It's not the balls. It's not the parks. It's not the pitchers. It's not the bats. It's not the mud. It's the players.
You want juiced? The players are juiced. Steroids. Nukes. Testosterone cocktails.
Mike Arndt, the strength coach of the Texas Rangers, says that "15 to 22 percent" of major leaguers are on "illegal substances." Brad Andress, strength coach of the Colorado Rockies, told The Denver Post that it's more like "30 percent" and that inquiries he gets from players about steroids increase every year. Charles Yesalis, an epidemiologist at Penn State and author of the book Anabolic Steroids in Sport and Exercise, believes "three to eight" players per big league team are on steroids. A longtime National League shortstop says it's "at least seven or eight...and don't rule out pitchers."
Hello? Have you looked at these guys lately? More and more, a major league clubhouse looks like backstage at Monday Night Nitro. Ted Williams hit 521 home runs at 6'3" and not much more than 180 pounds. Williams would look like Poindexter the Stickboy in a clubhouse today. This isn't baseball. This is my-test-tube-can-beat-up-your-test-tube.
"There's enough anecdotal evidence," says Sandy Alderson, executive vice president for baseball operations in the commissioner's office, "that we ought to start looking into this. You start by not ignoring the problem anymore."
It's not just in the majors, either. Arndt thinks that 20% to 25% of the players in the minor leagues use steroids. First baseman Kit Pellow of the Omaha Golden Spikes, the Kansas City Royals' Triple A affiliate, says, "I've seen a lot of guys do it right in front of me. Right in the hotel room. A guy will get out his needle and stick it right in his butt. They don't care if I see. There's no testing in this sport."
The NFL tests. The NCAA tests. The IOC tests. Baseball doesn't have the brains or the guts to test.
Have you looked at the DL lately? The average number of players who spend time on the disabled list has increased by 31.4% between 1989 and 1998. Rockies manager Buddy Bell said recently, "I don't think I can name a guy who is a steroid user who has not broken down." How much does that cost each team?
On June 30, Boston police found steroids and syringes in a car owned by Red Sox shortstop Manny Alexander and driven by a team batboy. You figure the batboy was using, or Alexander? Considering that home runs among pitchers, second basemen and shortstops combined have doubled, from 420 in 1989 to 833 in 1999, I'm betting my last petri dish on Alexander.
It's a dog-inject-dog world out there. "A big, big year means a big, big contract," says Kevin Towers, general manager of the San Diego Padres. So when a clean player and his all-natural 20 home runs collide in the free-agent market with a user and his blown-up 40, guess who loses. "I tell 'em leave it alone, but they don't always listen," Rockies hitting instructor Clint Hurdle says of users. "It's a fast-food world. They want the big money right now."