You can say I cheated; prop me up defeated

We all need to gain the upper hand.
An edge to do even better than we
can.
No one seemed to care when it brought back the fans.
It’s a broken
record, strike up the band for the broken man.

Until I read Game of Shadows, I guess I thought steroids were for the stereotypical sluggers, the home run kings, McGwire and Bonds and the like.  But the book was an eye-opener to me.  Not that the material on Bonds wasn’t astounding, laid out in damning detail, but the most amazing part to me was the description of an unnamed relief pitcher–a journeyman, you get the impression, one of those guys who pitches in wins and losses but who can pretty much count on going out there every few days on an irregular schedule and throwing a small sphere in a way that stresses bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons in ways that humans really weren’t designed for.  And you see how the illegal drug he’s tried is a miracle.  Not because it gave him more miles on his fastball; not because it made his changeup more deceptive or helped his breaking ball find the corner of the plate.

Because the morning after he pitched, he woke up… and he wasn’t in pain.

A crowd so loud and a
son so very proud.
The powers that be counting money, handing me a
crown.
Only now they decide that it’s time to take a stand.
It’s a
broken record, strike up the band for the broken man.

Game of Shadows was disheartening to me because its message was clear:  these drugs are all over the sport, and everyone knows it.  Now, that’s not the same as saying that everyone’s using them: of course that’s not true.  But it does mean, I think, that everyone knows someone who is; everyone’s competing with someone who is.  (And if I were a fan of track and field, or swimming, I’d feel even worse.)  You may suspect the player whose warning-track power suddenly seems to reach ten rows into the bleachers, or the guy racking up double-digit home run totals for the first time in his thirties–but it’s as likely to be the infielder whose body would break down by August without chemical help, the number five starter trying to avoid the DL or surgery.

The Mitchell Report, then, really didn’t say anything to me that I didn’t already figure was true.  Nor did Kirk Radomski’s Bases Loaded, which I just finished reading.  Radomski went into a little more detail about individual steroids, and about the availability of HGH.  When I mentioned to a friend that I’d read the book, I was surprised by her response:  she asked, “Do you find him credible?”  I guess it hadn’t even occurred to me not to.  Everything was so plausible.

You can say I
cheated; prop me up defeated.
Take a swing at me and the others too, if
you’ve got nothing better to do.

The 2003 testing, of course, was to be confidential; it was intended only to see if the percentage of positive tests was higher than the threshold necessary to take action.  But don’t forget, the testing available couldn’t even at the time identify THG; even now, let alone then, there is no permitted testing with a shot at identifying HGH. 

There’s a street not far away that’s
named after me.
But my present and future is a gated community.

It is unfair to me that Alex Rodriguez was named from that “confidential” report.  I’m not sure how I feel about the cries to release the other names.  But first and foremost, I ask you–what do they mean?  Do you think that was in any way an exhaustive list?  Do you not think that the number of players using HGH now dwarfs that list?

I don’t know if any of the fallout from this revelation will lead to change.  It seems a lot of folks are so invested in looking the other way, in keeping things as they are, that the powers that be may try to pretend that widespread PED use ended with the onset of testing.  But until testing catches up with the drugs, it’s going to be out there.

The only way there will be meaningful change, I believe, is if the players’ union allows blood testing–and the preservation of split samples.  Short of that, I think we’re all looking the other way.

Leave
your past behind if you really want to understand.
It’s a broken
record, strike up the band for the broken man.

(Lyrics from “Broken Man,” from the Baseball Project’s Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails)

3 Comments

Brilliant, Kelly.
It seems to me that lots of groups of people invested in baseball, from owners to sports media people, to news media people, to MLB officials have been looking the other way for years.

If you regard the leaking of the 2003 test results as unfair, did you also feel the same way about the leaking of Grand Jury testimony, which is legally supposed to be confidential, that led to the Game Of Shadows book? Just curious.

All i have to say is that its unfair to all the all time greats that included hank,the babe,mays,mantle etc.. where they played there hearts out day in and day out to accomplish what they achieved without cheating and have there records broke due to steriod use.I hope all the users dont make it to coopers town no matter if they were hall of famers before they started juicing.

Horsham, it’s an excellent question (which, as they say, means it’s better than the answer you’ll get!). I believe both in the promise of confidentiality and in the necessity of bringing the truth to light (particularly when it has been so obviously suppressed). In the case of drugs in the sport, I’ll take the leaking of the testimony as serving a greater good than preserving confidentiality. In the case of the 2003 list, at a minimum, I feel it should be all or nothing. That said, I’m willing to be A-Rod is both the most accomplished and the “cleanest” name on that list, and I see where someone would leak his name. (For what it’s worth, Kirk Radomski names David Segui, Jason Grimsley and Larry Bigbie as players who were told they tested positive in 2003. The references to unnamed players who are supposedly Segui and Grimsley are clear in the Mitchell Report.)

Radomski says “the story [he] heard–and [he has] absolutely no idea if it’s true” was that baseball did everything possible to keep the number of positive tests in 2003 beneath the threshold. Not least, they did the testing in spring training. Radomski suggests that they underestimated how easy it was to get steroids in winter ball. but at a minimum it says to me that a smart player, or a player with a smart trainer, could easily have avoided a positive test in 2003. And of course those smart trainers and players, if they’re using drugs like HGH, or steroids ahead of the testing program, or even if they’ve just using short-duration drugs and they’re getting tipped to the testing in advance, are going to avoid showing up on any lists at all.

And that’s what I find frustrating about any testing and any reports but particularly any LISTS. I think people look to them as definitive when they’re merely symptomatic. The fact that a player on a list is guilty says nothing about a player’s absence from the list. If the Mitchell Report had been followed up with a dramatic change in testing–blood testing, with the preservation of split samples–I think real change might have taken place. But without the change in testing, we’re all still trying to see truth in the shadows.

Antonio, I hear you on the old-timers, but I do think that fans are savvy enough to realize that achievements carry different meanings in different times. So many things have changed in the game besides drugs: the ball, the mound, the dimensions of ballparks, the amount of travel, the number of teams, the money that enables even lower-level players to train instead of work in the offseason, exercise equipment and training methods and research into nutrition… the list goes on and on. I’m not one who places much value in records, I admit. I’m far more moved by the manner in which Secretariat won the Belmont than by the record-setting time he achieved. But I do feel that players need to be judged in context, which means not only that achievements then may mean more than the same achievements now, but also that we may need to determine today’s “great” players from a roster that includes more users than we’ll ever know.

Thanks for the comments!

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