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Must-Click Link: Gabe Kapler has the smartest take on PED speculation you’ll ever see

Aug 20, 2013, 11:03 AM EDT

Gabe Kapler

Everyone — and I mean everyone — should read Gabe Kapler’s essay about his decision not to use PEDs and his views on speculation about PED-using players over at Baseball Prospectus. It is easily the best take I’ve seen on the matter.

For PED hawks, there is an extremely useful lesson about the assumptions we tend to make about muscular or powerful players. Kapler was absolutely chiseled as a player and put on muscle to spare from the time he was drafted in the late rounds until he emerged as a power-hitting outfielder. But he explains in detail the emergence of his power, the reasons behind it and the pressures which led him to the point where “to take PEDs or not to take PEDs” was the biggest question in his life.  He didn’t, and if you throw him into the pile of “why should we believe you?” guys, you’ve simply not read the article and simply won’t believe anyone about anything ever.

At the same time, the folks who tend to defend PED-using players — folks like me — have a lot to take away from this as well. Kapler talks about the effect of testosterone on a player, the confidence-boost involved and the pressures one faces when one senses physical decline. It’s awfully hard to read that and to maintain a blithe “most PEDs have little effect” stance as some of us are prone to doing.

Given his balanced take, it’s not surprising that the two takeaway quotes from the whole piece are words that you rarely if ever hear from one person in the PED discussion. First:

In baseball, there isn’t a factor more responsible for success than confidence. I’ve never in my life had a player tell me different. If a man is stronger on the field and can recover more quickly, he’s inherently going to believe in his ability more. I submit that if anything, the value of PEDs to a player has been drastically underpublicized as opposed to overblown.

Then:

The men who have tested positive for PEDs include Ryan Franklin (skinny), Bartolo Colon (not skinny), Melky Cabrera(not muscular), Neifi Perez (skinny) etc. Do bodybuilders use steroids? Of course. Like the American population, users come in all shapes and sizes. Men in major league baseball who don’t use also vary greatly in body type … Until we have a positive test, an admission of guilt, an accepted suspension or some other unequivocally accurate anecdotal evidence, we’d be wise to assume innocence so as not to unjustly jeopardize the reputations of undeserving human beings.

The common denominator: don’t ignore the facts, especially when they are uncomfortable for you. If, like me, you believe that people go to crazy extremes to demonize those who take PEDs, don’t forget for a second that they are banned and are banned for a reason. If, like others, you believe that the PED problem is huge and awful for baseball, don’t forget that your convictions on the matter don’t give you actual information about who is using.

Just a fantastic read from someone with way more knowledge and experience on the matter than almost any of us will ever have.

  1. dondada10 - Aug 20, 2013 at 11:05 AM

    Gable?

    Watched Gone with the Wind recently?

    • dickclydesdale - Aug 20, 2013 at 5:32 PM

      Kapler was a serious steroid user as was Nomar and Craig Biggio. Bottom line everyone including the bat boys use steroids because in baseball there has always been & always will be cheaters.

  2. yahmule - Aug 20, 2013 at 11:11 AM

    “Bartolo Colon (not skinny)”

    Well, that was a right charitable way of phrasing the situation, Gabe.

  3. scoutsaysweitersisabust - Aug 20, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    Craig’s getting his beefcake quota in this month.

    • historiophiliac - Aug 20, 2013 at 11:34 AM

      August has been decidedly more stingy on that than July was.

      • yahmule - Aug 20, 2013 at 11:41 AM

        I would tell you check Roger Bernadina’s Google Image page, but that Shark nickname has inspired some creepy photoshops.

      • indaburg - Aug 20, 2013 at 4:55 PM

        The funny thing is, Gabe’s writing is much more attractive than he is. He’s orange and too big.

        Less beefcake, more brains.

      • historiophiliac - Aug 20, 2013 at 5:02 PM

        Where have you been lately? You have hardly posted in recent days. :(

        Yeah, I’m not so much into the super beefy dudes either. Truthfully, minuscule body fat percentage creeps me out.

