Baseball has long held the moniker of "America’s favourite pastime." It was as American as sliced bread and apple pie. Now we might have to add PEDs (performance enhancing drugs) to that short list. Recently, two more players, Detroit Tigers pitcher Drake Britton and St. Louis second baseman Luke Doyle has have been suspended for testing positive. In June 2016, Cleveland Indians veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd was handed the harsh suspensions of 162 games.
Young athletes look for any edge to help them succeed in the pros and old veterans look for that elixir of youth for their final big payday and continuing to turn to drugs for that edge. Even though players know they’ll be tested at some point, as of Tuesday July 2, 2016, there have been 63 suspensions under the minor league testing program and 13 under the major league program.
Today we’ll take a look back at that Steroid Era that changed baseball forever. We’ll look at all the key players involved and how some of the stats enjoyed during that era may never be seen again as long as players continue to be tested. Find out who went to prison, who didn’t, and about the player whose book started it all.
20 20. Juiced: The Book
Juiced:Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big was certainly the catalyst for drug testing and highlighted baseball’s drug culture. Former Major League outfielder Jose Canseco’s tell-all published by Regan Books in 2005, single-handedly took down some of the biggest stars in the game. For a while, baseball was reminiscent of WWE wrestling. Many players named in the book- Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi, and Canseco himself had physiques never before seen on baseball players. Barry Bonds later took it to a whole different level with thighs the size of tree-trunks and a head so large it would have trouble fitting inside a football helmet. Once the book came out, everyone denied any involvement with steroids and penned Canseco as a liar and attention-seeker. There are a lot of things you can probably call Jose Canseco, but liar in this case wasn’t one of them. Juiced is essentially responsible for forcing baseball to clean up it’s own act. As far-fetched as it sounds, it might go down as one of the most important books of the 21st century. It could already be considered one of the most impactful.
19 George J. Mitchell
George John Mitchell, Jr. is a lawyer, businessman and politician. He was also a Democratic Senator from Maine from 1980 to 1995 and Senate Majority Leader from 1989 to 1995. After leaving the Senate, he led peace negotiations in Northern Ireland and the Middle East for Presidents Clinton and Obama. He also worked for a numerous companies but what most people didn’t know was that he was chairman of Disney from March 2004 until January 2007. Another fact about Mitchell few know about is that his career was so accomplished and respected in politics that Bill Clinton appointed him for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1994. It was an offer he subsequently turned down. In spite of all he’s accomplished, most people outside of politics might always know him as the guy who wrote the Mitchell Report on baseball’s drug epidemic which outed 89 professional players. I guess it’s much like the guy who wrote the Warren Report after t JFK’s death.
18 Andy Pettite
Ryan Braun and Rafael Palmeiro’s involvement with steroids might have taken many by surprise, but there was no bigger surprise than Andy Pettite’s admission to using PEDs. Pettite had always maintained a humble, honest, and squeeky-clean image- which was polar opposite of the broken bat-throwing, smoke-snarling intensity of former teammate Roger Clemens. We could imagine performance enhancement with Clemens. We couldn’t imagine it with Pettitte. But on February 13, 2008, Pettitte dragged himself to court on an affidavit as part of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Oversight and Governmental Reform. Pettitte admitted to having injected human growth hormone twice to help recover from an elbow injury. He also recounted how former friend and Yankee Clemens had told him he had used HGH. Clemens later claimed during the hearings that Pettite had "misremembered," and it was actually Clemens's wife who used HGH.
17 Brian McName and Roger Clemens
Brian McNamee was the personal trainer caught in the middle of the steroid mess, along with Kirk J. Radomski- the former batboy and clubhouse employee for the New York Mets. McNamee was Roger Clemens’ trainer and the one who helped him acquire his PEDs which was said to include steroids, HGH, and amphetamines. The Mitchell Commission claimed that McNamee began injecting Clemens with steroids in 1998 through 2001. What really puzzled everyone about Clemens’ steroid use is that he was already a dominant pitcher and virtual shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. Clemens was a seven-time Cy Young Award winner ( 1986, 1987, 1991, 1997) before he started injecting. Clemens would win three more Cy Young Awards following PED use (1998, 2001, 2004). Using steroids tainted his legendary career as perhaps the most dominant pitcher of the modern era.
