Archived Story

Column: Performance enhancing drugs and baseball

Published 12:00am Thursday, May 31, 2007

By Jon Laging, Talking Sports

Baseball is going through a difficult time. A sport that relies on measurements is in trouble because of PED: Performance Enhancing Drugs. Not only are drugs assisting individual performances, they are threatening to make a shambles of past records if left unchecked.

As players&8217; skills are bettered through chemistry, running to first base and stealing second becomes easier. So far we have not seen a disruption of the game, nor the need to change the basepath dimensions, for as batters have gotten stronger and faster, so have defensive players.

It has pretty much evened out, but there is one component of the game that has not. The distance from home plate to the outfield fences. Much like watching the stock market, the number of home runs, despite occasional dips, has continued to go up. There have been a number of reasons given; stronger players, different philosophy of the game, better training and the biggest excuse of all, the use of a livelier ball. Do you suppose we can include performance enhancing drugs? No doubt about it. Look at Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds. A liar, a dissembler and a couple of strongly suspected liars about their use of PEDs.

Home runs have become cheap in a game that values numbers above all other games.The biggest sore thumb in PED abuse is the man approaching one of the most hallowed of all records. Barry Bonds.

Everyone is concerned that PED may figure strongly in the record for most home runs. As I write this, Bonds seems to have hit a wall just nine home runs away. After all, the man is 43 years old and how long can he keep defying Father Time? Little has slowed the big slugger down except last year&8217;s injuries and for all the evidence of a much larger body, including his 10 1/2 to 13 size shoe, he has not been convicted of wrong doing. Should we applaud or boo Barry Bonds if he breaks the home run record?

What makes a person perform better? Athletes have been looking for an edge ever since Achilles was dipped in the pond by his heel. Baseball started out being played bare-handed and then graduated to gloves. Equipment for athletes has become better and better. Training techniques have become more sophisticated with highly paid trainers and dieticians. Do we criticize long distance runners for loading up on carbs before a big long run? We don&8217;t.

Everybody seeks an edge. And when you consider the amount of fame and money accorded to a successful athlete you can understand why. When baseball was going through the doldrums during the players strike and the loss of a season who rescued it? Why, Sammy Sosa and Mark (Big Mac) McGwire. If you could swallow some pills for fame and fortune, would you do it? The temptation must be great. Most athletes, in fact many of us, take vitamin pills. Do we condemn this? No, of course not. If vitamin pills are introducing substances into your body to make you feel better and your hair shiny, is that bad? If an athlete&8217;s sick, should he not take antibiotics? I remember when a high school basketball player had novocaine injected into an injured ankle, and everybody thought well, if it works, try it.

How much worse are steroids? I struggled with the answer and Barry Bonds assault on the HR records. Why do some things seem OK and others do not

The answer I came up with is probably my grandparents&8217; answer and one that enables us to live together in a civilized manner. If it seems wrong, it is wrong! In other words, the part of us that makes us into good or bad people. What Freud would call our super-ego and what the rest of us would call our conscience.

Jon Laging writes about regional sports issues from his home in Preston.