Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Confessions of a steroid user

Even though Michael Vick and the corrupt NBA referee are starting to put matters in perspective, there remains a lot of controversy over Barry Bonds and his slog toward the home run record. As of this writing, he now is sitting at 753 career homers and has a chance to tie or break Henry Aaron’s record on the Giants’ current homestand. I’ve written about Barry before; I’m pretty much ambivalent about it all; there looks to be a lot of circumstantial evidence that he was seeking an edge and that he may have taken performance-enhancing drugs. But given the presence of Gaylord Perry in the Hall of Fame, it’s difficult to see why Bonds should be vilified.

Lately I’ve been thinking about Bonds in a different context. Since I had my surgery in April, I’ve been living without a pituitary gland. As a result, I am now taking a variety of pills to help keep me on the beam. Among the things I take every day is hydrocortisone. Hydrocortisone is (cue ominous music) a steroid! I’m not sure if taking steroids has enhanced my performance in any way, but I still end up taking the pills anyway. And if I stopped taking steroids, ultimately I would get so sick that I’d die. So when I hear people railing against steroids, I wonder a bit. They have their purpose in life. So does self-righteousness, I guess.


Anonymous said...

The steroid taken by Mr Dilletante, and the performance enhancing cocktails taken by Bonds have the name steroid in common but that's where things end. Mr Dilletante is taking a legal prescription, while Bonds "allegedly" took substances that were illegal both in the eyes of baseball, and the government.

Harmon Killebrew, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and many of the sluggers of the past did not have the advantage that Bonds did with his enhancements.

Bonds will break the record, but it will be tainted, as will be all of baseball when it happens.

Mark said...

I know, I know, anonymous, tainted, poisoned, crooked, evil, etc. But also baked into the nature of baseball. By the way, take the Babe off your list of approved sluggers - Ruth was busted for using an illegal bat; Gaylord Perry used a spitball for his entire career. Bonds is hardly unique in this regard.

You can disapprove of Bonds all you want - I can think of dozens of reasons to disapprove of him myself. But it won't do to pretend that he is somehow beyond the pale. And my guess is that, 7-10 years on, we'll have A-Rod breaking his record anyway. Bonds may not be able to attend that, however, because he may be in federal prison.

Anonymous said...

How shocking that someone who who in most cases, calls things as they appear becomes wishy-washy when it comes to baseball.

Equating spitballs and illegal bats (what did they do to Sosa when he was caught, next to nothing) to steriod use is a surprising stand for you from this reader's perspective.

Bonds will be held accountable at some point. The guess here is that it will be for lieing under oath, not for the actual use of the drugs. They didn't get Capone for his major crimes; they got him for tax evasion.

Please confirm that you are not giving Bonds a free pass, because thats what it looks like from here. I'd hate to think that Mr Dilletante has become a steroid apologist......

Mark said...

Hello second anonymous,

I guess the problem I have with this current controversy is that Bonds (and, to a lesser extent, Mark McGwire) are being called cheaters because they apparently sought one form of ilicit advantage, while others, including Babe Ruth, are excused.

And I do wonder why steroid abuse is worse than using a corked bat, or throwing spitballs. Is there a reason? If so, what is it? Perhaps not understanding the reason makes me "wishy-washy," but I'm not sure how. Maybe you can help explain these distinctions.

As for the tax evasion, that may be true and he could end up in jail, which I've already acknowledged.

Ultimately, I think Bonds is a great player and pretty much a schmuck as a human being. Kinda like Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Cap Anson, Johnny Evers and Rogers Hornsby - Hall of Famers all.

Anonymous said...

One final distinction: A corked bat and a spit ball are illegal in baseball, but not illegal from the government's perspective. Steroid use is illegal from both perspectives. Moot point? I don't think so. Secondly, a famous player taking steriods and then being glorified for it is an open statement to any younger player who may be considering the use such supplements, that yes, it pays to cheat in the end. If they used a corked bat, it doesn't affect them physically in the long run. If they use steroids or other enhancements, it could kill them. The stakes are much higher than whether or not a schmuck gets in the hall of fame. What surprises this reader is that you don't seem to get this extremely important distinction.

Mark said...

No, I get the distinction. But there are a few problems with your analysis. First, steroid abuse laws are of pretty recent vintage; most of these laws have been passed in the past few years. The steroid era in baseball likely predates many of these laws - we started to hear some of these suspicions as early as 1990. You may be certain that Bonds broke laws regarding steroid trafficking and you may very well be right, but the facts as adjudicated in a court of law may turn out differently.

Second, I think "glorified" is a pretty strong term for what I'm talking about here. I don't see anyone outside of San Francisco or Bristol, CT "glorifying" Bonds right now. He is about as reviled an athlete as I've seen in my lifetime; the only person who comes close is Pete Rose. He is hated, perhaps rightly so, for many reasons.

But again, I ask: what makes Bonds unique? My guess is that a thorough accounting will show that many athletes in this era have used performance-enhancing drugs. The testimony of Jason Grimsley should hit the news in the next week; at that point Roger Clemens, among others, may be implicated.

Now think about other players Juan Rincon of the Twins was busted in 2005. Should he be run out of baseball? Should he be arrested and sent to federal prison? How about Rafael Palmeiro? He got busted in 2005 as well and his career is over. Should he go to the Hall? How about Sosa? His disappearance in 2006 and reappearance this year would certainly be cause for inferring that he was drying out. What will Giambi's testimony ultimately be?

My guess is that a complete accounting of steroid use in the period 1990-2005 would indicate that a fairly sizable percentage of players used performance-enhancing drugs of some sort. What that percentage would be is speculative, at best, but it could be 10%, or 20%, or maybe more. And my guess is that many of the users would be people like Jason Grimsley; i.e., marginal talents trying to hang on in a world with merciless performance standards. So what do we do with all this? Ignore all the records and performances of the era? Assume a taint on everyone, including Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey and A-Rod? Or do we view it as a broader context, much as baseball historians discount the offensive records of the early 1930s, even as they honor some of the records from the era (like Hack Wilson's 191 RBI season in 1930).

Bonds was a legitimately great player well before he was ever suspected of steroid use. In 1998 he was considered probably one of the top 20 players in the history of the game. If he'd retired 10 years ago, there would have been no doubt. But he didn't. He went on and put up some comic opera numbers since he jealously watched McGwire and Sosa's magical, chemically-induced home run competition of 1998.

I would also argue with your notion that "it pays to cheat in the end." Bonds will eventually have the record, but given the way you and millions of other Americans feel about it, I'm not sure that it has paid off in any real way. How much endorsement money does Bonds have? Bonds will be infamous, not famous, at least in the short term. How he, and the era itself, will be viewed 50 years on will be interesting to see. I hope I live long enough to find out.

This is a much larger question, I think, than simple law-breaking and role modeling for children. This story is about human nature, Bonds's nature and our own. And like most such stories, there are levels of complexity way beyond the narrative of events. I know I'm starting to wander off into English Major's Disease territory here, but calling things as I see them is what I do. What I see here is apparently quite different than what you see. I appreciate your respectful disagreement.


SAI126 said...

I never met anyone who had the same surgery as me. It's hard enough to get good information from doctors, let alone find someone with the same experience. I was wondering, among other things what meds you take, and how you tolerate them?