For one thing, I find it hard to believe either man when he says that he only used drugs “once.”) Barry Bonds is probably at one extreme of the cheating spectrum (and I still think he’s a Hall of Famer). At the other extreme, you might find Derek Jeter and A.J. Pierzynski, who nudged their way onto first base by failing to tell the umpire the truth about whether the’d actually been beaned; that little bit of gamesmanship may have violated the spirit of the rules of fair play, but it certainly didn’t violate the letter.

So, should Andy Pettitte be in the Hall of Fame? I don’t think so, but that’s purely based on his numbers, not his HGH use. And that’s how it should be. Ultimately, drug users are people too, and when someone connected to PEDs retires, their entire career should be considered, including but not exclusively focusing on their alleged PED usage. Galvin, Rusie, and Ward are all Hall of Famers, and that’s how it should be, too. They aren’t the only men in the Hall of Fame who attempted to better their performance through substance use. Every new ballot brings new questions about how to handle drug use. The best way to answer those questions is to examine the efficacy and legality of what was used.




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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


63 Responses to “19th Century PEDs and Andy Pettitte’s HOF Case”

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  1. Telo says:

    Really interesting and well done write up. I agree with a lot of what you said, but there’s something very different about the steroid era compared to the “strength elixirs” and greenies of days yonder.

    Follow me with this analogy:

    Every week after school on friday a bunch of kids steal some candy bars from a store. They take advantage of the nice guy working the cash register who never really bothers them, even though he might suspect that they are lifting candy. This goes on for a while, and it’s never enough to make the store owner angry. He’s not even really SURE they are stealing anything, and it doesn’t bother his bottom line. This goes on for quite a bit, sometimes they steal candy, sometimes, soda. There’s no pattern or predictability, so it’s hard to point your finger at it.

    Then one day, one of the kids decides realizes that the store owner leaves the register unattended for a few minutes to go to the bathroom every once in a while. They steal money. Their parents start to notice that they are buying stuff they shouldn’t have the money for. They got greedy. If they were still discretely stealing candy and soda, nothing would’ve ever changed. But then they took too much, more than they should’ve, and everyone noticed.

    If all Bonds and everyone else ever took was HGH, to recover faster from injuries… there would never have been this backlash. Anabolic steroids was the cash in the register. These guys made the conscious decision to unnaturally change themselves for the most selfish reasons, and pretended like no one would notice or care. Then they shattered the most precious records baseball has (had), and expected people to embrace them.

    If Bond hit 1000 home runs, and had the same body he had in 1987, he would be beloved beyond belief, (even if he still was a jerk.)

    Steroids are different PEDs. They are blatant and unnatural and if anyone in the Mitchell Report never touches The Hall, that’d be fine with me.

    Just one man’s opinion.

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    • Spiggy says:

      A man spending most of his adult life waving a stick at a ball that’s moving really quickly past him is unnatural, but we pay good money to see it (and absurd money to them to do it). There are all sorts of compelling cases against PEDs, but what’s “natural” isn’t one of them.

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      • Telo says:

        So you’re saying baseball is unnatural.

        I think by definition PEDs are unnatural enhancers. I am simply pointing out the degree of unnaturalness of anabolic steroids as the catalyst for the backlash against PEDs.

        I don’t think you actually said anything useful.

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      • SF 55 for life says:

        Telo,
        Your first statement implied that because anabolic steroids were unnatural they were bad. He called you out on it, and rightfully so. Being natural or unnatural is not a reason to be for or against anabolic steroids.

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      • Telo says:

        It wasn’t that they were just unnatural, it’s the degree to which they unnaturally change your body. I may not have made that clear with the analogy. Nothing in the history of baseball has changed players so drastically as anabolic steroids.

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      • quincy0191 says:

        And who’s to say what’s natural? If a person has an overactive pituitary gland for whatever reason, and therefore has a natural overproduction of HGH, can we ban that person from the Hall of Fame even though they never took anything? Same effect, but in one case you’re taking the HGH, and in the other you’re injecting it, which is unnatural according to your definition. But then we’re saying it doesn’t matter what the effects are, it just matters how you get the stuff into your bloodstream, which I’m pretty sure isn’t the point of the debate.

