PED Users Aren’t the Villains They Were Made Out to be

The MLB often shuns their steroid users, however how fair is the narrative they had painted of them?

Ryan Garcia
New York Yankees
May 19, 2018; Kansas City, MO, USA; A general view of Kauffman Stadium during a game between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports

When you look at the 90’s and early 2000’s you think of the juiced up beasts that would step to the plate and make baseballs launch like never before. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Slammin’ Sammy, these guys were superstars. When the whole PED situation got out of hand and players were being exposed left and right, it left a black mark on baseball’s legacy. Anti-doping and PED policies grew and it changed baseball for years. The names of these individuals slandered and never the same again, but is this really fair to these players?

Post-PED Baseball

The home run chase was gone, the baseball no longer soared like it did before. Baseball became the baseball of the early 2010’s a dying media that was quite frankly a snooze-fest for casual fans. Less dingers and less runs helped to make baseball seem like a shell of their 90’s self. Didn’t help that this LeBron James guy was lighting the sports world on fire in Miami either. This was because players who juiced were less frequent, and it became a taboo to even mention Barry Bonds’ name. He and many others aren’t HOFers because of it. The reason of course was because of those no-good lying cheaters…right?

The Media Ruined Baseball

Yes, I’ll say it right now as a writer myself. The baseball journalists and reporters ruined baseball, they lied and deceived millions, covering up those they loved, and ruining those they hated. The likes of Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell were questioned heavily on their role in PED usage in their careers yet are HOFers today. David Ortiz will be a Hall of Famer even though it was reported multiple times that he and fellow teammates were using steroids or PEDs. This included names that even had Pedro Martinez, and while I don’t believe he took any performance enhancers, it shows how little we know about steroid use before testing.

People can’t act as if they know exactly who did and who didn’t especially the media. They ruined careers, took HOF votes, and painted certain guys as villains while leaving others alone.

Creating Narratives

When playing alongside his Bash Brother Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco wrote in his book Juiced about how he felt as if ” the media can portray an event however they want to, positively or negatively. They have that power, that degree of control.” (119). He wrote about disparities the reporters would have with white athletes and minority athletes, citing how he was treated badly by the media, one instance being Rick Reilly’s piece that referred to Canseco as a “schmuck”, while his white teammate Mark McGwire was beloved yet would use a homophobic expletive when referring to reporters behind the scenes. The media created these narratives that divided locker rooms, and created a rift between players who were treated differently yet were equally flawed.

Was the Idea of PED Use Even That Evil?

The common notion is that these PED users were lying for an advantage. This is simply just not true, as, PED use wasn’t tested for and on top of that PED use was very much so rampant. It was simply the best way to set up you and your poor family for life. In Juiced Canseco writes about the economics behind it, as “Let’s say you’re a talented young player from an impoverished area of Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic. and let’s say that you realize that, if you can put together back-to-back good seasons with strong home run totals, you can realistically set up your family and yourself  for the rest of your life with a $40-$50 million dollar contract.”(178).

This philosophy was a simple one right?

Well the issue Canseco brings up was that ” you’re going to need to guarantee that performance and the only way to ensure that is to make the most of the opportunity presented by steroids  and growth hormone”. (178). This mentality summed up the thinking of many of the juicers in the MLB who needed these contracts and were being out-played by other PED users at the time. This isn’t intended to ruin and end other careers as if they didn’t take these PEDs then others would’ve and taken their jobs.

How Should PED Users Be Remembered?

The common answer is a simple “as cheaters” but is that truly fair to these guys? Sure after the doping rules were put into place that’s fair, but before that? These are teenagers as young as 16 being offered the key to economically saving their family and loved ones for life and they often took it. They weren’t going to stand a chance against juiced pitchers like Roger Clemens or get a job over guys like Rafael Palmerio or Barry Bonds. They should be remembered as people who made mistakes and played in an era of baseball that blurred the lines of morality and fairness.

We can’t sit up here all mighty as if we wouldn’t take PEDs for a chance at millions of dollars and being able to never have your parents or kids or S.O ever worry about money again. They shouldn’t just have it wiped from their life, it should be able to be known who used what, but these guys aren’t villains: they’re just human.