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Cheating is bad, but are the drugs?

Jul 30, 2013, 3:22 PM EDT

Bartolo Colon Getty Images

One of the issues many of us have with steroids is that they make players something they’re not. Or so we think anyway. Barry Bonds was practically a superhero in the early part of the last decade. Ryan Braun was probably destined to be a major leaguer, but now we assume that he was never meant to be an MVP. And it’s likely the case that more than a handful of pitchers who would have topped out at Double- or Triple-A otherwise turned themselves into major league relievers for a spell by juicing and adding a few miles per hour to their fastballs.

But what about the other side of juicing? What about the players who just want to be what they were? Many players have used the excuse that they turned to performance-enhancing drugs to aid in the recovery from an injury. Some of those people were undoubtedly lying, but others weren’t. Players want to play.

Bartolo Colon was pretty much written off as a major league pitcher after hurting his shoulder in 2009. Following a controversial surgery in which he had stem cells inserted into his right shoulder, he resurfaced with the Yankees in 2011 and was surprisingly solid, going 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA in 164 1/3 innings. It was the first time he had cracked 100 innings since his Cy Young season in 2005.

Colon performed even better for the A’s in 2011, going 10-9 with a 3.43 ERA, but then he was nabbed for testosterone use. The A’s re-signed him anyway, and this year, he’s been flat-out terrific, going 14-3 with a 2.54 ERA that ranks third in the AL.

We now know that Colon was a Biogenesis client alongside Braun, Alex Rodriguez and others. Many suspect he’s still cheating to this day. Even if he isn’t, he could still be deriving some benefit from the meds he got to help strengthen his shoulder.

And, oddly enough, I just don’t seem to care much about it. In reality, Colon’s crime is the same as Braun’s, and I pretty much despise Braun at the moment.

Colon, though, isn’t something he isn’t supposed to be. Instead, he’s a guy who simply bought himself a few more years. According to Baseball Info Solutions data, Colon is currently defying American League hitters with a fastball that averages all of 90.1 mph. That’s down from 92.7 mph in his Cy Young campaign eight years ago. The data doesn’t go back to when he first came up, but he probably averaged 94-95 mph in the late 90s, often going higher.

Steroids didn’t give Colon the excellent fastball accuracy he’s always enjoyed. They also haven’t helped him master a slider or a curve, which he never really did in the first place. He’s throwing two-seamers and four-seamers 85 percent of the time this year.

Now, maybe Colon’s cocktails will come back to bite him in the long run. We don’t know. Steroid use has always been reported to have dangerous side effects. Since we’ve demonized and criminalized steroid usage, studying whether these more modern regimens could prove relatively harmless is pretty much impossible.

We all like the idea of a level playing field, and if Colon is artificially extending his career, he’s taking a roster spot from a clean player. But, of course, depending on where you want to draw the line, half of the league is composed of guys who are now or will later artificially extend their careers. That’s just modern medicine doing its part.

It’s not like we’re ever going to win the war on performance enhancers. Chemists are always going to come up with new things. Someday, these new things won’t even be frowned upon. We shouldn’t be trying to outlaw substances that make us feel better and look better. We should just be making sure they’re safe.

Someday, people will look at the steroid era and wonder why so many people were so upset. They’ll have moved on. Perhaps not for the better. Perhaps they’ll simply be complaining about genetically engineered people ruining sports.

In the meantime, yes, by all means, punish the cheaters. But don’t pretend that the performance enhancers themselves are a black and white issue. The drugs keep getting better, and they’re not just for bodybuilders and professional athletes. Maybe they should be for everyone.

  1. scotttheskeptic - Jul 30, 2013 at 3:31 PM

    This, ladies and gentlemen, is the work of a pro-PED apologist.

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Jul 30, 2013 at 3:42 PM

      Sorry to be the spelling cop, but 5th paragraph from the bottom, it should say “regimens” and not “regiments”. Spellcheck isn’t enough, Matt.

      • Matthew Pouliot - Jul 30, 2013 at 4:47 PM

        Duh. Thank you!