16 Marion Jones and BALCO
Marion Jones isn’t a baseball player but her use of steroids got her caught in the net through her association with Victor Conte. She might have never gotten caught if Victor Conte and BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative) hadn’t been thrust into the spotlight. Founded by Conte, BALCO was a "nutritional supplements" company that branched out into distributing banned performance enhancing drugs. The drugs sold by Conte’s BALCO were illegal under Olympic rules and his track athletes soon started testing positive by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. But track athletes weren’t the only clients being supplied by BALCO. They had also given steroids to several top baseball players- including Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi who virtually walked away from charges. Jones was caught lying to federal agents and on October 5, 2007 she pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months in prison and two years of probation. She was also stripped of the five medals she won at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. To date she remains the only athlete to go to jail over the BALCO steroid scandal. In the end, no one fell harder and farther, and paid a bigger price than Marion Jones. What about Bonds and Giambi? Besides tainted legacies, their lives were never in ruin.
15 Frank Thomas Stands Against Steroids
To those looking for a true superstar during the Steroid Era of baseball, look no further than Frank Thomas. "The Big Hurt" as he was known, was never under any suspicion of using PEDs or steroids because he came naturally big at 6’5 and 240 lbs. Besides, how many baseball players had also played tight end for Auburn? Thomas was very vocal against the use of steroids and was the only active player who voluntarily agreed to talk to investigators during the Mitchell Report preliminary. He's the only player in major league history to have seven consecutive seasons (1991–1997) with a .300 batting average, at least 100 RBIs (runs batted in), 100 runs scored, 100 walks, and 20 home runs. In 2005, Ozzie Guillén, the White Sox manager, led his team to a World Series championship during which Thomas was hurt and unavailable. The White Sox later gave him a World Series ring for his contributions. On June 28, 2007, Thomas hit the 500th career home run as a Toronto Blue Jay and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014. Who says nice guys finish last?
14 What Happened with the BALCO Scandal?
When Victor Conte created BALCO, I’m sure he never expected for it to end with him serving a prison sentence along with others associated to him. While his biggest client Barry Bonds, walked free, Conte served four months in prison and four month house arrest. Greg Anderson, Bonds’ personal trainer, was sentenced to three months in prison and three months house arrest for his involvement with investigators. BALCO executive James Valente got probation after pleading guilty to steroid distribution. Other’s caught in the mess were track coach Remi Korchemny- indicted on charges of money laundering, fraud, and possession with intent to distribute steroids. Conte’s former attorney Troy Ellerman leaked grand jury testimony to a San Francisco reporter which put him in the hot seat and on the wrong side of the law. He ended up pleading guilty to four felonies, including contempt of court and obstruction of justice and was eventually sentenced to two-and-a-half years in the slammer.
13 Home Runs
The biggest statistic affected by the Steroid Era is overall home run production amongst teams. Based on long-ball statistics, there is a clear correlation between steroid use and home run production. For example, in 2000, teams averaged about 190 home runs while in 2015 the average dropped to around 163.6. We can see how steroids and home runs were basically interrelated with one another. Fans wanted to see 500 ft bombs, not pitching gems. This could be one of the biggest reasons why many critical experts on baseball believe that Major Leagues turned a blind eye to the steroid culture prevailing throughout the game. The attitude was as long as fans showed up at the turnstiles and the ratings continued to climb, baseball executives might have been willing to look the other way. Statistics aside, it’s hard to believe those connected to the game didn’t know. One look at Mark McGwire’s near 20 inch biceps must have been a clue. Perhaps Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn summed it up when he once quoted saying: "we all knew of players who used steroids. All you all knew. We knew. Players knew. Owners knew. Everybody knew. And we didn't say anything about it."
