Silent Archimedes

Posts Tagged ‘steroids’

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.

Posted in Ethics, Health and Fitness, Science and Math, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Bud Selig – Baseball’s incompetent commissioner

Posted by silentarchimedes on February 9, 2009

On the same vein as my previous article, an argument that greed is the root of the steroids scandal in baseball, the current economic crisis and global warming, there is one other commonality among the three problems, a void of  leadership.  One can even argue that greed becomes rampant only at the behest  or ignorance of the leadership. In the three problems stated, a lack of leadership for years is what has led to the current situations. Let’s look at the steroids scandal in particular.

BUD SELIG – BASEBALL’S INCOMPETENT COMMISSIONER

There is something special about baseball. Through all its scandals (Black Sox, race, recreational drugs, Pete Rose and gambling) it has always ended up doing the right thing and upholding the integrity of the game, even if it meant banning its all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, or several of its top players (Black Sox scandal – Shoeless Joe Jackson) for life. No player or players were above the game, and the commissioners knew this. The commissioners also knew they were not above the game and although they existed at the whim of the owners, they were supposed to put the interests of the game at the top.

MLB Commish - Bud Selig

MLB Commish - Bud Selig

Well, something happened in 1992. An owner (Milwaukee Brewers), Bud Selig, was unanimously picked by the owners to become the ninth commissioner of baseball. Since 1992, he has allowed baseball to fall into a steroid scandal by ignoring the ramifications of performance enhanced statistics on the game. Any stories about players juicing were swept under the rug because of increasing television ratings and attendance due to historical records falling every year. Instead of looking out for the interest and integrity of the game, Selig exchanged it for higher revenues. Even in the past 7 to 8 years when everyone knew of the oncoming collapse, he acted in a very condescending way, as if the problem was not bigger than the game.  (This sounds just like our past  president and administration on the Iraq War and the current economic crisis?) Consider these players that have now been tainted by performance enhancing drugs:

1. All-time leader in home runs in career and in a season, Barry Bonds
2. Expected future all-time leader in home runs and one of the greatest players in history, Alex Rodriguez
3. Considered best pitcher in the past 25 years, Roger Clemens
4. First to break Roger Maris’ decades long single-season home run record, Mark McGwire
5. Most seasons with 60+ home runs, Sammy Sosa
6. Other 400+ home runs, Jose Canseco, Ralphael Palmeiro, Garry Sheffield

The leader always sets the trail for others to follow...

The leader always sets the trail for others to follow...

That list is too remarkable to ignore. The leader must be held accountable. Selig has been commissioner or acting commissioner since 1992, about the time hints began about steroids usage. Although he might not be the cause of the problem, he allowed it to fester and grow and grow.  Players that would not have used steroids were eventually compelled to use it due to lesser skilled players on par with them now because of PEDs. This is simply human nature. It is now a scandal that won’t go away. As much as the players need to be held accountable for their actions, the leader also needs to be responsible for his lack of action.In any other institution where people are held accountable, the leaders are replaced by the board. The board of the United States, the citizens, overwhelmingly voted the Republicans out of office in the past elections. Even in corporations, strong board of directors have been known to push incompetent CEOs out. However, similarly to baseball, when the board is closely tied to the leader, this almost occurs too late. In baseball, when the owners overwhelmingly approve of an incompetent commissioner that was once an owner himself, then the checks and balance system fails. In my previous article, Baseball as America’s Pastime continues to fall further into the past, the popularity of baseball has decreased more and more as society’s attention has shortened. To compensate for such pressures, Selig’s actions were always for short-term gain (ie interleague play) at the expense of long-term interests.

Rickey Henderson

Rickey Henderson

It is time baseball cleaned itself by removing its commissioner and the players that have cheated. It is apparent that without the pressures of Congress, Selig would not have voluntarily instituted stringent drug testing. Even to this day he acts as if nothing is wrong and that history will view him as a good commissioner that brought baseball back from its dark lockout days (Sound familiar?) As a big baseball fan, until there is strong leadership that is interested in cleaning up the game, then the game itself has lost its allure, the allure that I used to have as a kid in the 1980s watching Rickey Henderson, Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield…

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The need for greed. And they all fall. What Arod, recession and global warming have in common.

