The History of Steroid Use in Major League Baseball

In 1991, steroids and other performance enhancing drugs were banned in the MLB. Twenty three years later there are players, who test positive of using such substances, why is this? Baseball has always been a sport of getting the upper hand on an opponent, not just from a score aspect, but on every play. If there is a pure pull hitter, or a person who the majority of their hits favor the side of their batting stance, fielders will move before the pitch to try and get into a better position to defend.

Batters will try to catch a quick look to see what sign the catcher is expressing so that they can get a better idea of what pitch is coming. However, these are naturally embedded advantages one might try and take advantage of, where steroids are artificial benefits.

The uses of performance enhancing drugs have been tracked back to the Olympic times. Athletes in the Roman times were said to have used performance enhancing herbs, funguses, many that were hallucinogenic to improve their performances.

Greek athletes were given substances like honey, caffeine, strychnine (a pesticide) and many other substances to improve their strength and knowledge.

Philostratos, a Greek sophist or teacher, recorded in his work, “Gymnasticus,” that doctors and cooks had helped preparing athletes for the Olympic Games by adding different substances to meals and medical procedures (Papagelopoulos, Mavrogenis & Soucacos, 2004). It appears that athletes have experimented with performance enhancing drugs well before the idea of baseball, what can this tell us? Is it embedded within the athletic mind to get better, or do what it takes to be victorious? These substances that they used back in ancient Greek times could very well be equivalent to a protein shake today, however the idea of wanting that substance to improve one’s performance cannot be argued.

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Performance enhancing is no stranger when it comes to players in the MLB. As stated above, players have tried to gain advantages in the past to gain the upper hand against the competition, whether it would be the other team or other players competing for stats. Doctoring baseballs have been a common practice in the MLB for many decades.

Former Tigers pitcher Brian Moehler once openly stuck sandpaper on his thumb during a game to gain traction on the ball. There is the mythical “spitball” which doesn’t necessarily have to involve saliva, but any slippery substance that can be applied to a baseball. The lubrication makes a ball slide off pitchers fingers, causing it to move very erratically on its path to the plate. This method was banned in the 1920’s, however players today still get flagged for taking such approaches to their profession, like when Diamondbacks hurler Byung-Hyun Kim was ejected after a bandage containing heat balm fell out of his shirt (Terbush, 2013).

In 2003, Sammy Sosa shattered his bat against the Devil Rays. The umpires upon further investigation had come to find out that his bat was corked. Corking involves drilling a cavity into a bat and filling it with some lightweight material, the most popular being cork or Styrofoam (Nathan, Smith, Russell & Faber, 2011). Corking a bat makes the bat lighter and shifts the bats center of gravity closer to the hands. How far a ball travels has many factors; one main factor is the bat speed of the hitter. If a hitter is swinging a lighter, more centered gravity bat, they are allowed to wait longer on the pitch and have greater acceleration towards the ball allowing more forceful and solid contact. It’s no doubt that a form of cheating has been on players’ minds, the use of steroids can easily follow suit into these players habits.

Steroids are synthetic versions of testosterone, a male hormone. During the 1930’s, scientists discovered that anabolic steroids could facilitate the growth of skeletal muscle in laboratory animals. Athletes will often use them in conjunction with weight training. Steroids help develop bigger muscles, bring greater strength, endurance, and allow athletes to train more frequently due to the quick recovery the substance aids. There are 30 types of anabolic steroids, which are the types used by athletes in training. They can be taken by needle, pill, and other methods in which drugs are absorbed (Solberg & Ringer, 2011).