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    • SF 55 for life says:

      To me this borders close to a political debate.

      Why should it be illegal to put something in your body that helps you work harder and gain more muscle in the process? You can tell me all the negative side effects about it but in the end its my own body and I should be able to choose what I want to do with it. The government should have absolutely no control on what I do to my body.

      Hell, we aren’t even sure how bad steroids are for you anyway. Almost every drug has negative side effects, steroids do to. There are plenty of scientists who say that steroids can be beneficial to the body if used safely.

      Why are they banned in baseball? Explain the difference between the unnatural stuff that athletes buy in GNC and other places. What about something like CEE? Completely legal, and is shown to increase muscle mass. Why is that legal? Because it doesn’t work as well? Silly, absolutely silly.

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      • Politicians have weighed in on the steroids issue, but this isn’t really a political debate. As I wrote, people in baseball have been debating what you can put in your body to play better for over a century.

        And this isn’t just about legality: it’s also about the rules. You can put anything into your body as long as it’s legal. But you’re not a baseball player. If you want to play Major League Baseball, you have to play by their rules. And those are the rules we’re examining.

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      • Telo says:

        “Because it doesn’t work as well? Silly, absolutely silly.”

        If there was a pill that instantly transformed you into Babe Ruth, regardless of health issues (but needless to say, it has side effects) and you were the commish of baseball, would you ban it?

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      • B N says:

        “You can put anything into your body as long as it’s legal.”

        This is a somewhat complex issue though. Is it legal to make a new, unknown performance enhancing substance and then use it until people figure it out and make it illegal? Because that has basically been the latest battles going on with designer PEDs, they’re literally being invented about as fast as they can be banned. I think it is more apt to say that one shouldn’t be using anything that people WOULD ban if they were aware of it.

        Plus, even legality gets complex. Players were using drugs illegal under US law, even if they weren’t banned in baseball law. Shouldn’t the game be able to assume that players are required to also live by the law of the land?

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      • fredsbank says:

        steroids have been proven to result in far more serious negative consequences than those most other things, surely you can’t have forgotten that

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      • SF 55 for life says:

        Alex,
        I agree with you, while I don’t agree with the rules the players should still abide by them. The problem I have is this:
        When someone like Barry Bonds allegedly used the clear and the cream neither substance was banned. Why should it matter that he did it if it wasn’t against the rules then? Greenies are illegal now, I don’t see anyone up in arms about Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, or Mike Schmidt being in the HOF. Most people will say that because it was against the law to use “which isn’t exactly true” he was in the wrong. THIS IS THE ARGUMENT I HATE!!! This is where it becomes political for me.

        Telo,
        Straw man much? Those are completely different situations. Steroids aren’t something that transforms you or your body. You still have to do the work to see results.

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      • When I said “You can put anything into your body as long as it’s legal,” I was talking to the commenter, not speaking about baseball players. A private citizen has fewer constraints than a baseball player. There are plenty of things that you and I can do that ballplayers are prohibited from doing — such as taking a plane to Las Vegas and betting on baseball.

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      • SF 55 for life says:

        fredsbank,
        I haven’t forgotten anything. There is proof that steroids can harm you. There is proof that tylenol can harm you, and antidepressants, and basically any other drug known to man. There is definitely a negative side to steroids, but there is a positive side to taking them as well.

        Regardless, just because something is bad for you shouldn’t make it illegal. Laws that protect people from themselves are restrictions of freedom.

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      • Telo says:

        It wasn’t a strawman, apologies if it came off that way.

        The point is – the degree to which something enhances your level of play of course should be a factor. No one should be forced to take a supplement to compete at the highest level.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        There are a lot of good reasons to ban steroids. From a governmental perspective, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to not regulate the drug market. There are a number of muscle enhancing substances that are legal. Each substance that is banned usually has a good reason. The FDA isn’t exactly unfriendly to business. Must illegal steroids don’t even attempt to garner FDA approval though, and are simply sold on the black market. This obviously makes it very difficult to measure the damage that the drugs can do to bodies. The other issue is that there are basically no long-term studies on the effects of PEDs on the human body, so we’ll learn a lot more in the coming decades.