    • nategearhart - Jul 30, 2013 at 3:51 PM

      Matthew says cheating is not ok, but maybe the PEDs themselves aren’t a bad thing. So in a way, you’re right, but you are begging the question. So what exactly is your retort; why are the PEDs bad? Remember, Matthew already spoke out against cheating, so you need to go a different route.

    • illegalblues - Jul 30, 2013 at 3:51 PM

      it also makes a very good point. if we have these drugs that help people, why in the hell not use them? what makes drawing the line at taking tendons out of cadavers and cortizone (a steroid) ok, but not HGH?

    • apkyletexas - Jul 30, 2013 at 3:56 PM

      @scott – >”This, ladies and gentlemen, is the work of a pro-PED apologist.”

      He’s got a point. My parents are both in their 70’s, and each one gets physician-prescribed and administered steroids a couple times a year for various age-related ailments. My mom for her arthritic knees, and my dad for his eyes.

      Steroids have a wide range of uses and have been used safely in Western medicine for many, many decades. I’ve never understood why our pro sports leagues are so opposed to their appropriate evaluation for recovery from injuries.

      • larrymahnken - Jul 30, 2013 at 3:58 PM

        Those are generally corticosteroids and not anabolic steroids. There’s a significant difference.

      • scotttheskeptic - Jul 30, 2013 at 4:07 PM

        Age itself, and the decline in abilities that go with it, are not age-related ailments. My personal stance with regards to PEDs has not been revealed, although my suspicion leads me to believe that, long-term, the effects will have been proven to be more negative than positive. Remember, medicine is an art.

      • paperlions - Jul 30, 2013 at 4:42 PM

        Steroids have been around and in use for 60 years. The long-term effects of moderate steroid usage are already known….and they are near zero. It isn’t that hard to learn these things if you bother to do some searching online and read the content rather than just listening to the endless stream of uninformed babble from sports reporters. Living in a city in which you breathe filthy air daily and drink shitty contaminated water while eating highly processed food is far worse for you long-term and short-term than steroids usage.

      • scotttheskeptic - Jul 30, 2013 at 5:09 PM

        paper,

        I filter my air through a high-temperature process, and decontaminate my water with a product of the Republic of Ireland.

        That said, all the literature I could find focused on short-term, moderate use, and specifically stated that the results of abuse could not be definitively stated. I do not recall which West Coast pitcher came forward about a month ago and stated that HGH, when used under the guidance of a physician should be permitted to aid in recovery from injury, I do not necessarily disagree with him. Though, I remain suspicious of almost everything.

      • raysfan1 - Jul 30, 2013 at 9:49 PM

        Larry–
        The quintessential anabolic steroid is testosterone. Obviously, it too is prescribed and used safely by many in hormone replacement therapy.

    • scotttheskeptic - Jul 30, 2013 at 4:00 PM

      nate,

      My point was actually intended to point out to the “Craig is a pro-PED monster” crowd that this what a pro-PED post looks like. (I have the unfortunate habit of assuming everyone follows all that is in head.)

      As for begging the question, it was a statement, not an argument.

      • stex52 - Jul 30, 2013 at 4:13 PM

        Good clarification, Scott. I misinterpreted your first comment, also.

