Steroid discussion (pre-hearing)
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mostly Bonds - Barry Bonds

There was an interesting thread of Yahoo group postings in mcscoresheet all about Barry Bonds and steroid:


Yankee defender Paul Thompson started it off:

Anybody just see this??? He just started ranting and ranting. I don't know who he thinks he's fooling, but does anybody out there actually think he didn't take steroids??? He called the media liars (even though he doesn't read the writers' pieces) and when asked if steroids are cheating, he responded that he doesn't know what cheating would be..Just curious if anyone outside SF looks upon the records he's about to break with excitement.


Libertarian and researcher Andy Cleary replied:

As excited as I get by any records, yes. The steroid "issue" makes absolutely no difference to my interest in records.


Ball Park Figures projections creator & author Ken Warren:

He's the greatest ever. That's really the only issue. Although A-Rod is certainly quite capable of breaking some of the records that Bonds establishes, particularly homeruns and RBI.

I wonder how many Super Bowls, Olympic medals, and world records have been achieved with the assistance of steroids. No big outcry there. And this is in athletic endeavours where steroids have been banned for a long time.

Until 2005, the only steroid testing done in baseball was done anonymously (no names linked to urine samples). Baseball fans and ownership were both enamoured by the big increase in offense and home runs that began back in 1987. The issue of whether these achievements were accomplished with the aid of steroid use was always swept under the carpet. Probably the only reason that these accomplishments are now being seen in a different light is that Bonds and Canseco are both viewed so negatively by the media and the public.

If it was Derek Jeter and Cal Ripken setting these homerun records, whether or not they were aided by steroids wouldn't be an issue at all. Similar to the 1998 homerun display put up by a very popular Sosa and McGwire. Nobody cared how, just how many.


Eric Woodman:

He's a fraud. And people cared about this stuff long before this came to light. I rememeber very clearly the Boston fans chanting "Sterrrrooooids" at Canseco in the '88 playoffs, and him flexing/joking about it.

I am not the least bit "excited" about Bonds cheating to break records. I don't care how you rationalize it, he cheated.


Sean Conley, Scoresheet player:

Refresh my recollection, what rule did Bonds break? Are you aware of Bonds doing anything that was prohibited by MLB?


Eric Woodman:

Here we go again. He broke the law by taking performance-enhacing steroids and as a direct result of that he got stronger and hit more home runs. Anyone who doens't believe that is hopelessly contrarian, IMHO. He knew he was cheating, and he's been lying about it for some time now. I *might* have a bit of sympathy for him if he'd at least come out and admit what a cheater he has been and appologize to the hard-working guys who came before him. Instead he seems to think this is about race. Mcgwire was white and he's a cheating bastard, too.


Ari from Virginia:

In a less litigous world, I'd agree [sympathy for him if he’d admit what a cheater]. But we're set up to punish people for admitting something like this even if it's not exactly a shocking revelation, and I don't think it's at all noble -- in fact, it's stupid -- to volunteer to be punished for something everyone already knows you did, if you have the option of not being punished without burdening others.

Besides, an apology didn't work for Rose, and even if Bonds is sincere his admission, it would IMO have the same effect. He's a pretty sharp guy, I think he knows an admission would make it worse, not better.

Eric Moyer:

You [Eric Woodman] didn't answer Sean's question.


And if we're not going to use the rules of baseball to determine cheating, where do we draw the line? There are a lot of supplements players take these days for an edge in strength and endurance.

What about all the pills(forget the name) that Bouton talks about in Ball Four? Players took those pretty routinely it seems back in those days.


Eric Woodman:

Murder isn't forbidden by MLB, but that doesnt' make it OK.


Eric Moyer:

Still doesn't answer Sean's question.

MLB is in the business of making rules that affect play on the field. A murder outside the game doesn't affect the game itself.

Sure the press is negative...


Eric Woodman:

What's the question? How did he cheat?

He took illegal drugs to imrove his performance. MLB did not ban the drugs until a year ago, or whenever. But the laws of hte land banned them some time ago. Regardless, he clearly was trying to cover up his actions, and continues to do so. Someone said it's
because he's afraid of being sued. For what?

Maybe he's afraid of being exposed as a cheating fraud? Why do people still cling to this idea that he's done nothing wrong? First it was there is no evidence he did 'roids. Then it was there is no evidence they they help. Now it's yeah he did it, yeah it helped, and yeah it's illegal, but so what?

I'd be fired from my job if I was doing something illegal to get ahead (insider trading, for example.


Bob from Ogalala:

But it is also hard to ignore that to some extent baseball has turned a blind eye to this whole issue. I think most people in baseball (despite what the commish says) knew that a large number of atheletes were on steroids. Yet baseball was happy since homeruns and revenue were up and really did nothing to inforce any bans or rules. Baseball has been conducting tests since 1995 and that a good % of the atheletes failed those tests every year. Yet not until BALCO and the press making a big enough issue that congress threatened to step in, did MLB get serious about doing something. Even now if your caught for the first few times it is less of a suspension then for having a corked bat, fighting etc.

