Eased my way into the day Friday by swilling a couple cups of coffee while beginning a long, fascinating article in Sports Illustrated on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.
Basically, the article deals with four Minnesota Twins farmhands, all pitchers drafted out of college, who entered professional baseball in the mid-1990s just as the steroid era was poised to reach full bloom.
Long story short, one of them used steroids and reached the majors. The other three didn’t and didn’t.
As some of you may recall, when this blog launched a little over six years ago, the line under my name read, “Not on steroids but thanks for asking.”
I’d like to say I made that up, but actually I had read about a T-shirt bearing such a slogan and always thought it was sort of funny.
Truth be told, no one would ever mistake me for a steroid user, and I’m glad about that. That bloated look is really not an appealing one.
Baseball-wise, my own career topped out at the American Legion level. I didn’t think I was good enough to play beyond that and didn’t try.
I also never considered trying to become good enough by dabbling in steroids, which were around even in the early 1980s. I don’t recall turning it into a big philosophical issue in my mind; it just was something that never even occurred to me, maybe because I was already one of the physically stronger players among my Legion teammates and opponents and still just an above-average player at best.
I didn’t really need to be much stronger, just more talented, and even if I’d been interested in steroids, which I wasn’t, it would have been hard to convince myself they’d really do all that much for my baseball abilities.
I guess I was just willing to be good enough or not good enough based only on my ability to develop skill naturally; however, don’t interpret that as excessive moralizing.
I think the Twins prospect and all the other guys who sought a chemical edge were wrong, but it’s important to remember that the permissive, drug-heavy culture of the time basically gave them the option of being one of the 50 percent of pro baseball using PEDs or being one of the 50 percent effectively disadvantaging themselves.
And if you watch much TV at all, you’ll notice from the commercials that our society in general seemingly has no real problem with various forms of self-improvement through medication.
Myself, I take a statin drug for slightly elevated cholesterol, and drink one or two six-packs of beer a week for my general well being. My conscience is clean there.
Beyond that, I’ll take a few Advil before every handball or baseball game to loosen up my aging joints. It’s not that I can’t play without the ibuprofen, but I definitely feel different (worse) if I forget.
So, does that make my Advil a PED of sorts? I suppose it does.
Do I feel guilty about taking pills that I know improve my chances of playing well? Maybe a little, but not much.
Unlike steroids or amphetamines — another popular drug category in baseball — Advil isn’t illegal. But it definitely provides a lift.
Does that make it bad or wrong? You tell me.