    • pjmarn6 - Jul 30, 2013 at 9:41 PM

      Matthew, I would have thought that you were capable of doing a search “dangers of steroids”. The possible side effects of steroid use in men are the following: ncreased risk of HIV and Hepatitis. Increased risk of hair loss. Anabolic steroids can convert to variants of Dihydrotestosterone, the recognized cause of premature hair loss. In addition to contributing to loss, steroids can also expedite the process of male pattern baldness in predisposed users, Hypogonadism, the shrinking of testicles, a shrinking of the testicles, Increased risk of bodily hair growth. This happens throughout the body, but not on the head, elevated blood pressure. Due to their ability to raise red blood cell count and Hematocrit levels, steroids can cause blood pressure to rise significantly, Increased amounts of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind). atherosclerosis and heart disease, an elevated LDL can generate a negative shift in triglycerides, which contribute to serious health problems, l wered HDL cholesterol (the good kind), Lowering HDL cholesterol can increase the risk of coronary disease, Increased aggression, there is evidence that anabolic steroids contribute to addiction. the potential for psychological addiction is quite high, enlargement of the left ventricle of the heart. It has been well documented that coronary issues may result from the abuse of anabolic steroids, commonly beginning with the enlargement of the left ventricle.
      liver toxicity, edema (water retention), stroke, Steroids can lead to death, Heart attack. Abusers of anabolic steroids face a variety of potential heart related complications, among which are an increased risk of heart attacks and the possibility of coronary disease, prostate enlargement increasing the risk of urination problems and prostate cancer, gynecomastia, certain steroids aromatize (convert to estrogen), high levels of estrogen can cause the enlargement of mammary tissue in males, resulting in female-like breasts, sexual dysfunction, some steroids directly cause a temporary of a loss of libido and sexual impotence, infertility, some steroids cause a reduction in sperm count, resulting in decreased ability to reproduce, deepening of the voice. Death.
      That list should make men think twice about uses steroids. Its like cigarettes. One will not kill you but it all depends on your body, how it reacts to PEDs and steroids. They are not natural and decidedly, their use has many unfortunate consequences.
      If a baseball player can make in his career $20-$30 million dollars, and a regular fan can make during his life time $2 million dollars, does it make sense to waste your life and health?

      • raysfan1 - Jul 30, 2013 at 9:55 PM

        Very good. Now follow this link to see all the serious potential side effects of the dangerous drug called Tylenol:
        http://www.drugs.com/sfx/tylenol-side-effects.html

  2. DelawarePhilliesFan - Jul 30, 2013 at 3:32 PM

    I just think it is wrong for Craig to hack Matthews account like this

    • pjmarn6 - Jul 31, 2013 at 2:39 AM

      raysfan1 when the topic changes to tylenol abuse, then I will mention the side effects of tylenol. Try and stay on topic. Better yet worry about your own health, if you have been taking steroids or PEDs. On average a person who is a steroid abuser or a PED’s abuser lives 7 years less. Great these idiots made so much money. Now the trick is to replace the 7 years that they are going to lose by abusing the drugs. I am sure that an occasional tylenol is not similar to constantly taking steroids or PED’s.
      I learned 43 years ago how dangerous most drugs are. Ever since I read up on the side effects and for how long one can take a medicine without risking one’s health.
      We have doubled human life span in the last 100 years and it is due solely to medications and vaccines. The druggies in baseball, will forfeit 7 years of their lives on average and not be able to enjoy the millions that will go to the government.

      • pjmarn6 - Jul 31, 2013 at 2:51 AM

        There is a book, by Jean Carper, called Stop Aging Now. It describes how vitamins and certain foods can help people slow the aging process and enjoy healthier and longer lives. There are no steroids or PEDs mentioned. Few people know nature’s cycle. Animals, of which humans are one specie, were not meant to live longer than the average reproductive age of the human female. In nature, the average age of any animal specie is the average fertility limit of the specie’s female. A woman general stops being fertile at 40-45. Therefore nature has decreed that humans should only live 40-45 years. With the advent of modern medicines, vaccines, new operation procedures, the preventing of epidemics, modern sanitation and the recognition of the necessity of a balanced diet and good food, mankind has actually doubled his allotted time on earth. But if ball players want to use steroids or PED’s later in their lives when their bodies are caving in, they can thank their greed and stupidity for living shorter lives.

  3. xmatt0926x - Jul 30, 2013 at 3:38 PM

    There are people who feel anyone over 40 or so should at least try HGH. I know Sly Stallone was quoted a few years back as saying he can’t believe anyone over 35 wouldn’t at least explore the idea.

    I’m sure it does turn the clock back several years but I’d be scared to death to inject that stuff.

    • El Bravo - Jul 30, 2013 at 3:43 PM

      See side effects.

      http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/human-growth-hormone-hgh

      • El Bravo - Jul 30, 2013 at 3:49 PM

        Also, and most important to your point:

        “Sylvester Stallone has finally fessed up to what some of us have known for quite a while, in that he has been using HGH and testosterone to prepare for his physically demanding roles of Rocky and Rambo. Rather than his use his private label supplements that he sells to his fans to prepare for these roles, Stallone has credited a combination of prescription testosterone and HGH with adding 41-pounds to his 61-year old frame.