12 The Defensive Shift
During the Steroid Era, managers were more concerned with trying to keep the ball in the park. Since players began getting tested, it effectively ended the long ball days and ushered in the small ball game which gave rise to the Defensive Shift. The end of steroids in the game of baseball created the chess-match we're seeing today and one of the main strategies are managers moving players all over the field. Former Yankee catcher and current skipper, Joe Girardi, thinks it should be banned from baseball: "I just think the field was built this way for a reason, with two on one side and two on the other." But it isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. Playoff teams have perfected the shift to great success. Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is a good example of someone who’s been affected by the shift. "There's just so many hits that you lose over the course of the season," he said about the shift. "I'm talking about legitimate hits — one-hop line drives to the outfield where the guy is making a diving play, catching it and throwing you out at first." Howard’s batting average dipped from .266 in 2013 to .223 in 2014 when teams deployed the shift against him.
11 Affected Viewership
After the 1994 baseball strike, fans turned away from the game in droves. It took a while for fans to begin caring again but by the time the Yankees squared off against the Diamondbacks for Game Seven in 2001, 39.1 million viewers were glued to a TV set. Fox estimated that 71.9 million watched all or part of the game which was the largest audience for a sporting event since 131.2 million viewers watched Super Bowl XXXV on CBS the January prior. The following year World Series ratings was just as strong with 30.8 million viewers watching the Anaheim Angels take on Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants. Since then, the game has changed dramatically. It’s become much more defensive-minded with timely hitting, fewer home runs, and small ball winning games. The 2014 World Series Game Seven between the Giants and Royals drew only 23.5 million paltry viewers. The change in the game combined with the rising popularity of the other sports such as the UFC means baseball may never see the kind of numbers they once enjoyed during the Steroid Era.
10 Disabled List
In recent years, the MLB saw a 31% increase in the amount of players subjected to the Disabled List. Many attributed those increases to steroid use. Steroids pack on muscle and pushes more weight than the body is accustomed to. This puts a strain on the joints, tendons, and ligaments- all parts of the body that don’t benefit from steroids. This often leads to muscle tears and strains which means trips to the DL. Others suspect that batters might have been injured more by being hit by pitches thrown by juiced-up pitchers. They point to the fact that many batters began wearing body armour akin to those worn by football safeties. Steroids and wear and tear on athlete’s bodies may also have shortened many careers- which is the opposite effect that many wanted. Prolonged steroid use and the game itself can prove too much on an athlete and force them to retire due to multiple injuries. One of the poster-boys for steroid use and its affects on the body was Mark McGwire who set the single-season home run record in 1998 with 70 long balls (soon broken by Barry Bonds with 73) and retired in 2001 due to injuries.
9 Pud Galvin
You might assume that baseball’s PED problem started in the '90s, but it actually dates a lot farther than that. Back in 1889, a player by the name of Pud Galvin first gave PEDs a try by using something called Brown-Sequard Elixir. It’s actually testosterone derived from other animals, usually from dogs and guinea pigs. Galvin’s was said to derive from monkey testicles. He pitched for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys (who became the Pittsburgh Pirates), and was a dominant pitcher during his time holding many pitching records and a Hall of Fame nod. Performance enhancing wasn’t what it is today. Even the great Bambino himself, Babe Ruth, was said to have tried injecting himself with sheep testicles extract in 1925 (it didn’t work and made him ill). I can’t imagine the players back then investing too much money, time, and effort finding drugs that could help them perform better. The era today is certainly different from when baseball was competitive, but also played for pure fun. In an era of multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts, many players appear to be willing to take the risks involved with performance-enhancing drugs.