      • indaburg - Aug 20, 2013 at 5:16 PM

        Someone’s been keeping me busy. ;-)

        I read the blog posts but truthfully, a lot of the commenters have been turning me off lately. If it wasn’t for you, unclemo, OG, proudlycanadian, nbjays, raysfan, COPO, koufax, FC, APBA, ‘lions, and oh, yeah, that cur fellow, I don’t know if I’d bother posting. Actually, there’s quite a few of y’all I like. Never mind. :-)

      • historiophiliac - Aug 20, 2013 at 5:20 PM

        I am highly offended that you are ignoring us. I have had no one to “ABBOY” and discuss the hotness of Anibal Sanchez with. /sniffs

      • indaburg - Aug 20, 2013 at 5:30 PM

        LMAO The sexiest thing about Anibal is his K/9 ratio although… he does have a pretty smile.

      • historiophiliac - Aug 20, 2013 at 5:33 PM

        That new beard is looking a little Luke Scott-ish. He has pretty hair though. And, seriously, he does seem to make the Detroit uni look kinda disco-sexy. But, yeah, he pitches alright. lol

  4. yahmule - Aug 20, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    I have always believed the confidence factor was huge. Not only in the increased confidence an athlete feels when they believe they’ve given themselves an advantage, but conversely, the diminished confidence a player might feel if he knows others are gaining an unfair advantage. This competition based peer pressure has always been my strongest objection to PEDs.

    • eshine76 - Aug 20, 2013 at 12:47 PM

      Look at closers. The best believe they are going to shut down the line-up every time they come out in the 9th. In addition, depending on the pitcher, some batters might be saying “we need to get these runs in the 8th, because we’ve got no shot in hell at scoring in the 9th.” When a closer loses that edge, he’s cooked and the batters feed off of that. In cases like this, confidence (or a lack thereof) becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

      • yahmule - Aug 20, 2013 at 1:41 PM

        I remember seeing it most vividly when I played and coached youth sports. Success and failure is writ large across the faces of many young athletes when games get tense.

    • indaburg - Aug 20, 2013 at 4:37 PM

      The confidence aspect, I am convinced, is the key.

      There is a research study I would love to do. Get three groups of athletes. Tell Group A I am giving them a PED X, the latest and greatest substance that will increase their strength, endurance, and speed while reducing recovery time. Every athlete’s dream-stronger, better, faster, longer. Of course, they will receive a placebo. Group B will be told they are receiving run of the mill multi-vitamins. Nothing special. Group C gets nothing. All three groups receive identical intense physical training, nutritional advice and supplementation, medical care and so forth. I am convinced that regardless of the sport, Group A will outperform the other two groups by a significant factor, even greater than the placebo effect. Call it the Confidence Effect.

  5. thebuzzonny - Aug 20, 2013 at 11:29 AM

    I didn’t know A-Rod was on the 2000 Rangers.

  6. nategearhart - Aug 20, 2013 at 11:32 AM

    If you ask me, the “takeaway quote” is the entire last three paragraphs. Really good stuff.

    • jtorrey13 - Aug 20, 2013 at 12:07 PM

      I liked the essay and I find I agree with him on most of his points. However, I think it’s the fourth paragraph from the end that makes the most sense to me as the “takeaway quote.”

      Just like everyone has a different body, everyone has a different mind, everyone has a different aging curve. Trying to separate that on an individual basis from the noise of different pitchers (clean or not), different stadiums, different weather, different numbers of teams and different balls using statistics that reward outcome and not preparation (that Law and Kapler talks about in the “Behind the Dish” podcast) like those we seen on most sites, and I don’t see how you can figure out who used or uses. I don’t even know if it a worthwhile goal. I do know that changing the conversation and talking about “following in my footsteps” seems to be a much more satisfying approach.

  7. sdelmonte - Aug 20, 2013 at 11:36 AM

    So here are some questions: if taking testosterone staves off the effects of aging in men, is that necessarily wrong? And can something be wrong for pro athletes and not for the millions who take everything under the sun to fight getting old (or to fight what is perceived as getting old in a youth-obsessed America)? What happens if and when science invents safe anti-aging treatments? Will we expect pro athletes to not use them when everyone else does? Will such things be keep illegal because of sports?