        From a sports league’s perspective, the rational also makes sense. You don’t want only players willing to destroy their health to succeed. It sets up a rather perverse risk/reward system.

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      • Azmanz says:

        I think baseball laws are more important than US laws. Let’s go back to 2003 when it was illegal in the US to use steroids, but not in baseball. If you were to assume that everyone followed their countries laws and baseballs laws, then all that players would need to do was go to Mexico and shoot up.

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    • andrew says:

      Lasik, Tommy John Surgery, ACL Surgery, Modern Pain Killers, Labrum Surgery. These are all quite unnatural and some have a much larger quantifiable effect on the game.

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    • kick me in the GO NATS says:

      telo sorry but I think the kids stealing candy should have been spent a night or two in jail before they stole the cash!

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    • Llewdor says:

      This is nonsense. If you’re going to claim that steroids are somehow unnatural, and use that as a basis for your condemnation of them, then you need to justify that assertion. What makes the steroids unnatural when other materials are not?

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    • Cookiesboy says:

      In the mid sixties on Friday nights when the Phillies were home my Dad and I would go to Connie Mack Stadium. It was great time to be 10 years old, and a baseball fan.On those summer nights I got to see the best of the best, Mays, McCovey, Aaron, Boyer, Mathews, Banks, Robinson, and our home town heroes Richie Allen, and Johnny Callison. In 1963 as I looked at these players it wasn’t hard for me to imagine that some day I could be a big league player, these guys physically, didn’t look that much different then my Dad. Fastforward to 1993 opening day at Veterans Stadium. I was extremely optimistic about the upcoming season because the Phils had just come off a great Spring training. The 1993 team was made of guys that resembled Night Club Bouncers, not ball players. Darren Daulton looked like Vic Tanny, Lenny Dykstra suddenly had Hulk Hogan’s arms, and there were dudes named Incavilla and Hollins who could bench press the Rocky Statue. John Kruk, well, he actually looked like a baseball player.I knew it when I saw it!!!! These guys had gone beyond Greenies. They had chemically altered their bodies!!!! They definitely weren’t stealing snickers and cokes.

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  2. B N says:

    I think that this is one of those slippery slope arguments, one of those things where the argument seems to be: “Because it’s hard to draw a non-subjective line, we should simply have no lines.” While the research is very interesting, particularly the 1800′s pieces, there definitely is a qualitative difference between taking useless snake oil and having trained doctors give you drugs that make your hat size double. There may be a continuum, but it’s a non-linear one.

    For example, there are many notable offenses already in baseball that result in a permanent black mark (i.e. gambling). These offenses are deemed damaging to the integrity of the game, and basically anyone associated with them can very easily end up on the outside looking in. Breaking a major MLB record under the influence of PED’s may indeed turn out to be one such live-wire. Is that fair? Maybe not. But it’s probably still more fair than banning Shoeless Joe from baseball. It’s probably about as fair as banning Pete Rose. While “integrity of the game” is awful hard to define, the power brokers in baseball seem to be very apt to draw long-lasting lines in the sand to cut out people who have been viewed as damaging this “integrity” (whatever it is, exactly).

    From that standpoint, I think you would have to add “significance” to the list of important characteristics. Clearly, cheating in the world series is worse than the regular season. Why wouldn’t cheating to get a perfect game or cheating to break the HR record also be worse? I would think that the context is just as important as the efficacy or the legality.

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    • SF 55 for life says:

      B N,
      We will never know the motives for players though. How do we not know that Bonds was using PED’s to make his team better and help his team win a world series? You could look at it as possibly putting his life in risk to help his team win. That is a bit of a stretch, sure, but the point still stands. Context can be very deceiving, and can be heavily influenced by personal bias.

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      • I don’t think that’s particularly unique. The very purpose of cheating is to play better.