8 Tom House
Before being known as a pitching guru, Tom House was most famous as “that guy” who caught Hank Aaron’s record 715th home run in the Atlanta Braves bullpen. The former pitcher admitted to taking steroids during his career and said performance-enhancing drugs were widespread in baseball in the 1960s and 1970s. He also admitted that himself and several teammates used amphetamines. So desperate was House that he even tried human growth hormone and "whatever steroid" he could find to keep up with the ever improving competition. We were “doing steroids they wouldn't give to horses,” he once said. During his eight year career, he pitched for the Braves, Red Sox, and Mariners amassing a career total of 29-23 record and a 3.79 ERA. House describes a sign of the times. The '60s and '70s were a time of cultural exploration and drugs and if his career numbers are any indication, the drugs they were doing then might have had little effect. We live in an age where chemist have access to some of the best knowledge and equipment which has led to better and more specific drugs. Tom House gets credit for letting us know that Canseco wasn’t the first one to bring steroids to the game. In fact, Canseco isn’t even the most open one to talk about it. House was quoted as saying, "I tried everything known to man to improve my fastball, and it still didn't go faster than 82 miles per hour...I was a failed experiment."
7 Magic #60
Baseball’s Steroid Era might forever hold the demarcation line for home runs. It forced us to gain perspective on players, the game, and the long ball. There was a time when if a player reached 60 home runs, he captivated the nation. When New York Yankee outfielder Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in a season, he became a national hero. Before Maris, Babe Ruth was the only player to have hit 60 home runs in a season which he accomplished in 1927. From 1927-1998, only Maris had hit 60 or more when he achieved his feat of 61 in 1961. But since 1998 there have been nine Major League players who have hit 60 or more home runs. For this reason alone, perspective is needed. Others have proposed asterisks. From 1998-01, Bonds, McGwire, and Sammy Sosa hit 60 home runs a combined seven times. McGwire was the first to break Maris’ record in 1998 by hitting 70 home runs which was followed by Sammy Sosa who ended with 66 homers. Then in 2001, Bonds would take ovef McGwire’s record by hitting an unfathomable 73 home runs to end up as the ultimate single season Home Run King. All three men have been linked to steroids and have removed all the magic from the number 60.
6 Alex Sanchez
Incase you’re wondering, “Alex Who?” you’re not alone. Many don’t know that Alex Sanchez was the first Major League player to be suspended under the MLB new drug guidelines. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays outfielder was suspended for 10 days in 2005. He always maintained his innocence but decided not to appeal his 10-day suspension. "First and foremost, it must be made clear that I do not condone the use of steroids, and I want to take this opportunity to warn everyone -- especially children -- of their danger," he had said in a released statement. Sanchez claims he took an over-the-counter supplement before the banned substance list was implemented. "I've never taken steroids or anything like them. ... I never take steroids because I don't need them." It’s likely he was telling the truth based on having hit only four career home runs at the time of his suspension. Sanchez' 10-day drug suspension ended up costing him $32,787 of his $600,000 salary that year.
Steroids in baseball had been banned since 1991, but the MLB had no way of enforcing it until 2003. It was sort of like the law that no one enforces so it really wasn’t much of a ban. A law isn’t really a law until it’s enforced and that goes for a ban too. In contrast, the NFL began testing for ‘steroids in 1987. Today, the NFL's assumed drug of choice is HGH which is hard to test for. So far, no one’s been caught using it but that doesn’t mean that none of the players are using the drug. It more likely demonstrates the difficulty of detecting it due to the test’s short window for detection (other tests are being developed which will provide longer windows- perhaps five to eight days). In Major League Baseball, drug testing has improved and continues to catch cheaters as seen recently with Mets reliever Jenrry Mejia who was permanently banned from baseball on February 12th, 2016 for incurring his third PED suspension. We could consider 1998 the year of the “real” ban.