Posted by silentarchimedes on February 7, 2009

Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez

What is going on with the world today? Many of the institutions and systems we grew up with and believed in have crumbled faster than a crumb cake in front of Santa Claus. This morning sports fans were shockingly (or not) met with news that one of the few remaining baseball superstars to not be tainted by the steroids scandal, Alex Rodriguez, failed an MLB steroids test in 2003. Considering that this news was corroborated by four independent sources, and based on past evidence of such news, this story likely has meat behind it. As the Barry Bonds’, baseball’s all-time home run king, steroids perjury trial heads to court, we wonder if there is anything sacred anymore in sportsmanship and fair play. The list now includes Bonds, Arod, Marc McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens and Raphael Palmeiro. All were heroes and idols to millions and millions of kids and sports fans.

Bear Stearns

Bear Stearns

Sports is nothing, however, compared to the deepening economic crisis affecting the country. But, then again we need to ask ourselves how did this country fall into such a dire situation in the first place? With news of unemployment reaching 7.6%, worst since 1982, most Americans are sensing a pessimism in the country and its leadership they have never felt before. Corporations that have long been stalwarts have wilted after years of trustworthy service. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and AIG, just to name a few. Even General Electric has fallen on tough times due to untrustworthy leadership expectations and financial exposure. Then there are the frauds of individuals, such Bernie Madoff, and corporations, such as Enron and Global Crossing.

Polar bear cub

Polar bear cub

Then there is the global warming and energy crises. Due to the  irresponsible and rampant use of oil and other natural resources, and the irresponsible output of chemicals into the air, river and ground, the natural balance of Earth has come under question. Dire predictions of sea levels, global temperatures, forestation, glacial coverage, droughts and diseases have left us wondering is there any hope left? Will there exist a viable Earth in 100 to 200 years?

It is truly amazing that all three of these problems have one major thing in common. Greed. Greed. Greed. What is most disturbing is that the situations did not become problems until the ultimate greed kicked in. Arod was already a once in a generation baseball player back in high school. It is fair to say that he did not do steroids as a teenager as his body structure was simply too small. Bonds was a skinny player with the Pirates but was already a five tool player on the path to the Hall of Fame. McGwire  was an amazingly talented rookie with the Oakland Athletics. Why did they feel the need to use steroids and become even better than they already were? Why risk already amazing career trajectories with such greed?

Similarly, the financial companies that have gone bankrupt or bought up were very viable and successful companies (some for over a hundred years) before the ARMs and hedge funds became en vogue. Why the greed to do such risky investments in order to raise the bottom line and stock price?  Was it all due to increasing stock compensation packages of executives? Was it all worth it? To dupe millions of unknowing citizens just for more personal money? What about Madoff? An already well-respected and wealthy investor; what caused him to risk everyone’s money (including hundreds of other wealthy individuals and companies), just to make more money for his firm?

Finally, the earth has remained relatively stable ever since the existence of man. However, since the Industrial Revolution and especially since the widespread use of combustible engines, there has been this disregard for the side effects of using such resources. Coupled with research in biochemistry and synthetic compounds, the effects of pesticides, mercury, lead and carbons have led to a precarious global balance. Millions of animal species extinct or on the brink of survival.

Progress?

Progress?

Are humans, the supposedly most “intelligent” species with opposable thumbs, in fact, the dumbest species ever? Just imagine outsiders writing about the history of man and what they would write about, especially the past 150 years. Just imagine what they would write about western civilization. Just imagine what they would say about the population numbers. Or about technology and medical research? Is this the final goal of evolution? We have reached the ultimate in special survival… our only enemy is ourselves? The whole purpose of natural selection is the survival of the strong. However, part of natural selection is natural balance. A species never wants to become too powerful because then their food sources and natural enemies would disappear. Humans have, in essence, overcome both these natural laws. Through natural selection (our brains and opposable thumbs) we are far and beyond the most powerful species. In a relatively short time, our population and power increased beyond control. Humans have no more natural enemies. The machines we have created are unmatched and only destructible amongst ourselves. So what does this all mean?