    And how did Gabe Kapler develop into such a smart writer? Was he known as a brainy player in his day? I wonder if he will be snatched up by some forward thinking GM. Or by a more high profile site. Not that I don’t like BP, but it’s sometimes a bit “inside baseball” for my tastes.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 20, 2013 at 11:43 AM

      Was he known as a brainy player in his day?

      Almost positive this is a yes, but Jack/Aces/Unclemo can confirmy/deny.

      • Jack Marshall - Aug 20, 2013 at 1:30 PM

        Yes, absolutely.

      • indaburg - Aug 20, 2013 at 4:46 PM

        When he was with the Rays, I was quite impressed by his intelligence. His muscular appearance belied a keen mind.

    • jtorrey13 - Aug 20, 2013 at 11:45 AM

      He also did a great spot on Keith Law’s “Behind the Dish” podcast. Great conversation on old-school hip-hop (but also some great baseball insight.)

    • raysfan1 - Aug 20, 2013 at 11:49 AM

      He was indeed known as a smart player when he was a Devil Ray.

    • jwbiii - Aug 20, 2013 at 11:57 AM

      Yes. The first time Kapler retired, the Red Sox thought enough of him to hire him as a minor league manager.

    • hammyofdoom - Aug 20, 2013 at 12:30 PM

      He WAS known as a brainy player at the time he played, and it was a foregone conclusion that he would manage somewhere. He was good with the media too, and if I recall after an anonymous poll in the clubhouse he revealed he was the only member of the 2005 Red Sox to identify as Democrat (not saying that that makes him any smarter, but he isn’t afraid of bucking trends and being himself)

      • aceshigh11 - Aug 20, 2013 at 1:13 PM

        I know ballplayers tend to be conservative, but that’s a pretty amazing bit of trivia.

        Being in liberal Boston doesn’t really hold any relevance, because the players are from all over the world…still…very surprising.

  8. cur68 - Aug 20, 2013 at 11:38 AM

    A couple of things:

    1) Gabe Kapler is really bright and pretty damn insightful.

    2) I had this conversation with another poster not long ago; the main effect of PEDs on guys like ARod is between the ears. By taking PEDs ARod has confidence in himself. Naturally his ability to hit the ball regularly is enhanced: he takes more chances with his swings and lets his ability to square up a ball do the rest. Given the natural effect of testosterone to build muscle and enhance recovery, he then has the added effect of powering that ball around. The funny thing is that he probably doesn’t need ‘Roids to hit homers: he plays in a small park and is naturally strong enough to homer in it. By PED-ing it, he just hits them farther. The “homer more often” factor has more to do with his swinging more which has more to do with confidence.

    I concluded my little homily on ARod by commenting that is he was managed by Joe Madden starting tomorrow, he’d be called into Madden’s office on day one, handed a bottle of Advil with the name scraped off the pills, told they were PEDs, and sent out there to kill the ball all over the place. Which, given his innate ability to square up baseballs, he would do.

    Anyhow, Kapler’s take on steroids is pretty close to mine, only MUCH better stated and thought out.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 20, 2013 at 11:46 AM

      2) I had this conversation with another poster not long ago; the main effect of PEDs on guys like ARod is between the ears. By taking PEDs ARod has confidence in himself. Naturally his ability to hit the ball regularly is enhanced: he takes more chances with his swings and lets his ability to square up a ball do the rest.

      Confidence, or ability?

      “Frustration level has grown in the sense that I just can’t get to certain pitches,” Helton said. “In my mind, when I’m swinging, I’m waiting for a loud sound to happen, and it never happens.”

      Helton chuckled before continuing, “And it’s a pitch I’ve hit many a times. It’s not that I was fooled. Sometimes your body is not as quick as it used to be. That’s frustrating, a guy getting you out, when you know he shouldn’t get you out.”

