Friday, March 23, 2007

Actual writing!

No "random crap" posts today. Instead, I present a project that I had to do for my English class this semester. I had to pick an argument that's taking place on a national level, and (among other things) write about how each side is arguing it. Naturally, I went with steroids in baseball. Anyone surprised by that? Didn't think so. (Bear in mind that this was written for a non-baseball audience, so I had to thoroughly explain a lot of things that seem obvious to baseball fans.) Anyway, hopefully from these two pieces alone you can't tell which side of the steroid debate I'm on. That will come in a paper due later in April.

Without further ado:

Argument from the Anti-Steroid Point of View

In a 2002 radio interview, sports analyst Bob Costas introduced the idea of labeling this slice of time in baseball history, from the mid-90s until the present, as the ‘Steroid Era.’ It was an ignoble label applied to a noble sport, but to critics of steroid use, it is certainly fitting.

Throughout the early 1990s, home run production increased, but steroids were still not a topic of mainstream conversation. Most of the negative buzz about the sport at that time came from the players’ strike of ’94. It took several seasons to win back many of the fans who were upset by the strike, but in 1998 baseball regained some of its popularity as a home run race raged between Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs. Fans watched, enraptured, as the two hulking men fought to break Roger Maris’ 37-year-old single-season home run record. McGwire came away with the record, and baseball was once again in the good graces of the American public.

With its luster restored, one might assume that all was well within Major League Baseball. However, it soon became apparent that McGwire and Sosa, along with many other hitters whose power numbers exploded in the 90s, were aided by something foreign.

Another slugger, Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants, emerged as the new ‘home run king’ in 2001, but under much more scrutiny that McGwire and Sosa had faced. Sports publications started writing volumes about how this man in his late 30s seemed to defy biological norms by ballooning in size at that late stage in his career. They showed photos of the once-scrawny outfielder bulking up in just a few seasons’ time. Often, writers would put these pictures side-by-side with statistics showing how, as his body mysteriously and rapidly grew in size, so too did his home run numbers. These statistics and the photos that accompanied them were deliberately placed next to one another in publications to urge viewers to link the two ideas together.
In the early days of the steroid argument, the main task for those against the use of steroids was to prove that it was indeed a problem. As the years went by, it seemed that many came to accept that steroids were part of the game of baseball, so the arguers’ focus shifted to other things; namely, the impact steroids have on the present and future of baseball, and the long-term hazards associated with players’ abuse of the drugs.

By that time, it appeared that many players, not just Bonds, appeared to be using steroids to boost their hitting abilities, and the fallout was becoming too much to ignore. Along with home runs, the number of injuries also skyrocketed. This was widely believed to be a direct result of steroid use, as users’ muscle growth was too fast for their ligaments to handle. These examples are held up by anti-steroids arguers because they appeal to the practical side of fans. One could argue that no fan wants to see his favorite player get hurt, so any substance that appears to cause injury is bad for the players and therefore bad for the sport.

Some people also claimed there was a correlation between rising suicide rates among young athletes and the use of anabolic steroids. When the issue was raised before Congress in 2005, teary-eyed father Ray Garibaldi recounted how his son Rob, whose death by suicide was thought to be a result of his steroid addiction, was affected by the drugs. “When disabled by steroids, his character and demeanor so drastically changed that he was dismissed by the coaching staff at USC as a behavioral problem.” In highlighting tragedies that were possibly linked to steroids, Garibaldi and others in the same school of thought used pathos effectively. Also, by telling his son’s story under an oath of truth and in front of the United States Congress, Garibaldi adds credibility to the anti-steroid side of the argument.

Players who have admitted to using steroids have been haunted by those actions. Amongst a flurry of shame and finger-wagging from the media, McGwire admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs during his record-breaking 1998 season. Though the substance he used was legal in baseball at that time, critics still hounded McGwire and branded him a cheater. The allegations grew larger a few years later, as Jose Canseco named McGwire as a user of illegal steroids in his 2005 autobiography. In the hearings before Congress, McGwire refused to talk about the allegations, repeatedly stating distaste for discussing matters that were in the past. McGwire’s critics took these statements as an admission to steroid use, and also as a concession that steroid use was a bad and shameful thing.