        So right there we have a great example of the horrible side effects of these performance-enhancing drugs; HGH and testosterone have allowed the 61-year-old Stallone to make more of these movies. This is clearly the biggest and most dangerous public health risk posed by these PEDs.”

      • nightman13 - Jul 30, 2013 at 3:53 PM

        Those side effects aren’t nearly as bad as some of hte ones you hear for Lunesta and some of those asthma inhalers.

      • El Bravo - Jul 30, 2013 at 3:59 PM

        Oh I agree. It is hypocritical for our overly prescribed drug-infused society to lay blame on these athletes with much more to lose if they don’t take PEDs than your average office employee. That said, the drugs are banned by the MLB, so they should be punished accordingly. Plus I hate liars.

      • nightman13 - Jul 30, 2013 at 4:07 PM

        I agree that he should be punished for using a banned substance and believe me the lying and indignation is what really got people going with Braun. But who drew the line between what is acceptable and what is not and how do you keep that line clearly defined?

        If Braun comes back and there is no drop off does that mean that HGH doesn’t really have much effect? Steroids obviously provide a huge benefit, but the benefits of HGH aren’t as clearly defined.

      • nightman13 - Jul 30, 2013 at 3:58 PM

        Honestly, I still want to know how supplements that help you build muscle or recover faster are not considered performance enhancers. I know steroids and the stuff you get at GNC are completely different animals, but both do the same thing to varying degrees.

        The thing I’m most interested in seeing is Braun’s performance the rest of his career. What if there is no significant dropoff? Then where do we stand on this stuff?

      • dowhatifeellike - Jul 30, 2013 at 4:08 PM

        Something not listed is that if you start injecting steroids/HGH/whatever, your body starts producing less of it. Do it long enough and you’ll never ramp back up to your pre-juicing levels naturally. Short term gain is often long term pain.

      • km9000 - Jul 30, 2013 at 4:11 PM

        If this means Colon will finally get to star in a modern-day adaptation of the Marx Bros, I’m all for it!

      • dowhatifeellike - Jul 30, 2013 at 4:11 PM

        And as an aside, your muscles get bigger but your ligaments and tendons do not get stronger. Weekend warriors have much lower rate of ligament issues than professional athletes because pros are so strong that they push the limits of what their bodies can handle. A sudden increase in strength is just begging to pop something.

      • jm91rs - Jul 30, 2013 at 4:16 PM

        nightman, I’d assume that if Braun’s career doesn’t tail off after this we’ll all wonder how he’s found a way to beat the system. Obviously he was using something he shouldn’t be using, and passing every test since the one that was mishandled after his MVP year. I have no doubt that most will assume he’s still using the same stuff, just getting it somewhere that MLB hasn’t discovered yet.

        Unfortunately after being busted twice I think you lose the benefit of the doubt. Eventually we just won’t care as much about this type of stuff, but it’s never going to go away.

      • xmatt0926x - Jul 30, 2013 at 4:17 PM

        El Bravo, to your point about his movies being the worst side effect. They weren’t cinema classics, but Rocky Balboa and the last Rambo movies actually weren’t horrible. They were “ok” at least.

    • dowhatifeellike - Jul 30, 2013 at 4:00 PM

      Nearly every male action star juices. Look at how big The Rock was 10 years ago (already a superstar) compared to now. It’s done in the name of entertainment, particularly for appearance. I don’t think they should have access to anything my doc wouldn’t give to me.

      I’d be lying if I said I’d never consider taking something if given the opportunity and the timing was good. A single cycle of steroids really doesn’t cause any long-term damage. The difference is that I’m not paid for my performance, and others aren’t paid relative to my performance. I don’t know of anyone who needs to get me out for a living.

      • jm91rs - Jul 30, 2013 at 4:17 PM

        You’re telling me that wrestlers juice? Thanks for ruining that “sport” for me too.

      • Anoesis - Jul 30, 2013 at 4:27 PM

        I somewhat understand your point, but you’re confusing two different things. The headline of this story is the point. I don’t know what you do for a living, and don’t need to know, but there are levels of “juicing” in every vocation.

