Jul 23, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Detroit Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta (27) reacts after hitting a home-run against the Chicago White Sox during the sixth inning at U.S Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

In Defense of PEDs

Bob Wojnowski is ready to pillory Jhonny Peralta. Everybody, it seems, wants to do the same and worse to Alex Rodriguez. I say lets wait and see – from the supposedly extensive evidence that the MLB has of their transgressions (should it ever be made public) before we decide if what they did was to break a rule or to cheat. They aren’t the same thing, because all use of controlled substances is not the same thing.

Robert Fick‘s Good Day L.A. interview got a little coverage here – and what it got was primarily because Fick admitted to PED use prior to the implementation of the testing regime (and was, of course, now tainted). If you read beyond the headline – it got interesting: Fick did not use banned substances in order to bulk up and simply be a better baseball player (though many did and might still be doing it). Fick juiced – temporarily – to recover from shoulder injuries more quickly. Now how does that make you feel? How should it make you feel? I’m guessing you find that less offensive than the notion that Pudge Rodriguez juiced over the length of his career in order to be bigger, faster and stronger – and that the only fundamental difference between Pudge and Brad Ausmus may have been chemical alteration (not that we have proof of any of this, of course).

I’m sure we can all agree that testosterone-enhancing supplements have a strong potential for abuse in sports. A young player can get big. An old player can feel young. Both of those things damage the integrity of the game by changing the nature of the “playing field” – choosing not to juice might be good for your health, but it makes you a bad athlete when everything in the game is relative. It doesn’t hurt the “product” on the field – we like to see home runs, we like to see stars continue to play like stars – but that isn’t really the point. It’s only “good” if we don’t know what’s causing it (like the blissful ignorance of McGwire and Sosa’s home run chase) and it isn’t fair to current and aspiring baseball players who feel the pressure to somehow make themselves physically better than they can be.

The other kind of juicing, the Fick kind, is philosophically different: here we’re talking about guys in order to more quickly return to being their normal physical selves rather than in order to be something better than their normal physical selves. I would argue that this does nothing to damage the integrity of the game or to create an unlevel playing field – in the same way that IV fluids at halftime in the NFL is nothing like blood doping prior to a marathon. Injuries are part of the game and part of the history of the game, but they are not a desirable part of the game – rather something that baseball has always sought to prevent or fix with moderate success. No one will argue that Tommy John surgery is bad for baseball because it’s unfair for that guy to ever play again when the same injury in 1937 would have ended a career. We wouldn’t argue that physical therapy shouldn’t be allowed because it should take just as long to fully recover from an ankle sprain as it did in 1911. Quick recovery from injuries is a sort of Holy Grail for professional sports – injuries aren’t just bad for players, they’re bad for fans and bad for owners (and insurance companies).

It’s probably not a good thing for baseball to encourage PED use for the purposes of injury recovery. It’s an important question how damaging the side effects of short-term, low-dose use might be (though these things are prescribed for other medical uses, and the benefits are seen to outweigh the costs). Allowing use of testosterone (or testosterone analog) enhancing supplements for certain players at certain times would make a shambles out of the testing regime put in place for other types of juicing that are far worse for the players and the game. But before you call for Peralta’s head – bear in mind that what he actually did might have been against the currently written rules for the MLB, but it may not actually have been cheating and it may not actually have been anything morally or philosphically wrong – or harmful to the integrity of the game. The same could possibly be true for ARod – though he has admitted to prior steroid use (before the testing regime). ARod is an old player battling injuries who would really like to get back on the field as soon as possible – was he an old guy juicing to feel young or an injured guy juicing in a desperate effort to see a serious hip injury not end his career? If it’s the latter – I certainly can’t hate the guy for that. Yankees fans shouldn’t hate the guy for that.

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  • Matt Pelc

    I guess I’ve always been of the mindset that I dont use drugs and, yes they are illegal (but so is speeding), but if someone wants to put poison in their bodies, who am I to stop them? I suppose that applies to sports as well. More than being angry with players using PEDs, I am tired of the only coverage the sport getting (other than Yanks-Sox) is when the latest scandal arises. The NFL has had their share of drug issues (players from the 70′s who used die everyday), but its not as big of an injustice in the media.

    As for PED users, I really only disliked Bonds, simply because he was just a jerk before, during and after PEDs.

    As for the current case, I find it troubling that MLB is taking the word of a questionable character and offering him immunity to roll on players. None of these players (aside from Braun and A-Rod) have tested positive, so they are going off names on records and the say-so of a known liar.

    And as for Peralta, he wasn’t linked to a specific substance, so why do guys like Gio Gonzales get free passes because their alleged substance were “legal,” but it seems like Peralta will be suspended while not knowing what he took?

    Finally, if he gets suspended, maybe he did roids, maybe he didn’t, but when he sees the lengths baseball is going to try to flush A-Rod out of the sport (hmmm perhaps bailing the Yankees out of that contract), Jhonny probably looks at it and goes, guilty or not, MLB is out for blood, might as well just plead guilty, take the 50 game knock and come back either in the postseason or for a new team in 2014 and have it be done with.

    • chrisHannum

      What they would like to do to ARod wouldn’t be any worse than what they did to Bonds: which was effectively a lifetime ban (by leaning on owners to refuse to offer him a contract).

  • Cam

    Honestly, you’ve got to sympathize with these players. If they’re given the opportunity to take these PEDs to prolong their career and make more money, can we really blame them for doing so?

    • chrisHannum

      I’m not 100% sure about in order to prolong their careers or make more money, but I can certainly sympathize with a guy popping pills so he doesn’t have to call in sick because everybody is counting on him.

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  • Tony Fischer

    Of course more studies should be done about these hormones for therapeutic use. Maybe they can be used in the offseason to help players recovers. The issue I have with your point is that you are making these players out to be the victims. They are not the victim nor are they trailblazers in the field of sports medicine. They are rule breakers (allegedly) pure and simple. They knew the rules and chose to break them anyway. Rule breakers need to be punished. Do I think these players should be run out of the game? No but they should serve their punishment and in Peralta’s case the Tigers need to move on.

    • chrisHannum

      I don’t consider them victims, but I do consider some of them to be “rule breakers” rather than “cheaters”. If there would be nothing particularly despicable or unfair about what the individual did, were it not for the fact of the rule, there should be no reason for the hatred that the guys are getting. In these specific cases, because we want to catch and punish players who are using banned substances in order to cheat the league does have to punish players in the same way for using the same banned substances for less objectionable purposes. That doesn’t have to extend to equal condemnation by fans and the media.

  • Tony Fischer

    And one other point on the “integrity” of the game. If Bud Selig cares about the integrity of the game, and he doesn’t, he should release all the evidence they have collected and let the chips fall where they may. Sealing everything up into a secret backroom deal only implies that somehow baseball knew about this or was negligent in enforcing policy. I think it is time for bloggers and writers to call for Bud Selig to resign this has gone on long enough,

    • chrisHannum

      I’d say that these things occurring is bad for the public view of the integrity of the game, but the more publicity they get the more damage is done. Selig’s (semi) logical position looks like “there was no problem and we fixed it”