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      • B N says:

        @SF: Well, the context would be from the standpoint of the “integrity” of the game, whatever that happens to mean. The significance is not in the motivation, but in the outcomes. In that respect, cheating in the World Series is worse than cheating in the regular season- each piece of cheating has a bigger significance to the sport at that point. So in that respect, it’s probably WORSE to cheat so you can try to help his team win it all.

        While context can definitely vary from how you frame it, it seems like the following things seem to be of highest significance:
        - World Series Titles
        - Major Counting Records (HR, H, K, RBI, SB, etc)
        - Special Events (Perfect games, no-hitters, etc)

        If one cheated and it helped pull in one of those outcomes, then that cheating was more significant. I think most people have an intuitive sense of this when they look at PED use.

        It’s why it’s easier to discount the use of a guy like Grimsley, because his cheating pretty much only made the difference between him being in the majors vs the minors. If he hadn’t pitched that well, somebody else probably would have. While for Bonds, because he broke the HR record, he’s permanently changed one of the biggest records in the game. One could very well claim that without a PED edge, Bonds would have never broken Aaron’s record- we’re talking about a 7 HR difference.

        If you don’t penalize Bonds for the significance of his PED use, you pretty much have to elect him into the HOF. Even when he started using, he basically had a HOF resume. If PED usage is just “one thing” out of the bunch, and you just subtract your estimate of his “bad stats” from the rest- he has to be voted in. If, on the other hand, you take a Black Sox approach- you make an example of him. You say “This violated the integrity of the game. You get to keep the record, but we’re going to blackball you forever.” And then you hope that the next guy will think twice before risking that.

        I mean, it may be unfair- but it works pretty well. When was the last time you heard about gambling issues in baseball? So long as Pete Rose is on the outside looking in, any potentially legendary player wouldn’t be caught dead dealing with a bookie. Keeping Bonds out would probably have a similar chilling effect on PED use, at least among players with HOF talent. Probably wouldn’t be fair, but if one cares about defense/revenge with respect to significant events- it would be pretty effective. Keeping one of the top five players in the game out of the HOF would be a pretty strong line in the sand for players to try to obey the spirit of the rules, rather than the letter.

        I can’t say that I necessarily believe it’s the right thing to do, but I definitely believe it’s something that has to be considered for analysis- especially in thinking about the analysis of the people who are judging the hall and the influence from the commissioner’s office. Considering that Bonds couldn’t even land a league minimum job coming off of a 3 WAR season, I’d personally say that the blackballing already started 3 years ago.

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      • neuter_your_dogma says:

        Lifting weights, practicing and eating right also are done to play better. Cheating is to gain an advantage (or disadvantage, like throwing a game) that is prohibited by the rules, and in my opinion, go about it in a deceitful way. Bat corking, ball lubing, etc. all fall under the definition of cheating.

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  3. Kris says:

    efficaciousness = efficacy :)

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  4. cpebbles says:

    While hGH is indeed snake oil to healthy adults, it should be noted that it is a controlled drug. Some athletes may have received it from quack physicians in off-label uses (Which appears to be the case with Rick Ankiel), but it’s hard to argue that anyone was in the right while obtaining it from some clubhouse attendant.

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    • I noted that, cpebbles: “It was and remains legal in the United States, though it requires a prescription. Pettitte’s usage of it may have been illegal, if he took it without a prescription.”

      I don’t necessarily think HGH is snake oil: it may have legitimate medical uses. But, at this point, it doesn’t appear to have legitimate baseball uses.

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      • cpebbles says:

        Somehow I read that paragraph twice without seeing that.

        BTW, it has legitimate medical uses, if you’re a child with a growth hormone deficiency. Or, I suppose, an unscrupulous physician with a money deficiency.