        If you are involved in any competitive endeavor (the very definition of a free-market economy) then there are those who will look for an unfair, perhaps illegal, advantage. That’s the gist of the argument: Circumventing the rules, whether you agree with them or not. In any business your competitor is certainly looking to get you out.

        Therefore you are indeed being paid for your performance and others in your field are paid relative to your performance as well as their own.

      • dowhatifeellike - Jul 30, 2013 at 6:30 PM

        Anoesis, the headline of this story (“the point”) is about drugs. Performance enhancers, specifically. Free market economics that do not involve performance enhancing drugs are not at all relevant, which is why I wrote what I wrote.

  4. El Bravo - Jul 30, 2013 at 3:40 PM

    http://memegenerator.co/instance/28965708

  5. captainwisdom8888 - Jul 30, 2013 at 3:47 PM

    I hear it shrinks your balls, but mine happen to be exceptionally large so I think I can afford to do a few cycles…

    The thing I don’t agree with is how a lot of people are reacting to this like Braun and A-Rod killed somebody. Chill out on all that, these guys aren’t guilty of anything truly despicable…they just wanted to get their Hulk on.

    • El Bravo - Jul 30, 2013 at 3:51 PM

      The lying routinely about it is what I find despicable, not necessarily the drug use [takes another puff]

      • Walk - Jul 30, 2013 at 4:12 PM

        What exactly were they supposed to say? It is a rule violation at the very least and a crime at the extreme end, did you really expect them to confess? I know the press conferences on the infinite variations of “I am not a crook” are tiresome and insulting. I also would like to think I would never be in their situation. What if I was in that situation? What would i say then? Would I try to protect everything I have sacrificed throughout my whole life for? Would you? I felt almost certain I would not, but then I thought about and some doubt creeped in, and now I feel ashamed.

      • El Bravo - Jul 30, 2013 at 4:16 PM

        This dilemma only occurs if you knowingly cheat and lie about it. The honest players, like honest people in general, don’t have to let guilt ride over them their entire career/lives. I know that is wishful thinking and most players will go ahead and cheat, but that is the only way you don’t find yourself in that predicament you outline.

      • jm91rs - Jul 30, 2013 at 4:21 PM

        Do you think if Braun hadn’t been busted before and lied about it the reaction would be different? I tend to agree with you that his lie is the bigger crime (public perception wise). Had this been his first known transgression, and he issued the same statement he issued after the bio-genesis suspension, I think he’d wind up in the Andy Pettitte camp down the road (ie an “honest” cheater).

  6. sdelmonte - Jul 30, 2013 at 3:50 PM

    I have been saying this for years! Essentially, “they’ve invented drugs that can make your healthier! How cool is that?” Is there really a difference between a drug that can make you healthier and a surgery that can make you healthier?

    For that matter, is there a difference between a drug that can make you stronger and a workout regimen than can make you stronger, aside from one involving hard work and the other being seen as a shortcut?

    It’s not that there are not a lot of questions. About the safety of steroids, about finding a way to keep teens from using them when it might be safe for adults, about the ideas of a level playing field and of the spirit of the game and so on. And yes, about the law and the likelihood that a fairly prohibitionist government will never legalize anything not currently legal (including pot). But I have long felt there is a lot of room for debate. For scientific inquiry. And for breaking away from simplistic, moralistic answers to questions that will only get harder. Someday, there will be gene therapy that could change everything for the entire human race. Getting on a soapbox and declaring “cheating is bad, and this is cheating” will not address any of the very serious concerns we will face in just a few decades, if not sooner.

    Which is not to say that the rules aren’t the rules and the laws aren’t the laws. You break the rules, and you deserve to be punished as spelled out in the rules. But I refuse to let that be the end of the discussion.

  7. chaseutley - Jul 30, 2013 at 3:55 PM

    Nice article.
    Here’s a thought: Are baseball players taking PEDs fundamentally any worse (from a health standpoint) than baseball fans racking up 5000 calories on hot dogs and beer?

    • El Bravo - Jul 30, 2013 at 4:12 PM

      I’ll take a PED pie thanks very much.

