Silent Archimedes

Posts Tagged ‘Bud Selig’

Q&A on the baseball steroids scandal (FAQ)

Posted by silentarchimedes on February 13, 2009

1. What are steroids?

IUPAC recommended ring (left) and atom numbering (right) of the steroid skeleton. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

IUPAC recommended ring (left) and atom numbering (right) of the steroid skeleton. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

There are many types of steroids, and most of them are natural and required by animals, plants and fungi to survive. The scientific definition is a terpenoid lipid characterized by a carbon skeleton with four fused rings, generally arranged in a 6-6-6-5 fashion. Common steroids include estrogen, testosterone, and cholesterol. Technically, cholesterol is a sterol, which is a combination of steroids and alcohol. The former two are in a category called steroid hormones. These steroids include the sex hormones, corticosteroids (topical steroids are used for skin rashes, etc), and anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are the ones used by athletes because their main purpose is to increase muscle and bone synthesis. Because they are related to the testosterone sex hormone, they also have effects of maintaining masculine characteristics, such as growth of  vocal chords and body hair. Anabolic steroids were first identified and synthesized in the 1930s.

2. What is the legal status of anabolic steroids?

Most countries classify steroids as controlled substances, which means that they are illegal to produce, distribute, possess and use without written prescriptions from authorized medical officials. These countries include the United States, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, the Netherlands (NL), and the United Kingdom (UK). However, they are readily available over the counter in Thailand and Mexico. Hence the underground availability of them in the U.S.

However, the status of anabolic steroids is recent considering its 1930s identification. They had no legal status prior to the 1980s and were common in many sports, including football and bodybuilding. It was not until the Ben Johnson controversial Olympic victory that they were placed under the Controlled Substances Act in the United States.

3. When were steroids banned in Major League Baseball?

1991. There is a huge misconception that steroids were not illegal in Major League Baseball (MLB) before 2004. This is completely false. The truth is that they were officially banned in 1991 when Commissioner Fay Vincent sent a memo to all teams and players that illegal drugs, including steroids are illegal. [1][2]

This prohibition applies to all illegal drugs and controlled substances, including steroids or prescription drugs…

The exact same memo was resent by the MLB office in 1997. [3] The reason 2004 is used as the official year was because the rule was not enforced from 1991 until the pressures of Congress forced testing to become official in 2004.

4. Who is responsible for allowing steroids to become a problem from 1991 to 2004?

MLB Commissioner during the Steroid Era

MLB Commissioner during the Steroid Era

This is the ultimate question. Although guilty players have gotten most of the blame for the problem, logically they were only the end result of the problem. The commissioner and owners turned the other way because the lockout of 1994 had caused baseball to drop precipitously in popularity. An historic home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa seemed the perfect antidote for low ratings. The players’ union, in trying to protect their players’ privacy and rights, instead seemed like they were protecting cheaters instead of looking out for the interests of innocent players. The players who used were at fault because they cheated and lowered the integrity of the game. However, it is unfair to fully blame players who felt pressured to take PEDs after seeing a culture that created unnatural stars. It seems, at least for the moment, that Arod fell into this camp. Innocent players should also shoulder some of the the blame because almost all chose the silent route when questioned if their was a problem in the game. Instead of looking out for the interests of the game, they chose to stick to union lines and protect cheating players that indirectly hurt themselves. It’s hard to fault fans that wanted to see more offense, especially home runs, simply because baseball without all the hits and runs can be construed as boring. Finally, testing for steroids and especially HGH was simply not at a point yet that MLB was comfortable with.

5. What notable players have been tainted by steroids, HGH or other performance enhancing drugs (PEDs)?

Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro, Andy Pettitte, Benito Santiago, Gary Sheffield, Lenny Dykstra, Chuck Knoblauch, David Justice, Mo Vaughn, Ken Caminiti, Matt Williams.

This is only a list of notable players. Tens of second tier players have also been outed by the Mitchell Report. Another 103 are on the list of 104 anonymous players who tested positive in MLB’s steroids survey in 2003. Alex Rodriguez is the first name to be leaked from that list.

6. Should players tainted by steroids allegations be allowed into the Hall of Fame?

This question won’t be answered for at least a decade. There’s a reason why retired players have to wait five years before becoming eligible for the Hall of Fame. This is to allow any attachments and emotions to the player to subside before making a more objective decision. However, the criteria for entering the HOF has always changed with the times and generations. As much as people question the statistics of the Steroid Era, baseball has always allowed questionable players into the HOF. Until the whole steroids influence is fully understood, statistics of all players who played during this era cannot be fully appreciated. At this point, the steroids players are simply the ones that have been caught. To assume someone is clean because they haven’t been caught is naive. It is getting to a point that either all players are treated equally in the Steroid Era (whether they were caught or not or were clean) or that no one gets into the HOF. However, this question won’t be answered for a decade and perceptions may change through the years.

7. What paths have players accused of steroids and PEDs taken when ‘outed’?

Ranging from complete silence or denial to complete admittance and regret, players have had a wide range of reactions when cornered by PEDs allegations. The ones that have been most apologetic have had most success in resuming their playing careers, even if it meant a tainted legacy. Those that have shown completely no remorse or have put the blame on non-believable entities have been vilified by the public. The paths taken by the most notable players include, from strongest denial to strongest admittance:

Complete denial and knowledge of taking steroids, even when confronted by overwhelming evidence and federal investigations, continue to stick to their stance (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens)

Complete silence and avoidance of issue (Mark McGwire)

Complete denial then silence when overwhelming evidence surfaced (Ralphael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa)

Vague admittance and apology when caught (Jason Giambi)

Full admittance and regret but with excuses such as injury or peer-pressure (Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez)

Full admittance and then assisted officials with information about steroids, suppliers and other players (Jose Canseco, Jason Grimsley)

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Notes: This Q&A is not official and is simply my personal interpretation and understanding of the steroids scandal. I will add more questions and answers as they come up. If you would like to see a Q&A added on here, please add it in the comments section and I will gladly update the post.