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  5. Jim says:

    No one has demonstrated that any of the so-called PEDs enhance baseball performance. We don’t have sufficient data on who used what and when throughout professional baseball, so we don’t know whether steroids aided performance. The medical profession is very skeptical about that–steroids work well for fast-twitch bulk activities like powerlifting, but haven’t clearly demonstrated effectiveness in complex muscle control activities like baseball. For me, the most annoying feature of the debate over PEDs is the blanket assumption that they work. It’s still possible that *everyone* who used was a Turk Wendell. The burden of proof should fall on the accusers, who thus far haven’t bothered to show that harm was done.

    One common response to the above is a moral objection, that PED users showed a lack of character by trying to gain an unfair advantage (whether or not the substances were banned, I guess). I’ll make a deal with anyone putting forward that argument in a HoF debate: I won’t object to near-baseless “character” accusations against today’s candidates, but in exchange I get to reconsider current members in terms of provable character accusations against them. So Ty Cobb, who called fans, umpires and players n*****s from the field during games, could be subjected to another BBWAA vote, this time to eject him from the Hall.

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    • pft says:

      The absence of evidence is not disproof. The fact that athletes are willing to risk their careers and health to use these drugs suggest they believe they help.

      Perhaps it is just a placebo effect, but being stronger means more bat speed, or increased fastball velocity. Also, using PED’s suggest the player is motivated, and perhaps spends more time working out.

      Perhaps the biggest difference is players doing strength training, and having an entire offseason to get ready for the next season without working. Back in the 70′s, many players had to work during the off season and most players avoided weights for fear of bulking up.

      Bats are getting lighter which increases bat speed, and the use of maple bats since 1998 may increase the balls speed off the bat due to the maple is 20% harder. Bonds had biggest HR years after switching to a maple bat. Then there is the ball. The tolerance on the specs is so large, balls can be in spec but travel significantly farther or shorter depending on where they are within the spec. In 1987 HR’s jumped off the chart, and this was when Rawlings was moving it’s production from Haiti to Costa Rica, and perhaps there were some QC glitches in this period.

      MLB of course does not like to talk about the equipment changing the game. Far better to scapegoat a few players as PED abusers, punish them, and say problem solved while they tweak a few things here and there and get back to “normal”.

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  6. MorneauVP says:

    Well-written, but I can’t get behind your comparisons. To compare taking Human Growth Hormone to Turk Wendell chewing black licorice like it was going out of style is ridiculous.

    Wendell can talk all he wants and explain his superstitions, but when it comes down to it, in his heart of hearts, he knows he’s not improving his game by brushing his teeth in the dugout or wearing a shark-tooth necklace.

    Many, many HGH users took the substance in good health, with the full intention of getting bigger and stronger because they thought it would help their game — adding some more muscle to generate more bat speed or add a tick to their fastball.

    The efficaciousness is a non-issue. If you’re watching the Olympics and you see someone blatantly trip another runner in a track race, or a cyclist run someone else off the road, it’s cheating — even if the opponent gets back up and wins the race.

    The other factor in the Wendell argument is that no one in their right mind would have a moral opposition to chewing licorice. Even when HGH was legal, there were still players who had too much respect for the game to try to artificially enhance performance.

    I don’t disagree with the overall line of thinking, but some of your methods in defending it are ludicrous. To compare licorice chewing to injecting yourself with a substance you truly believe can enhance your game and give you an edge over those who have a moral opposition to doing so is absurd.

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    • cpebbles says:

      I guarantee that there are players who honestly think that praying to God and believing Jesus died for their sins makes them a better player.

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      • Phil says:

        And I guarantee that you honestly don’t believe that, despite having no measurable proof in either direction. Having no measurables means that point lies outside the realm of sabermetrics, so let’s leave it at that and get back to the topic at hand.

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  7. Phil says:

    To clarify, I mean that you don’t believe what those players believe, I’m sure you believe your assertion to be true.