      -Todd Helton

      http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/57516040/

      • cur68 - Aug 20, 2013 at 12:24 PM

        I bet its a combination of both, COPO. Once one perceives one’s ability as declining, one can then exhibit the traits of that. Mind you, at around 40, like Alex Rodriguez & Todd Helton, one has some cause to believe in that decline. Rodriguez’s been injured a lot, he’s definitely slower, and he’s being bombarded psychologically. He’s going to decline. However his belief in himself can be increased with the right approach and, while he can’t hit everyone’s best pitch, he can hit a lot of guy’s best pitches. What’s more, all of them do not throw their best pitches all of the time. Given that the pitchers are as prone to mental effects as anyone, it should be a near status quo: the pitcher always has the advantage on the hitter but for people blessed with that good eye like Rodriguez, it gives him an edge that many do not have. It might be that all he has to do is believe in that a bit more, trust that good eye, and wait for that mistake. Sure, he won’t hit like when he was 25, but he’ll out hit damn near anyone else. To some degree (and possibly to a greater degree than what we might think) if he believes he will out hit most guys he could actually get close to doing so, or close enough that it would be tough to replace his production.

    • jtorrey13 - Aug 20, 2013 at 11:52 AM

      I had always thought that the confidence for athletes tied into the fact that they were athletes. Physical specimens. That the layperson’s view of “confidence” meant something much different from the people that excelled from grade school on. The reason an internet poster isn’t “clutch” is just the fact that they didn’t have practice and an approach to baseball carried over from thousands of hours of repetition and success.(Though they do have clutch trolling skills.)

      Gabe’s view makes me wonder how much of what I thought of “confidence” is based strictly on being young. Those salad years when you think you’re indestructible. Maybe when age hits, whenever it hits for whomever, it blasts that confidence to smithereens. Maybe all that practice and success means nothing in the face of another day on Earth, wiser and closer to death.

      Then again, Gabe is much different than Lenny Dykstra and Alex Rodriguez. Just like body shapes, there are all kinds of different mind “shapes.”

      • cur68 - Aug 20, 2013 at 12:06 PM

        Not a bad thought: the confidence of youth and position as an MLB player = success. In fact, you’ve lead me to a train of thought I might not have had: I think people like Kapler tend to over analyse their physical health. He is MUCH to concerned with his physical state, how young he is, and how much power he perceives he has. He’s taken an “average” man’s decline and ascribed it to himself yet he is in NO WAY an average person. It is very likely that SOME of his noticeable decline was due to his BELIEF in his decline, rather than the actual effects of natural aging.
        Your body is a dynamic and responsive organism. By demanding more muscle from exercising hard and eating well a person can elicit all sorts of changes in themselves just due to the fact of that work and diet. The body becomes good at adapting to that diet and work, in other words. Naturally produced testosterone should be quite high to keep up with the demand, not unlike increased respirations keep up with rising CO2 levels in your blood stream. However, if he believes he’s declining, perhaps he exhibits the signs of decline? He bases his assumption of decline on one experience where he didn’t bounce back from hard work. Naturally he begins to exhibit this decline. Its possible that his decline is more noticeable due to his belief in it rather than a truly downward trending physical state? He may indeed have been dropping off in natural testosterone, BUT his learned skills should have made that drop off nearly unnoticeable for years after it started happening. I wonder if he’d have benefitted from the “Advil = PEDs” placebo treatment?

    • koufaxmitzvah - Aug 20, 2013 at 12:22 PM

      Not to mention, he probably looks better.

    • indaburg - Aug 20, 2013 at 4:49 PM

      This conversation does sound vaguely familiar, doesn’t it?

      • cur68 - Aug 20, 2013 at 7:38 PM

        Yep. You got a good memory.

      • indaburg - Aug 20, 2013 at 7:46 PM

        ;-)

  9. offseasonblues - Aug 20, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    I read that earlier today, and I’m glad you posted it, Craig.
    It’s not the first piece of good writing from Kapler.

  10. thebigtim2012 - Aug 20, 2013 at 12:06 PM

    Gabe the babe as he was commonly referred to by many female sox fans. The man is a genetic freak I always was curious about his ped use but not anymore.