  8. ctony1216 - Jul 30, 2013 at 4:17 PM

    Coach, I’m sick! I have warning-track power! Well, I’ve got some medicine for that, Ryan.

  9. bh192012 - Jul 30, 2013 at 4:48 PM

    I don’t understand this article…. it’s conclusion is “Maybe they should be for everyone.”

    Legal drugs are. Even in baseball as evidenced by Colon’s stem cell injection. They also alow other drugs if perscribed by a doctor. You’ve sucessfully argued that legal drugs should be legal.

    Congradulations.

  10. bh192012 - Jul 30, 2013 at 4:52 PM

    Here, maybe we can get Colon to play in the NL… he just need to hit.

  11. myhawks1976 - Jul 30, 2013 at 6:59 PM

    ok, so we can turn this in to a moral issue, or a societal issue, or even a health issue. the very subject of PEDs in and of itself can be told in many ways.

    the reason I have a problem. their against the rules. the players knew they were against the rules and they took them anyways.

    I have no problem with them all being punished. I may not agree with all the rules at my workplace but you know what, I break em, I’m disciplined. right up to the point of dismissal.

    why should pro athletes be treated any differently?

  12. cdeangelus - Jul 30, 2013 at 7:07 PM

    Here are some reasons why I think you need a zero tolerance approach to the PEDs in Baseball:

    1) It creates an arms race. If you allow the drugs in the game, you create a system where you must dope to compete. And then you’ll have people who feel compelled, even against their beliefs or values, to use PEDs to be able to compete in the game. I contend it would be bad for the game to make PEDs a de facto standard to compete.

    2) Think of the children. I know, I know, politicians invoke “think of the children” when they have a weak case, but let’s go thru this. If we allow PEDs in the Majors, we are telling our youths that they will, at some point, have to start taking PEDs to be able to compete at the Major League level. If you are on track for being drafted, doing exceptional in high school, all that, at what point do you start this PED regimen? Do you start it at 14? 16? Once you’re an adult? Hell, why not get my kid started on it at age 6 when he’s still hitting off a tee, and get the maximum effect over a lifetime? What if they start too late? Hey, what about the cost of these PEDs? There’s going to be kids who can’t afford to take PEDs at age 14, right? They’re not free, you know. You’d create an economic discriminatory situation.

    On the other side, what about the kids in countries with lax steroid policies, or lower standards of medical care? Are they going to be as fastidious about their steroid use as people from wealthy nations/families? And would MLB be enocouraging these kids to use PEDs in a less than safe environment? Isn’t that a terrible responsibility to put on MLB?

    I could go on, but there are legitimate, good and solid reasons not to allow PEDs in baseball, and it has nothing to do with asterisks.

    • clemente2 - Jul 30, 2013 at 8:46 PM

      I don’t agree with all this, cde, and I think there is alot of subtlety being lost in usages to recover versus get bigger/stronger, but I thank you for a measured and reasonable statement of your position. I am reading too many “Cheaters! Kill them!” comments.

  13. sawxalicious - Jul 31, 2013 at 1:35 AM

    “According to Baseball Info Solutions data, Colon is currently defying American League hitters with a fastball that averages all of 90.1 mph. That’s down from 92.7 mph in his Cy Young campaign eight years ago.”

    Brooks Baseball is showing Colon’s average four-seam fastball to be 92.58 mph this year. He topped out at 96.72 mph on 7-8-13 against the Pirates. His average fastball on that day was 94.50 mph. Pardon the pun, but it seems Bartolo still has a lot of juice on the ball.

    Not saying I totally disagree with the point you were trying to illustrate with Colon, but it’s not exactly like he’s become Greg Maddux….

  14. Tim's Neighbor - Jul 31, 2013 at 1:38 AM

    Good analysis from a legit medical doctor in this article. Ohhhh wait.

  15. louhudson23 - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:26 AM

    Screw the ethics…(if you choose)…the reason to not let them do “whatever it takes” is that the resulting( so called) baseball sucks…..if you like that crap,then just get the HR Derby DVD and let her roll….or stick to PlayStation…..the baseball of today far exceeds the freak show…..

  16. pipkin42 - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:43 AM

    The d

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