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  8. Preston says:

    I’m sick of moral posturing. Steroids in major league baseball got out of control because everyone and I mean everyone allowed it to. The vast majority of owners, managers, players, reporters and yes even the fans were all complicit in what was happening. I was 12 in 1998. I remember reading that McGwire was taking Andro. According to the article it was sitting right in his locker in plain sight. At 12 years of age I knew that just because the FDA hadn’t yet classified it as a steroid, did not mean it wasn’t the same thing. I naively rooted for Sosa because I didn’t want a cheater to own the record. Where was the moral outrage? It has since come to my attention that people knew about and wrote about and tried to drum up concern about Jose Canseco and the Oakland A’s as early as 1988. We didn’t care, we liked the added offense, teams liked the added revenue, players didn’t want to break the locker room code of silence. It wasn’t until Barry Bonds made a mockery out of the record books that we started to care. And why shouldn’t he have done it? He was one of the greatest players of all time, a cross between Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. And he had watched for a decade as other lesser players used and we turned a blind eye. Then we saw what a truly great player could do with the help of steroids, become super-human. And now we blame him and every other player who used for doing exactly what we wanted them to do. I can’t stand the hypocrisy.

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  9. I really like your post Preston. These PED-apologists are going in so many different tangents trying to distract and confuse the core issue that PED’s work (see acronym) and the players know that they work, take them many times just to GET to the majors to earn a big contract, etc. etc. A bad statistical year after a large contract is signed is just as likely the player easing off of PEDs as anything else, in a sport where the money is guaranteed.

    I like that you mentioned Andro because there is a subtle element to it that is used as a PED-apologist trick. The reality of Andro is that yeah, it’s a steroid pre-cursor and it has some short-term effects-maybe you take it during a work-out or before a game for an added kick, but compared the real steroids and HGH it’s like a tic-tac. McGwire was taking massive amounts of PEDs behind closed doors but in front of reporters and random people he was taking “steroid tic-tacs” to try to pretend that that was ALL he was taking and that anyone could buy the same thing at GNC. Anyone with a real clue about the products knew it was a sham. There is a psychological or legal term for it that I’m forgetting but it’s like stealing 50 million from investors with a pyramid scheme or something, but then turning yourself in or openly admitting to jaywalking or stealing a candy bar to act like you’re open and truth. It was a joke.

    It’s my opinion that you have to severely discount a PED player’s production before comparing him to his Hall of Fame “peers”. So at this point Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols are the only players that I think might survive the discount, with ARod maybe third. My hope is that players like that get in and it ends there rather than snowballs. This isn’t a court case. It’s common sense. “When in doubt, leave a guy out.”

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  10. baty says:

    In my opinion, you let the “best” become a part of the HOF and their legacy becomes what it becomes by allowing their baseball stories to be told. If that means engraving the Bonds/Clemens PED controversy into their HOF plaques, then they should do it. They are all well aware of these risks as they choose to make the decision, and with whatever they choose, it becomes a major part of the player they become.

    The only deterrent for most of these guys is the potential branding of being a PED user. For any ball player, as long as the entire story is told, people can decide for themselves. MLB “created” this monster so they should be able to resign to that.

    Pettitte and Sheffield just aren’t Hall of Famers, so it’s more of the nail in the coffin to their cases.

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  11. Anthony says:

    why do people say “there is no proof steroids work”? That’s about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Just take a player, do some research, find out when he did roids, and do a before and after comparison and then compare that to players who didn’t do roids as far as trends go. Look at Bond’s WAR trend by year, it dips down, and trends down, then shoots up. Pretty sure roids help.

    To me though, that doesn’t matter. As said, PEDs in different forms are all throughout not just baseball history, but society in general. I don’t take adderal, but I know students who do (and probably don’t need it considering it’s not hard to get). I should bitch up a storm about that because a student who gets a job over me becaue he took adderal and got a 0.5 higher GPA than me doesn’t actually deserve it. Picking out steroids to me is like picking out cigarettes. Both are bad for you but there are also things that are equally bad or worse. Both are also obvious to point out, the effects are dramatic, and it’s a sexy news story. Steroids, BTW, aren’t actually that bad for you, like anything they’re only really REALLY bad when abused. The psychological effect that makes you abuse them is the worst part. Then again, the same can be said for caffine, alcohol, nicotine, pain pills, sleeping pills, and just about anything else. Like I said, the difference is it’s a lot harder to point someone who abuses pain pills.