The target audience for the anti-steroids stance seems to be older baseball fans who would be more concerned about upholding historically significant records, and the future of the purity of the sport. For the most part, younger fans are too excited about home runs to worry about what made them possible and what the consequences of the extra aid might be. Older fans, on the other hand, know enough of baseball’s history to be offended by modern cheaters overtaking the records of olden-day greats. A 2004 poll by USA Today and Gallup shows that a striking 82% of fans feel that records set by players who are known to use steroids should either be removed from the books or marked with an asterisk.

Many of the arguments being used by the anti-steroid camp are rooted in emotion. Critics of drug use call up memories of “the glory days of baseball,” and claim that steroid use is tainting or clouding America’s pastime. They point to a possible (but not yet scientifically proven) link between young athletes who use steroids and a rising suicide rate, using the tragedy of young people taking their own lives as powerful leverage in their argument against the drugs. It might be difficult to come up with compelling arguments that are not emotional when the topic being discussed is a sport, not a heavy matter like war or abortion. Either way, those who are against steroid use seem to be winning: They have the United States Congress on their side, and the highest authorities in baseball are being forced to make widespread changes by using more drug testing and enforcing stricter penalties.

Works cited

Assael, Shaun and Peter Keating. “ESPN The Magazine Special Report: Who Knew?”
ESPN The Magazine 9 November, 2005.

Canseco, Jose. Juiced : Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got
Big. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2005.

Costas, Bob. Interview. “Baseball, Steroids, and the Truth.” The Dan Patrick Show.
ESPN Radio. 30 May. 2002.

Jenkins, Chris. “Players Admit Steroids Changed Baseball.” USA Today 15 March,

The San Francisco Chronicle. “TESTIMONY EXCERPTS.” San Francisco Chronicle 25
August, 1998: A-17.

Steroids Are Not Bad for Baseball, and Might Even Be Good For It

To some in the baseball world, the reason for the rapidly growing number of home runs being hit is simple and concrete: Steroids. However, others argue that the reasons for the increase in power hitting are more numerous and complex. Many new ballparks have been built recently, and most of those are smaller than older parks. The technology behind manufacturing bats has improved greatly. The leagues have expanded, so pitchers brought in to fill the new rosters are not as good. Additionally, weight training programs are more advanced than ever, and the demands on an athlete for physical perfection are greater than ever. People who make these arguments might also say that steroid use is not necessarily a bad thing for the game of baseball, but instead is a part of its evolution, just like batting helmets and the foul pole.

The arguments regarding steroids have certainly evolved over time. For years, the tactic was denial: Many managers, team owners, and players worked to deny that steroid use was happening at all. Steroid use was a lighthearted topic of topic conversations in team locker rooms, but in the public eye, was never mentioned. When sportswriters and others started to finger steroids as the reason for increases in offensive production, players and owners pointed to ideas like smaller parks, improved weight training and equipment technology, and more watered-down pitching staffs as the reasons for the improvements to offense. A few key events, like the death of baseball player and admitted steroid user Ken Caminiti, took further denial of steroid use out of the realm of possibility. At that point, tactics shifted toward proving that steroids were not causing harm to the game of baseball or its future as ‘America’s Pastime.’ (Caminiti’s death was not caused by steroids, but his death called a lot of attention to his earlier admission to steroid use and the other drug use he said steroids led him to.)

Now that many people in the pro-steroids camp freely admit that athletes are performing with the aid of a large body of drugs, their goal is to get others to not think it is a scourge to the game of baseball. Supporters of the use of anabolic steroids point out that because Major League Baseball is expanding, the league needs more pitchers. The general managers of teams call up more minor league pitchers who would not otherwise have been considered ready for the majors, and big-league hitters have no problem hitting more home runs than ever off these less-experienced (and possibly less talented) pitchers. Therefore, these supporters claim, steroids can not be the chief cause of exploding power numbers in the league. This is a logical approach to the argument because it shows an alternative to what the anti-steroids arguers say is the only cause of increases in power hitting in recent times in baseball.