    • eightyraw - Aug 20, 2013 at 4:40 PM

      The entire piece is about how he is actually not a genetic freak.

      • indaburg - Aug 20, 2013 at 4:53 PM

        Yes, but reading is hard.

  11. Jack Marshall - Aug 20, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    Bravo to you, Craig, for an open-minded, self-critical, honest and objective reading of Kapler’s piece. It enhances your credibility as an analyst and a pundit. Few are capable of this in your field, or any field.

  12. farvite - Aug 20, 2013 at 12:43 PM

    I’d like to try to imagine how the other half lives(d)

    Jr took roids/peds, never had injury problems, and smacked 800 homers.

    Nah. I’ll be content knowing I watched the best player of this generation. And it was spectacular.

    • eightyraw - Aug 20, 2013 at 2:38 PM

      Griffey Jr’s career-high wRC+: 164
      Barry Bond’s wRC+, 1990-1997: 165, 155, 198, 193, 173, 163, 179, 165

  13. hairpie - Aug 20, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    “It’s awfully hard to read that and to maintain a blithe “most PEDs have little effect” stance as some of us are prone to doing.”

    I have never in my life heard anyone make that argument. Look at the #’s. 60+ hr’s was done once in 80ish years, then 5 times in 4 years? My #’s might be off a bit but you get the point. Even more alarming was the # of times 50+ was hit by guys caught juicing.

    • paperlions - Aug 20, 2013 at 2:39 PM

      Based on those numbers, the point you appear to be making is that you think players only took steroids for 4 years and that they only helped or were only taken by a few players.

      • hairpie - Aug 20, 2013 at 2:51 PM

        No, because i state the more alarming # is the amt of times 50+ was reached, and by who did it. i remember George Foster doing it in the 70’s.. he was a monster. 50 wasnt hit that many times. Hank Aaron never did it and he was the greatest power hitter of all time. then Brady Anderson does it? Luis Gonzales?

        Its been done 40 times in the history of baseball, by 23 different players. Sosa and McGuire each did it 4 years in a row. Prior to the steroid era, it was only done 18 times. that means 22 times in ~10 years, 18 times in ~80 years.

      • paperlions - Aug 20, 2013 at 3:07 PM

        When do you think the steroid era started? SI did a multi-issue cover story on steroid use in sports in the 1960, including baseball. Players from the 60s and 70s that have been willing to talk about PED use when they were players say that they (and a lot of guys) were gobbling up anything they could get their hands on.

        PED use was common in baseball before Canseco was born.

        Many other things were going on during the 90s, smaller parks were build, the composition of the ball changed, including a bouncier core, a tighter wind, and increased proportion of synthetic fibers, which absorb less moisture than wool, making the ball lighter.

        Unless you think everyone started using steroids the same day, then the effects of steroids can’t be found in the historical data.

      • hairpie - Aug 20, 2013 at 2:59 PM

        “hairpie” just knocked it out of the park, much like a steroid user.

      • paperlions - Aug 20, 2013 at 3:08 PM

        You didn’t knock it out of the park, you posed at home plate and watch the ball fall into a glove is shallow LF.

      • hairpie - Aug 20, 2013 at 3:17 PM

        The #’s dont lie. I chose 95-96.

      • paperlions - Aug 20, 2013 at 3:31 PM

        Yes, but you are ignoring facts already in evidence. Guess when the new ball was introduced mid-season of 1993. 1994 was cut short due to a players strike.

        First year of the new bouncier and lighter baseball = 1995.

        Steroids were in common use WAY before then….decades before.

  14. galtur - Aug 20, 2013 at 2:09 PM

    Regarding the “blithe ‘most PEDs have little effect” nonsense – I’ve heard that far too often from the espn reporters/ non-explayers. Notably Gammons a few years ago – talking about how great Bonds was and how PEDs don’t help you hit a baseball. I hear things like that, look at who’s saying it (Gammons and Kurkjian) and immediately wonder if they ever picked up a bat.