4 Dr. Ramon Scruggs
In the early 2000s, third baseman Troy Glaus and his teammate Scott Schoeneweis were struggling to stay in the game and decided to turn to Ramon Scruggs for help. Scruggs was an anti-aging doctor who was indicted on charges of illegally writing prescriptions for steroids and human growth hormone to the players, business executives, police officers, and other people in different professions. Federal agents interviewed Glaus, Schoeneweis, former catcher Todd Greene, and pitcher Ismael Valdez in connection with a 2007 investigation. The feds were looking into an Internet-based pharmacy that had made shipments of PEDs to the players (Green had never been identified). The paper trail led to Scruggs, 62, losing his medical license and agreeing to a plea deal. What’s most amazing about Scruggs is that he remained unapologetic about supplying steroids to the players. “These players benefited from restoration, not performance enhancement,” Scruggs once said in a telephone interview. “Steroids don’t make someone a good athlete or a bad athlete; they may make you stronger, but they don’t make you a better athlete.” Perhaps no player benefited more from Scrugg’s prescriptions than Troy Glaus who missed much of 2004 with shoulder issues and other health complications. He was released by the Angels over those health concerns but soon after signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks for $45 million over four years based on some of his steroid-inflated career numbers.It was the largest contract of his career.
Androstenedione was once an over-the-counter muscle enhancement product that could be easily obtained. There was little regulation around it though it was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency and International Olympic Committee in 1997. After Mark McGwire was seen with a bottle sitting in his locker and admitted to using it, the product later became classified as an anabolic steroid and labeled as a controlled substance. It’s now banned by the MLB, NFL, USOC, NCA, and the NBA. Known also as Andro for short, it received a big boost in sales thanks to Mr. McGwire. After McGwire’s androstenedione use became national news, sales increased to $50 million by 1999. Sports Illustrated credits chemist Patrick Arnold, for introducing Andro to the sports field market but it was McGwire, at the time becoming a national hero known for his towering home runs and muscular arms, who sent young men running to their computers to obtain a bottle of the pills. Tests run on Andro have been fairly inconclusive. It’s a precursor which requires the body to produce it’s own testosterone and has not been shown to produce any significant muscle growth. Now that we know McGwire used much more than Andro to obtain his body-builder like arms, it’s more likely that Androstenedione was used as a cover.
2 The $200 Million Man: Alex Rodriguez
If baseball historians ever needed one player that encompasses the mess that baseball and drugs were, Alex Rodriguez might be the obvious choice. Alex has been caught more, benefitted more, and played longer than even Mark McGwire. Born super-gifted with all the tools necessary to be a superstar baseball player, his career will forever be marred by his involvement with steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. You can easily say that A-Rod is a known cheater. He admitted to using steroids from 2001 to 2003 due to heavy pressure to succeed. At first he denied ever using steroids in a 60 Minutes interview with Katie Couric. Then in 2013, he was involved in the Biogenesis Drug Scandal that led to his 211-game ban- the longest non-lifetime suspension ever in Major League Baseball history. After “serving time” while appealing his suspension, the ban was reduced to 162 games which amounted to the entire 2014 season. Alex Rodriguez might go down as one of the most notorious baseball players ever to play the game once his career is over. He’ll always be known as the youngest player to ever hit 500 home runs (32 yrs), and the richest player ever to play the game after signing two-lucrative contracts; a 10-year deal worth $252 million and then a 10-year $275 million deal with the New York Yankees.
1 Bernie Sanders
Yes, that Bernie Sanders. Few know that Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders (Rep. I-VT), was very vocal about steroids in baseball and how the issue was being handled as member of the House Committee. Sanders couldn’t help but make a speech about the healthcare system and poverty in America though he and other congresspeople were asked not to issue political statements. Afterwards, he grilled Curt Schilling of the Boston Red Sox who openly called Canseco a liar and said that he had never heard much talk about steroids in baseball. Rafael Palmeiro was also there and played coy by saying that he too, was unaware of steroids in baseball and that the numbers quoted by Canseco were too high. “Even 1% is too high,” Palmeiro said. “We need to make sure it’s zero percent.” Palmeiro was later caught testing positive for steroids. Other big names seen at the 2005 C-Span aired hearing were Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. The best line on the day which garnered the biggest chuckle was when Sanders asked Schilling if the major leagues found out that steroids was indeed a problem, would they agree to return for a senate hearing on the issue to which Schilling remained clearly non-committal. Sanders responded with, “You sound like a politician” which induced a bashful smile from Schilling and giggles from those in attendance.