Despite the common mental image of a “juicer,” huge, hulking power hitters are not the only steroid users in pro baseball. Recently, 47 minor league players tested positive for illegal steroids in their systems, and 21 of them were pitchers. To those who support steroid use, it makes perfect sense for pitchers to use the substances, because steroids promote speedy healing in the oft-overworked muscles of pitchers. Major League pitcher Barry Zito said, “I think for pitchers, recovery is bigger than strength. It's a pretty big thing to have a pitcher who doesn't get hurt, who's available." By pointing out that pitchers also juice, pro-steroid people are showing how even though power hitters are using steroids to get an edge, pitchers are retaliating with the same edge, so nobody has an advantage, but everybody is better. This angle also appeals to emotions of fans, who might feel for pitchers who torture their throwing arms night after night and need some means of healing between performances.

Noted sports medicine expert and author Charles Yesalis says steroid use is something fans and athletes need to adjust to, for better or worse. “These drugs are far too seductive, and the rewards for using them are far too great for us to think that education will stop it,” Yesalis said. “Get used to it. Shut up and get used to kids using them.” Some may express concern about young athletes, whose bodies are not fully developed, using steroids, but many say that the drugs can be used responsibly as a supplement to regular workouts. Dr. Gary Wadler, a steroid expert and a New York University professor, said athletes can take lower doses of steroids, rather than base their whole regimen around them, and still gain benefits such as speedy recovery.

Those who oppose steroid use generally focus on the bulk it adds to muscles, but ignore other benefits athletes may enjoy from using the drugs. In his controversial 2005 memoir, former major leaguer Jose Canseco tells of other ways steroids gave him a boost during long baseball seasons, which stretch from spring training in February to the World Series in October. “The added strength isn't even the most important benefit for a baseball player," Canseco said. “What makes even more of a difference in terms of performance is the added stamina it gives you all year-round. On the last day of the season, you feel as strong as you did on the first day of spring training.”

Is using anabolic steroids to survive a season something that will corrupt baseball and take away the seemingly magical luster its most heartfelt fans feel for the sport? Many who oppose steroid use say so, but others disagree. Blogger Peter Handrinos from notes that fans still flock to games, buy merchandise in record numbers, and tune in to TV broadcasts. If fans were really as worked up about steroids as the media make them out to be, he wrote, would these sales figures and TV ratings be as high as they are? “There’s a disconnect between the media's party line and real public opinion among the fans,” Handrinos said. “On the one side, a baseball media has been in an absolute frenzy. On the other side, though, fans have deliver [sic] year after year of record attendance, strong ratings, and multi-billion dollar revenues.” In pointing out this apparent media bias and distortion of fact, Handrinos takes away credibility from the other side of the argument, which, in the readers’ minds, might add credibility to his own cause.

With another baseball season only a few days from opening, it is likely that the arguments over steroid use will continue on talk shows, in the blogosphere, and around dinner tables all around America. Those in favor of steroids will use logical arguments and provide alternative causes to changes in the game, like smaller parks and better bats allowing more home runs to be hit, as well as emotional tactics like pointing out how steroids provide a boost to get baseball players through their long, grueling season. Like many other hot issues, the saga of steroids will probably not find its end this season or any time soon, but arguing about steroids may become as much a part of the game as batting helmets and the foul pole.

Works cited

Canseco, Jose. Juiced : Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got
Big. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2005

Handrinos, Peter. The United States of Baseball. 2007. Accessed 13 Mar. 2007

Kroichick, Ron. “Inside Pitch: Rapid Recovery is the Key for Pitchers in a Long Season.” San
Francisco Chronicle 3 May 2005: C-1.

Verducci, Tom, Don Yaeger, George Dohrmann, Luis Fernando Llosa, and Lester
Munson. “Totally Juiced.” Sports Illustrated. 3 June. 2002.

Yesalis, Charles. (Ed.). Anabolic Steroids in Sport and Exercise (2nd ed.), Human Kinetics,
Champaign, IL, 2000.

Holy wow, that was a long post! Something else new is coming soon too!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you did a great job of summarizing the subject. Keep it up...Don Yaeger (one of the SI writers whose story you mentioned)