The human world does not have a checks and balance system. Nature and other species have always acted as the equalizers. The closest thing that comes to that is the United Nations, and everyone knows how ineffective it is. Additionally, idealistic political systems such as communism and socialism have proven futile. Even checks and balance systems, such as the one in the United States, has a limited efficacy, as witnessed by the politics, lobbyism and other issues. Nature is having a difficult time balancing the effects of human greed and power. Diseases and natural disasters are becoming minimal in damage due to medical research and better disaster predictions. Without any natural enemies, we are left to govern ourselves and our future. As exciting of a possibility that is, the track record of that has been phenomenally pathetic.

Posted in Economics, Ethics, Health and Fitness, Opinion, Politics, Science and Math, Sports, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Why Andy Pettitte owes the Yankees. Just look at Plaxico Burress.

Posted by silentarchimedes on December 4, 2008

Plaxico Burress in a Yankees cap

Plaxico Burress in a Yankees cap

Let me get this straight. Both Andy Pettitte and Plaxico Burress hurt themselves. Albeit one with drugs and the other with a gun. And yes, they hurt their teammates (Pettitte’s might be arguable) and the integrity of their respective games. But physically, they only hurt themselves. The Giants proceeded to suspend Burress for four games and put him on the non-injured reserve list; essentially ending his season. The suspension obviously resulted in major financial repercussions for Burress. The Yankees, meanwhile, welcomed Pettitte back with open arms for the guaranteed $16 million. Even with the Mitchell Report coming out just 10-days after Pettitte exercised his $16 million option.

Now comparing Pettitte and Burress is like comparing apples to oranges. Pettitte has always been a model citizen and family man, whereas Burress has been a headcase of suspensions, fines and showmanship for the Steelers and Giants. You could also bring up the fact that Pettitte used HGH to help recover faster to help his team. Not much moral support for Burress being late to a bazillion team meetings or shooting himself in a club.

However, Pettitte still hurt the integrity of the game of baseball. To all those fans that don’t care if players use steroids or HGH, imagine a game without integrity. Full of gambling and drugs. The game would become a farce, much like wrestling is now. So as much as fans are tired of hearing about performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) in baseball, it’s a necessary fight. Although Pettitte apologized, you can see how differently fans treat PED-using players based on their remorse. Pettitte and Giambi? Back in good grace. Clemens and McGwire? Who are they?

Which brings me to my point. Pettitte is very very lucky the Yankees welcomed him back and fully supported him. The news conference with Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi sitting to his sides as he apologized and answered questions must have been tough to watch for some hardcore baseball traditionalists. There was no compromise regarding salary. The whole contract was honored and fans even cheered for him because he owned up to his mistake. He proceeded to go 14-14 with a 4.54 ERA and a team high 204 innings. However, he battled shoulder problems all year and closed the season with a 2-7 record.

Remember this apology? (Getty Images)

Remember this, Andy? (Robert Browman, Getty Images)

Now Pettitte is a free agent. He owes the Yankees. The Yankees would like to bring him back for $10 million. Pettitte does not want to take a pay cut from his $16 million. His agents are shopping him around, especially to Joe Torre and the Dodgers. Although Pettitte has been saying all year that he wants to pitch in the new Yankee stadium (even jokingly picking a locker in the new locker room on  a tour there), when asked if he would take a pay cut to stay with the Yankees, he dodged the topic and deferred to his agents. One, Pettitte will be 37 next season. Two, Pettitte is no where worthy of a top of line $16 million contract. Three, the Yankees saved his career this past season by welcoming him back. Four, the Yankees saved his reputation by allowing him to show complete remorse and prove himself on the field. Five, he owes all the Yankee fans who supported him this past year.

Is he really going to argue over $6 million in pay? I’m sure he doesn’t need the extra money after earning tens of millions in his career. If it’s about getting what he’s worth, well, he’s not worth $16 million. He needs to give a nice Christmas present to the Yankees and their fans. Stop being business-like, show some gratitude towards the team that saved you and the fans that stood by you.

I’m one of them.

RELEVANT LINKS

NY Times – Agents work to avoid a pay cut for Pettitte
Baseball as America’s Pastime continues to fall further into the past
The disappointing 2008 Yankees Season – Stick a fork in it, the Yankees are done
Analysis: New York Yankees at the half

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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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