This is Part One of a three-part series.
On June 5th, 2013, T.J. Quinn, Pedro Gomez, and Mike Fish collaborated in writing an article in ESPN’s Outside the Line’s*, reporting that Major League Baseball was preparing to suspend such luminaries as Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez, Jhonny Peralta, Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon, and likely up to 15 other players who were connected to the Biogenesis clinic based in Miami Florida. The founder of the clinic, Tony Bosch, was reportedly going to testify against the players who had over the last several years established connections with the clinic, reportedly purchasing Performance Enhancing Drugs (P.E.D.’s), in order to plea-bargain and lesson the charges for his own egregious offenses.. These players faced up to a 100 game suspension, (which is actually the penalty for the second doping offense), for both denying their connection to the clinic as well as using P.E.D’s. As it turned out, Bosch provided phone records, receipts, data collected by the NSA or intercepted by drones hovering over the clinic. All of the players except for Alex Rodriguez have since then admitted their guilt, and were suspended for the remainder of the season; meanwhile, of course, AROD, the baseball equivalent of the Kardashians, has fought his case against the Lords of baseball, and will be suspended for one season, with his appeal in process.
“I do it for my fast-twitch muscles. If I don’t feel good that week or if my hands don’t feel good, if they’re a little slow, I’ll take a shot or get on a cycle. It helps immediately. I notice the difference. My hands are quicker, so my Bat is quicker.” – “Pete” an anonymous minor leaguer, Sports Illustrated, 2002.
Many fans deride the players who have used anabolic steroids, HGH, or masking agents including myself at times, claiming that they have distorted the hallowed records of the National Pastime; none of those who were caught using the present version of Performance Enhancers have been immortalized at Cooperstown. And without a doubt, PED’s improve performance, all one has to do is observe the records of those who were caught using anabolic steroids in Olympics past, such as the Eastern Europe teams when they were under the aegis of Mother Russia, the Chinese swimming team; one could go on and describe numerous incidents in a wide variety of sports. PED’s were especially prominent in baseball in the 1990’s; baseball analyst Bill Madden estimates that perhaps over 50% of the players of that era were juiced up. John Pastier, a Seattle design critic, ballpark consultant, and member of the Society for American Baseball Research, claims that PED’s improve performance by 10%. If he means that a 330 foot fly out is now a 363 foot homer, he is probably correct. But, if Bonds were averaging 30 homers a year and went up to 50(!) and did it in his baseball dotage, then this is not a 10% increase, it’s SIX times that much.
“The powers you gain can feel almost superhuman. Besides, the boost to your strength and confidence level, you start running faster. Your hand-eye coordination and muscle-twitch givers get faster. Your bat speed increases.” – Jose Canseco, Juiced, 2005.
But let me play the devil’s advocate for a moment. Supreme Grand Poo-bah Bud Selig is attempting to suspend players not only for purchase and presumed use of anabolic steroids, masking agents, including Rogaine – if you are bald, your only option is to get a wig- but also for HGH (Human Growth Hormone) for which there is absolutely no proof that use of it enhances a player’s performance. And of course, Buddy, as well as every GM and manager of that era, or Tony LaRussa, recently immortalized in the Hall of Fame, whose peerless record was more than partly due to the exploits of the infamous “Bash Brothers” – if they would were ever subpoenaed to testify in a court of law, would undoubtedly have to admit that they had full knowledge of the use and abuse of not only steroids but of methamphetamines, better known as greenies. Now greenies had been a staple of baseball for decades. Jim Bouton, in his book Ball Four, relates that there were two pots of coffee available in almost every clubhouse in the U.S.A.; one regular, and the second max high-test. Mike Schmidt, in his book “Clearing the Bases”, states that “In my day, (greenies) were widely available in major-league clubhouses.” In 2001, Bouton came out with the “Ball Four – The Final Pitch”, where he stated:
“In the 1970’s, half of the guys in the big leagues were taking greenies, and if we had steroids, we would have taken those, too. I said in “Ball Four,”, if there was a pill that could guarantee you would win 20 games but would take five years off of your life, players would take it. The only thing I didn’t know at the time was the name.”
Bouton also admitted to using DMSO – dimethyl sulfoxide – a natural product from a tree that supposedly relieves muscle and joint pain. The only thing a player had to do was make sure he didn’t take a pill prematurely. There were many anecdotes of players taking the pills before games which ultimately were rained out, and then spent the rest of the night in full amphetamine mode.