    A steroid ban will never be lifted, and that’s fine (even though the game reached high popularity with roids). People who played in the roid era should be judged against their peers. Bonds was the best hitter of his generation. Clemens was one of the best. They both deserve the hall of fame. It seems to me that most people’s problem is when you compare eras. Like “Bonds broke Aaron’s record with PEDs”. To me that doesn’t matter because the real home run king is still Ruth. I say this because the game in home run ability between Ruth and his peers was the greatest of any player. Someone would have to hit like 1,800 career home runs to come close (Ruth had at least twice as much HR as anyone else I believe).

    What irks me the most about comparing eras is that people put Koufax and Gibson on a pedestal that will never be reached. They played in huge parks and had a higher mound, plus hitters weren’t as well conditioned. To me, Maddux and Pedro are every bit as good, if not better than Koufax and Gibson. Yet the general public doesn’t get this.

    As far as Pettite and Shef go, measure them against their peers. Are they good enough? I don’t know. I think hall of famers should be in the top 99.5% of their ERA. However you want to measure that. I don’t know if Pettite and Shef are.

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    • daniel says:

      Actually there really isn’t much proof that steroids worked. To my knowledge there has never been a study on the matter that found such proof. The only comprehensive and freely available study that I’m aware of – http://steroids-and-baseball.com/ – found that steroids had almost no effect on batting.

      And honestly, this is Fangraphs – you’re not really going to try and prove a point about the whole population by looking at one player’s aging curve, especially a historically good player like Bonds? It doesn’t work that way.

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      • mister_rob says:

        dont want to use a historically good player like bonds? OK
        Explain Luis Gonzalez.
        Or Brady Anderson
        you think sosa’s evolution from a 30/30 guy to a 65/0 guy was perfectly natural? you really dont see a correlation between that and the doubling of his melon?

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      • Azmanz says:

        I’m not saying that I don’t think steroids help, but mentioning head size in the same argument with trying to prove steroids help you play baseball is dumb.

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    • Cookiesboy says:

      There is no proof that Viagra makes one a better lover, but there are a lot of old guys out there ready to send their d#%ks to Cooperstown!

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  12. pft says:

    Perhaps the biggest performance enhancer was the ban on African Americans and Latinos of African descent. But thats another issue….

    The problem with judging players who have been caught using steroids, is that for every player we know about, there may be 10 times that who used without getting caught.

    Furthermore, steroids do not change your body all that much without doing a lot of work in the gym. When players decide to use steroids, they also spend a lot of time in the gym, so it may be that the additional gym time by a motivated player is actually more important than steroid use.

    As for what motivates players to seek additional help, or cheat, consider this. In the late 90′s, Rick Helling tried to get the MLBPA to do something about steroids use. His concern was that many players were being forced to use steorids to keep up with the competition. Playing fair when other players did not cost players dollars, or even their job. The average MLB players has about 10 years to earn enough to support him and his family for the next 50 years. If I was in that position, I would use as well, and so would most people.

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    • joe says:

      Yikes… didn’t realize Bonds working out a lot was the cause for his head growth… (putting aside the muscle mass on the rest of him). Steroids don’t change your body all that much? Is it normal for the size of a man’s head to grow when he’s in his late 20′s/30′s…. and that might be simply working out a lot?

      You think someone like Pudge putting on 20-30lbs of muscle in one offseason was simply due to him working out a lot, and him shedding it the offseason prior to PED testing was simply him deciding to work out less? And any potential steroid use (if he did take them) may have been just a minor factor?

      While you simply can’t take steroids and sit on a couch to get the benefits, I don’t see how you can even suggest that a lot of working out might be the primary reason and steroid use could be just a minor contributor.

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      • sopcod says:

        joe-

        To this day we don’t know EXACTLY what Bonds took, when he took it, how he integrated it into his workout routine etc. People are focused on steroids but there are many different kinds of steroids not to mention lots of other drugs and supplements.

        No one has ever isolated the effects of steroids because there are so many other mitigating factors. And of course the players themselves aren’t cooperating, nor are the suppliers, so we may never know.