In an interview in 2002, former player Ken Caminiti discussed in-depth of his steroid use in the 90’s. In 1996 he began taking steroids to recover from a shoulder surgery. In the second half of the season, he had hit 28 homeruns. He finished the season with 40 total home runs, a . 326 batting average and 130 RBI’s (Solberg & Ringer, 2011). These totals were higher than any of the other 14 seasons he had played. His next highest stat totals according to baseball- reference were 29 homeruns in 1998, 94 RBI’s in 1995 and .303 batting average in 2000. Caminiti described the impact of steroids on his body and on his play: fast. I felt like a kid… I’d be running the bases and think, Man, I’m fast! And I had never been Steroids made me like that. The stronger you get, the more relaxed you get. You feel good. You Just let it fly. (Verducci, 2002)

Jose Canseco essentially attributes his entire major league career to a drug regimen that included steroids (Canseco, 2005). He described himself to weigh 180 pounds at the end of his 1984 minor league season. After embarking on a weight lifting plan with steroid use, he arrived at the Oakland Athletics’ 1985 spring training camp with an additional 25 pounds, which was all muscle. He was called up to the majors following that training camp. Regarding the impact of steroids on his journey to the majors, he wrote, “Steroids were the key to it all… Steroids not only give you a lot of physical strength and stamina, they also give you a mental edge (Canseco, 2005).” He went on to make comments about feeling “superhuman” and that you can use a heavier bat without sacrificing any bat speed, which is the most important thing.

Although steroids are commonly associated with the long ball, the use of performance enhancing drugs is as prominent with pitchers as it is hitters. Kenny Rogers, a 20 year major league pitcher claimed that there were guys in their late 30’s and in their 40’s, who are throwing the ball 96 to 99 miles per hour, and they never threw that hard in their lives, that’s just not normal evolution (Verducci, 2002). Roger Clemens, the rocket, one of baseball’s greatest pitchers has been on the end of accusations of steroid use. A noticeable stat related to Kenny Rogers’s comments is his third to last season earned run average. He recorded his best ever ERA at 1.87 over 211 innings, he was 42.

There’s a lot of attention on the high level athletes, but what about the average or up and coming players? Verducci quoted a minor league player who admitted to using steroids. I’m not looking for size. I do it for my fast-twitch muscles. If I don’t feel good that week or if my hands don’t feel good, if they’re a little slow, I’ll take a shot or get on a cycle. It helps immediately. I notice the difference. My hands are quicker, so my bat is quicker.

The commonly held perception among players is that steroids and other PEDs do make a significant difference in performance. There are stats that are difficult to argue.

The culture of a group or organization is generally considered to be composed of two primary elements: Values and behavioral norms that are shared by members of the group. The norms and values that compose culture provide the context in which members of the group will make decisions regarding appropriate and legitimate behaviors (Chatman & Cha, 2003). In sports cultures, it has been somewhat embedded that sportsmanship and fair play should be the foundation in the activity.

However, in professional sports, I feel the priority of winning is more valued than playing fair. This is what leads people to take up such tactics in substance abuse or altering in game objects to achieve that win. If cheating was acceptable by the society however, people would have no reason to hide their habits. In 2007 George Mitchell released a 409 page report to the commissioner of baseball of an independent investigation into the illegal use of steroids and other performance enhancers by players in the MLB, this document is known as the Mitchell Report.

The report alleged that 89 players, including some of the game’s most well- known and respected stars had used performance enhancing substances. Performance enhancers have become a serious issue in the MLB, as there is much attention to the matter.

In the 2013 season, there were 9 players who had been suspended do to using performance enhancers. Out of those 9, 6 were MLB all stars. Ryan Braun, who won rookie of the year in 2007, and the 2011 MVP and 2012 NL homerun leader tested positive and was suspended for a whole season. Probably the most notable player going through steroid allegations currently is Alex Rodriguez, who just recently dropped his law suit against the MLB.

Barry Bonds will forever have an asterisk next to his 762 career home runs. These are all remarkable players, scarred by their insecurity to be great on their own. What does baseball culture think of these players? There is no doubt that performance enhancing drugs have had a negative impact on what seems to be a great society. “There are guys in the game only because of steroids. They couldn’t make it with their natural talent, so they had to enhance themselves. It sucks.” – David Wells.

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The History of Steroid Use in Major League Baseball. (2022, Dec 16). Retrieved from

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