In 1985 there was a trial in Pittsburgh related to drugs concerning use of methamphetamines in baseball. Both Dale Berra and David Parker testified that they observed Willie Stargell and Bill Madlock dispensing greenies to some of their Pirate teammates. During the proceedings, ballplayer John Milner told the jury that roundball icon Willie Mays carried in his possession a bottle of red juice, which was composed of liquid amphetamines, and it could regularly be found in his locker during his final baseball days with the Mets. The Commissioner of Baseball at that time was Peter Ueberroth, who stated that he did not believe the testimony. But it was hardly a secret that greenies or similar products could always be found in every clubhouse in baseball; in fact, they were often dispensed by both the team trainers as well as medical personnel. Peter Ueberroth, then the Commish, opted not to believe their testimony. But the pills were readily available in all clubhouses, often dispensed not only by the team trainers but by authorized medical personnel. In his book, “Clearing the bases”, Mike Schmidt writes:
“They (methampethamines) were available with a prescription, but be under no illusion that the name on the bottle always coincided with the name of the player taking them before game time”
As for Schmidt himself, he stated:
“There were a few times in my career when I felt I needed help to get in there. I’m a victim; I admit to it. I’m not incriminating myself or players I played with to say we were on amphetamines our entire careers. I just wanted to see what they would do. It was a lack of willpower. You had an impressionable young kid, and someone says, ‘Man you want to feel good?’ If I had to do it over, I probably wouldn’t do it. You can’t put a 56-year-old head on a 28-year-old kid.”
Schmidt would claim that the elimination of greenies would have a more profound effect on baseball then banning steroids.
Of course, there is the story of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, more commonly referred to as BALCO, which was an American Company founded in 1986 by Victor Conte. BALCO marked a drug with the chemical name of tetrahydrogestrinone, better known as “The Clear”, which at that time was a Performance enhancing steroid incapable of detection. Weight Trainer Greg Anderson, a boyhood friend of Barry Bonds, supplied his friend with this chemical concoction, as well as HGH, for a number of years. In fact, Anderson was allowed access to the San Francisco Giant clubhouse as well as dugout, in the capacity of Bond’s “personal trainer.” Anderson also distributed the Clear to Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield. Anderson was later convicted on several different criminal charges, including conspiracy to distribute steroids and money laundering. Later on, he also was found in contempt of court on several occasions for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury concerning perjury charges against Bonds.
“I felt like a kid. I’d be running the bases and think, Man, I’m fast! And I had never been fast. Steroids made me like that…I could just try to meet the ball and – wham! – it’s going to go 1,000 MPH. Man, I felt good. I’d think, damn, this pitcher’s in trouble, and I’d crush the ball 450 feet with almost no effort. It’s all about getting an edge.” – Ken Caminiti, Sports Illustrated, 2002.
However, players utilized what could be considered performing enhancement substances long before Greenies came on the scene. For PED’s come in all forms, and not all of them come out of a chemical lab. On May 31st, 1964, which happened to be Mother’s Day, dad took me and some other members of our family to a Mets doubleheader. I wrote about this game for Razzball some time ago. (You can find it here if interested.) That day still holds the record for the longest day in baseball, lasting about 12-13 hours total. The second game lasted 23 innings. The winning pitcher in the marathon match was Gaylord Perry, a nondescript pitcher who entered that game with a 6-8 record. At that time Gaylord was vastly overshadowed by his brother Jim Perry, a flame-thrower with the Cleveland Indians, an all-star pitcher who was just about the hottest thing in the game at that time. At any rate, Perry was called in as a reliever in the 13th inning, and pitched shutout ball throughout the 23rd inning, ultimately winning the game. Long after his career was over, he wrote that this was the first time he used his spitter, an illegal pitch since the last days of the Dead-Ball era, Perry went on to win over 300 games; at one point he had winning seasons in 17 out of 18 years, two Cy Young Awards, finishing 2nd and 4th once, and afterwards achieved immortality in the Hall of Fame. (All of this information can be found in BaseballReference.com.) Without the spitter, he admits that he would have lasted about five years, and would likely have had something like a 20-25 lifetime record. Yet few except PED apologists have any objections to Perry being in the Hall of Fame; in fact, we praise him and are astonished at his Houdini-like brilliance in masking his use; everyone knew that he was throwing a spitter, but it was never proven. I would make a conjecture that Perry’s career was enhanced by an illegal substance as much than any player who ever used steroids.