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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When asked why baseball doesn't crack down on steroid users, Pete replied, "I've got an easy answer for that. I'd say, You've set up a reward system where you're paying people $1 million to put the ball into the seats. Well, I need help doing that."

It may not be so easy in the future. Robert Manfred, baseball's executive vice president for labor relations and human resources, says baseball will suspend and fine repeat minor league offenders this season. The Padres have administered their own three-strikes-and-you're-out steroid policy for the past five years, though they do not test in the off-season, either. "The word's out in our organization, but the trend we're seeing is that most of the players who tested positive were in [Class] A ball," says San Diego general manager Kevin Towers. "That tells me the problem is spreading fast. I think it's prevalent in college and high school—even before we get them."

Kenny Rogers made his major league pitching debut with the Rangers in 1989. He was taught in the early years of his career that the safest place to throw a pitch was the low-outside part of the plate. Nobody was going to hit that pitch out of the park, coaches told him. "It's not true anymore," Rogers says. "Now you've got 5'7" guys built like weightlifters taking that down-and-away pitch and hitting it out to the opposite field. No one thinks it's unusual because it happens all the time."

And steroids are not just for sluggers anymore. They're used by everyone, from erstwhile singles hitters to aging pitchers. Says Rogers, "Just look around. You've got guys in their late 30s, almost 40, who are throwing the ball 96 to 99, and they never threw that hard before in their lives. I'm sorry. That's not natural evolution. Steroids are changing the game. You've got players who say, 'All I want to do is hit,' and you have pitchers who say, 'All I want to do is throw 97. I don't care if I walk [everyone]." Steroids have helped even mediocre pitchers turn up the heat. "The biggest change I've seen in the game," says a veteran major league infielder, "is seeing middle relievers come into the game throwing 91, 92 [mph]. Those guys used to be in the mid-80s or so. Now everybody is throwing gas, including the last guy in the bullpen."

The changes in the game are also evident in the increasingly hulking physiques of the players. The average weight of an All-Star in 1991 was 199 pounds. Last year it was 211. "We're kidding ourselves if we say this problem is not happening," says Towers. "Look at the before and after shots, at the size of some of these players from the '90s to now. It's a joke."

Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants is often cited as a player who dramatically altered his size and his game, growing from a lithe, 185-pound leadoff hitter into a 230-pound force who is one of the greatest home run hitters of all time. Bonds's most dramatic size gains have come in the past four years, over which he has doubled his home run rate. Bonds, who insists he added muscle through diet and intense training, has issued several denials of rumors that he uses steroids, including one to a group of reporters in April in which he said, "You can test me and solve that problem [of rumors] real quick."

But there is no testing in baseball, and everyone continues to speculate. What's a little speculation and innuendo these days anyway? Mark McGwire was cheered in every park on his march to 70 home runs in 1998 by fans hardly concerned about his reluctant admission that he'd used androstendione, an over-the-counter supplement that reputedly has the muscle-building effects of steroids.

"If you polled the fans," says former outfielder Curtis, "I think they'd tell you, 'I don't care about illegal steroids. I'd rather see a guy hit the ball a mile or throw it 105 miles an hour.' "

Says Caminiti, "They come to the arena to watch gladiators. Do they want to see a bunch of guys choking up on the bat against pitchers throwing 82 miles an hour or do they want to see the ball go 500 feet? They want to see warriors."

It is a long way from 1988, when Canseco lost a prospective national endorsement deal with a major soft drink company because of unconfirmed suspicions that he used steroids. Many players, too, are showing more acceptance of steroids, especially when users and nonusers alike believe the health risks can be minimized if the drugs are used in proper doses. Today's user, they claim, is more educated about steroid use than Caminiti in 1996 or NFL lineman Lyle Alzado, who died in 1992 at age 43 from brain cancer he believed was caused by grossly excessive steroid use.

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