    For anyone out there thinking they don’t help you hit a ball think of this analogy – hammering a nail with a sledge hammer vs. a carpenter’s hammer. Aside from the difference in hammer head speed, think of the precision and accuracy with which you wield the carpenter’s hammer.
    Another analogy is swinging a bat with a donut on it vs. one without a donut. Having a lighter bat (added strength) allows for a shorter stroke that produces just as much bat speed. A shorter/sharper stroke allows for more precision.

    Take a full swing at a nail and then take a shortened chop at a nail and see how effective you are at squaring up the head and nail. Try fiddling with choking up on the hammer and see how much easier it is to be precise.

    Regarding the confidence – I think that once you can wield the hammer/bat with added precision, it is easier to predict how you yourself will be more successful as opposed to prior attempts. I think confidence comes from recent success. It is not a what came first, the chicken or the egg kind of question.
    (I’m not a carpenter – I’m going to read Kapler’s piece right now).

  15. myopinionisrighterthanyours - Aug 20, 2013 at 4:10 PM

    Wow, imagine this! The truth of a matter lying somewhere in the middle!!!! Now, if people could just apply this sort of common senes to politics instead of being spoon fed by Faux News and Mostly Slanted NBC, and keep voting for the extremists on both sides of the fence.

  16. galwayspaniard - Aug 20, 2013 at 4:49 PM

    I would like to read articles where athletes who were steroid users could tell us just how they felt on them- their timing when fastballs, screwballs, and other pitches were thrown to them; about hand eye coordination, strength. Over 20 years ago in a gym, a soldier told me about some of the weightlifters who were on steroids, and the soldier talking to me was thin and he had taken steroids for about 3 months in the past. He told me “doc (medic) you can do anything- that’s how you feel…I was lifting much heavier weights, I was drilling balls all over the outfield and over the fences”. He used them for several months and stopped because he thought there was something wrong about using drugs (athletes get steroids from other athletes and so on in this cycle as no Army doctor would prescribe these meds) like these and also because he saw the overly aggressive behavior exhibited by several of the weightlifters in the gym. He also thought these testosterone-like drugs were dangerous to one’s health.
    For those who are older we can remember how the East German women used to win all the sprints at the Olympics. We remember male sprinter Ben Johnson winning a short sprint only to have his gold medal taken away when he tested positive for steroids. When he raced off the drugs he was nowhere near his former record times. There are hundreds of examples and we all remember the home run era of Maguire, Sosa , and many others including some unknown homerun hitters who now were hitting them. So steroids do make a very big difference.
    As far as confidence, perhaps read the book by Jim Kaplan The Greatest Game Ever Pitched which occurred in 1963 when 42 yo Warren Spahn pitched 16 innings against 25 yo Juan Marichal. Spahn lost 1-0 when Willie Mays hit a home run in the bottom of the 16th. Spahn was steady and focused and practiced and practiced. (Serving under fire in World War II also helped him as he never took things lightly again and felt no job was too hard to at least try tackling). Spahn felt confidence came from studying oneself and the hitters and just doing things, not worrying.

  17. Panda Claus - Aug 20, 2013 at 4:50 PM

    That’s the most insightful, well-thought piece of writing I can remember seeing in quite a while. If I limit that group of writers to former players, Kapler is at the top of the class..

  18. dankpuffalot - Aug 20, 2013 at 5:37 PM

    My cousin played minor league ball with this guy. He is 100% lying because long before all this PED stuff broke my cousin joked about how juiced up Kapler was. Then he decides to go to Japan for a year right as they start harder testing??? If it quacks like a duck…

    • yahmule - Aug 20, 2013 at 8:20 PM

      Your cousin may have had a buttery smooth physique and a bad case of envy.

      • raysfan1 - Aug 21, 2013 at 12:53 AM

        -possibly jealous of Kapler making the majors
        -possibly one of those who automatically sees someone who pumps iron and assumes steroids (and as we have seen too often, then reports it as if fact)

  19. surly1n1nd1anapol1s - Aug 20, 2013 at 9:09 PM

    Good article. Far better than paid writers and “thinkers” on this topic.

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