SI Vault
Tom Verducci
June 03, 2002
With the use of steroids and other performance enhancers rampant, according to a former MVP and other sources, baseball players and their reliance on drugs have grown to alarming proportions
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June 03, 2002

Totally Juiced

With the use of steroids and other performance enhancers rampant, according to a former MVP and other sources, baseball players and their reliance on drugs have grown to alarming proportions

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But it is also true that fans have become more accepting of steroids as part of the game. Fourteen years ago the crowd at Fenway Park in Boston chided Oakland As outfielder Jose Canseco during the American League Championship Series with damning chants of "Ster-oids! Ster-oids!" The game had never before seen a physical marvel such as Canseco, a 240-pound hulk who could slug a baseball 500 feet and still be swift enough to steal 40 bases. Upon retiring last month after failing to catch on with a major league team, Canseco, while not admitting steroid use himself, said that steroids have "revolutionized" the game and that he would write a tell-all book blowing the lid off drug use in the majors. Canseco estimated that 85% of major leaguers use steroids.

Heavily muscled bodies like Canseco's have now become so common that they no longer invite scorn. Players even find dark humor in steroid use. One American League outfielder, for instance, was known to be taking a steroid typically given by veterinarians to injured, ill or overworked horses and readily available in Latin America. An opposing player pointed to him and remarked, "He takes so much of that horse stuff that one day we're going to look out in the outfield and he's going to be grazing."

Steroids have helped build the greatest extended era of slugging the game has ever seen—and, not coincidentally, the highest rate of strikeouts in history. Power, the eye candy for the casual fan, is a common denominator among pitchers and hitters, as hurlers, too, juice up to boost the velocity of their pitches.

Schilling says that muscle-building drugs have transformed baseball into something of a freak show. "You sit there and look at some of these players and you know what's going on," he says. "Guys out there look like Mr. Potato Head, with a head and arms and six or seven body parts that just don't look right. They don't fit. I'm not sure how [steroid use] snuck in so quickly, but it's become a prominent thing very quietly. It's widely known in the game.

"We're playing in an environment in the last decade that's been tailored to produce offensive numbers anyway, with the smaller ballparks, the smaller strike zone and so forth," Schilling continues. "When you add in steroids and strength training, you're seeing records not just being broken but completely shattered.

"I know guys who use and don't admit it because they think it means they don't work hard. And I know plenty of guys now are mixing steroids with human growth hormone. Those guys are pretty obvious."

If steroids are the cement of body construction, then human growth hormone is the rebar, taken in an attempt to strengthen joints so they can hold the added muscle mass produced by steroids. Human growth hormone can be detected only in specific blood tests, not the standard urine test used for other performance-enhancing drugs. It is prescribed to treat dwarfism in children, but it can also change a mature person's body structure and facial characteristics. Players joke about the swollen heads, protruding brows and lantern jaws of hGH users. "And they talk like this," Caminiti says, pushing his tongue to the front of his mouth and stammering, "because the size of their head changes." One major league executive knows of a star player whose hat size has grown two sizes in his late 30s.

Says Chad Curtis, an outfielder who retired last year after 10 seasons with six clubs, including three (1997 to '99) with the Yankees, "When I was in New York, a player there told me that hGH was the next big thing, that that's the road the game's heading down next. Now you see guys whose facial features, jawbones and cheekbones change after they're 30. Do they think that happens naturally? You go, 'What happened to that guy?' Then you'll hear him say he worked out over the winter and put on 15 pounds of muscle. I'm sorry, working out is not going to change your facial features."

"Here's one easy way to tell," says a veteran American League infielder who asked not to be identified. He grabbed a batting helmet and put it on the top of his head without pushing it down for the proper fit. "They can't get their helmet to go all the way-down. It sits up on their heads. You see it all the time. You see this new culture of young players coming in, caught up in the vanity of getting big. They're bloated and ripped, and they shave their chests [to accentuate their physiques]. It's gotten to the point where more guys use [steroids or hGH] than don't use."

The infielder says that last year he asked a star teammate, whom he suspected of steroid use, why he used. The star replied, "It's a personal decision. It's like taking aspirin. Some people choose to take it and some don't. I respect somebody's choice one way or the other."

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