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Baseball as America’s Pastime continues to fall further into the past

Posted by silentarchimedes on November 19, 2008

Baseball is not a sport built for parity. It is not like the NFL where parity in a 16-game season promotes excitement and competition. It’s not like the NFL where each team has a strong base of hardcore fans and where most fans are fans of watching football as a sport. Football is more exciting to watch than baseball. The biggest complaint from casual sports fans about watching baseball is that it’s boring. This is apparent when we look at the popularity of college football versus that of college baseball or even the MLB minor leagues. Baseball’s lengthy 162-game season and similarly lengthy best-of five or seven game playoffs series are not conducive to small market teams like the Tampa Rays and Florida Marlins capturing the attention and excitement of casual fans around the country.

Penalty - horsecollar tackle

Penalty in football - horse-collar tackle

The drama of baseball takes too long to unfold in this day and age of “keep me interested right nowmentality. Baseball is about rivalries and story lines and history. It is about statistics and tradition. It can be agonizingly slow and frustrating. It’s not like football where all it takes is three hours to resolve the pent up competitive juices. Words you hear about in football are war, in the trenches, cold, frozen tundra, swirling winds, etc etc. Penalties include grabbing the facemask, unsportsmanlike conduct, taunting and horse-collar tackles. Imagine if any of those words are ever used near baseball. Baseball is too slow for this new era of extreme sports. This is why mixed martial arts is gaining popularity over its more traditional and more boring sport, boxing. Since when is boxing considered boring? This is why a sport like soccer continues to have difficulty gaining popularity in America. The sport takes too long to achieve satisfaction. Even a violent sport like hockey has had to transform itself after a period of low scoring games due to the NJ Devils’ inspired zone trap defense. The game now requires faster, younger athletes with more room to show their speed and skills. It was a matter of survival for the NHL, and baseball might be headed that way as well.

MLB Commish - Bud Selig

MLB Commish - Bud Selig

To make matters worse, two factors have had very negative effects on baseball. The steroid era has pushed baseball into a precipitice decline in popularity. The skepticism surrounding the genuity of sacred baseball records being broken during the steroid era has removed two of the main attractions I mentioned earlier, history and statistics. It has removed the excitement of slow journeys toward hallowed records and the respect given to such players. Remember the awe and respect of Cal Ripken when he broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak or when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa battled to break Roger Maris’ single season home run record. Of course, the second record is now seen with skepticism and is considered one of the defining moments of the steroid era. The fact that players have seemed unwilling to address the problem of the past ten years is disturbing. The feeling that the players rather protect their cheating teammates than the integrity of the sport leaves many traditional baseball fans disgusted. The second factor is directly related to the steroid era. Bud Selig, the baseball commissioner, has been a  complete travesty to baseball. Although he is good for the owners, fans see him as boring, slow,  biased and ineffective. He continues to brush over the steroid era and had to be fully pushed by even Congress before taking action. His decision to leave the All-Star Game a tie was horrible. And although his decision to add interleague play initially seemed a huge success, it has proven to be a hassle and distraction to fans. He seems unwilling to confront the problems of baseball and his biased views are shown in a somewhat condescending tone when pushed by the media or fans.

So what is baseball to do? For one thing, it needs a new commissioner. One that is younger and understands that baseball requires changes that appeal to younger fans but keeps the traditionalists happy. One that realizes that the steroid era can potentially destroy baseball forever unless a level of happiness is reached among all groups involved, including but not limited to owners, players, former players, Congress, traditionalists and new generation of fans. However, there are things about baseball that are at the roots of its tradition and changing them would prove good and bad. The Rays-Phillies World Series was a disaster. Television ratings have never been lower. However, baseball cannot change the playoffs to one game takes all because the lengthy journey of 162 games culminating in one 9-inning game seems unfair. Although why not? I bet if the World Series was one game, more people would definitely tune in to see who wins. If I’m a Yankees fan, why would I tune in to a best of seven between the Rays and Phillies? Especially when football is on or I can watch DVDs or do something else. However, if it was a 3 hour event, like the Super Bowl, I’d be willing to watch it and even make a social event out of it. Baseball has to be willing to face the problem of why it is declining in popularity. It has to be open to innovation and the possibility of changing tradition for the better of the sport. It has to also lean on the teams that make it a popular sport, like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Cardinals. Just like the NBA, which always does much better when popular teams like the Knicks and Celtics do well. With the Knicks in a multi-year doom and gloom, NBA has lost a lot of its luster.

Kids and video games

Kids and video games

However, I believe it will be difficult for baseball to regain its name as America’s pastime. It’s a sport that has lost its appeal, most likely for good. Children have more interest playing football, basketball and even soccer than baseball. Inner city kids almost exclusively play basketball now. Nowhere is stickball or other variants of baseball being played in city streets and playgrounds. Additionally, there are too many other things to keep kids occupied nowadays. Video games, internet and hi-def television are far more intriguing options than watching baseball or even rounding up atleast 10 of his or her friends to play a game.

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