        My take is this: throughout the history of modern athletics, the athletes have always done whatever they can to improve their performance. Diet, exercise, practice routines, medicine and drugs. Steroids wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last. The performance is what we have to go on, and in that respect McGwire and Bonds are first ballot hall-of-famers. Character does come into play which is totally subjective, so they may not get in anyway.

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      • Cookiesboy says:

        Joe, did it ever occur to you that Bonds took PEDS to increase his hat size, and those 73 home runs he hit in 2001 were simply a side effect.

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      • pft says:

        Steroids do not cause head growth, HGH does.

        In 1966, Yaz hired a strength trainer and worked out in the off season. In 1967 he hit 44 HR despite never having hit more than 20 HR before. No steroids then.

        As for Pudge, players with high natural testosterone can put on 20-30 lbs of solid muscle. Sure, maybe he had some help, but without the time in the gym, he won’t put on 20-30 lbs of muscle. Players sometimes only get motivated for a contract year, and once they get that contract, stop the steroids AND the workouts, and they lose weight and their performance drops off. Thats why you must beware the contract year.

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  13. mds says:

    Black licorice is nasty!

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  14. It’s a game and games aren’t fun unless everyone agrees on the rules. It’s as simple as that. You wanna play a game, everyone has to play by the same rules.

    The athletes today taking steroids and HGH desperately trying to stay one step ahead of the technical rules and the drug-testers know perfectly well they’re cheating. Why else lie about it? There isn’t always good medical info on the efficacy BECAUSE THEY’RE ILLEGAL and so not much incentive to test them. Comparing steroids and HGH to superstitions like skipping over the foul line is silly. HGH may not put an extra five miles on your fastball but it does get you recovered from an injury quicker and get you back on the field sooner. That’s cheating unless everyone has access to it.

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    • pft says:

      Every athlete has access to these drugs, and before testing, there was no risk. Even with testing, there are designer drugs that the tests can not detect.

      Rick Helling in the late 90′s believed usage was rampant, and that many players used them not to cheat, but just to keep up with the competition.

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  15. By the way, a Connecticut rabbi (and Red Sox fan) thinks that Jeter cheated.

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  16. Welcome to Alex Remington’s world where two wrongs equal a right. If something was done in the past wrong, keep doing it! Snort coke everyone! If you’re sick, go to a blood-letting clinic or give yourself a lobotomy! And by the way, the earth is flat so watch out on long cruises, you might fall off the edge of the earth. Great point Alex!

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  17. Daniel, do you work for MLB? A player doesn’t need to be “caught” to be a PED user. The testing system is a sham, and MLB has a quota of minimum guilty suspensions that they have determined is enough to make it look like they care. Ever notice that the people getting caught are either in the minors or are caught for something tame? It’s all PR-based fraud. They do everything they can to warn players that a test is coming, they delay penalties for no reason. Nobody wants anyone caught. Pujols is the last person they want caught or suspended. The facts are that he was a non-prospect who suddenly looked like the Incredible Hulk (and still does) and he blew up physically and statistically. He’s still a great player- hitting for high average and power too is not easy, but don’t be a naive fool.

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    • pft says:

      I also suspect that the testing program may be designed to protect the stars, except when they want to punish someone like Manny for his disgraceful act in forcing the Red Sox to trade him by faking injury in 2008.

      They may have a window where players know no random testing will be done, and they start and finish a cycle within these windows so by the time the testing comes along they are clean.

      Also, there are designer steroids that evade detection, and HGH is not even tested. The designer steroids may be not available or affordable for minor leaguers.

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  18. MikeD says:

    PFT, I don’t think anyone was protected and, in fact, it appears that they (the Feds) targeted the biggest names in Bonds and Clemens. Who leaked A-Rod’s name? There are many lesser stars (and non-stars) on the list, yet it was A-Rod who was given up.

    As for Manny and testing in general, no player needs to fear failing a drug test if they follow some simple rules and are careful to mask the PED usage. Manny was being Manny. He was careless.

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