I think it was Honus Wagner who said "someone cheated in every game I played in, if I didn't someone else did" It is not like baseball does not have a long history of taking the attitude if you are not caught it is not cheating. My guess is that if it was against the rules, everyone in baseball knew that the only way you were going to get caught is if you were arrested for such behavior. Which to me just encourages the use of such substances it like telling the pitcher you can't scuff a baseball with files but umpires your not to ever check in a pitchers pocket for such files.

No, I am not clinging to the idea he did nothing wrong, but on the other hand it is hard to devalue what he has done the last several years. To me the problem is that baseball fans to compare stats from one era to the next. But lets face it even without steroids, the weight training, legal supplements etc. players are stronger and faster then when Ruth played. Look at the size of football, basketball players etc. how much of it is just hard work in the weight room?(I am suprised that certain Basketball players have not been shown to have taken Steroids)


Ian Thistle, Scoresheet player:

What most people miss is how foggy the line is between illegal performance-enhancing drugs and legal ones. Different substances are banned by different organizations and have been legal at different times. When Canseco was doing steroids in the 80s, were they illegal? Maybe, but I'm sure some substances people were doing then (maybe the "andro" that McGwire took) are illegal now.

Also, I've yet to see any scientific proof that taking steroids helps you hit a baseball farther. Maybe that will be impossible to prove since no one admits to taking 'roids or if they do they are unclear when they took it, but I'd like to see evidence other than "it just makes sense, you have more muscle, you can plow a ball".


Police Sgt. Dave Larson:

. . . So, you can come down on the side that says it wasn't a violation of the MLB laws, therefore making it "not illegal" so it was okay. Or you can come down on the side that says, even so, it wasn't okay because in the athletic world at large, somewhere it a banned substance and that makes it cheating. But it will be a debate that frankly is never settled, in much the same way the Ruth vs. Aaron vs. Bonds as the best ever will never be settled. In the era of shitty equipment and imperfections in baseballs, bats, and the ability to apply foreign substances to baseballs, Ruth will forever be the guy who changed the face of baseball forever, regardless of whether he ever face a Negro League player or not. In the era of integration, team doctors, training regimens, year-round conditioning, dietary supplements, and uniform equipment made of the best possible materials, Aaron is the best player ever and may soon be surpassed by Bonds. But Bonds' accomplishments have been, and will forever be, tarnished by this steroids issue. There will always be some who will never acknowledge his accomplishments, even if 95% of them were performance-enhancer free. Because of that 5% of him being thought of as a cheater, he will forever be a cheater in the heart of the average baseball fan.


Libertarian Andy:

No man has stepped on to the baseball field and performed so well as an offensive player against such good competition.

Yes, I care about that, I like watching it, I'm interested in an entertainment way (baseball is an entertainment medium) in trying to understand how he does that so much better than anyone else ever has. My opinion so far is that it has far more to do with things other than "steroids", and in fact, other than "muscle mass", and so the large noise surrounding steroids is like an annoying insect in my enjoyment of this entertainment spectacle. It's clear to me that there is very little correlation between "muscle mass" and "ability to be a great offensive baseball performer": it may be a necessary condition to some extent, but it certainly is far from a *sufficient* condition, or else pro linemen would all be Mark McGwire. What sets Bonds apart from the tens/hurdreds of millions of relatively well muscled athletes in this world is an enigma that I find fascinating, and it certainly isn't "steroids".


. . . Steroids only help those who are already at the margin of what can be achieved through natural means*. They help by allowing you to push your workouts *beyond* what a person can normally do, to recover faster and thus do *more* workouts than what a person can normally do. If you aren't pretty close to those levels already, steroids aren't providing you any advantage.


. . . The increased offense in MLB that began in the 90s can and does have *many* possible explanations, and the fact that it correlates in a rough way with what we *think* is an uptick in steroid use (in the random, anonymous testing conducted by MLB approximately 5-7% of the players tested positive, which A) we don't know if that was more than in times past, B) is pretty fricking small) does not imply causation (nor, though, does it imply lack of causation). As an example off of the top of my head, new stadiums and changes to existing stadiums might easily be a cause of changes. I'm not senile enough that I've forgotten all of the controversies about "juiced balls" at the time this was happening, another more plausible explanation. The increased dominance of pitchers in the 60s was a well documented causal effect of something as simple and subtle as raising the pitchers' mounds. Etc. These are all more plausible than the long string of unlikely causations that would have to occur for "increased steroid use" to explain higher levels of offensive output (among other things, as has been discussed here previously, there is a more obvious argument why steroid use would help *pitchers*, so increase steroid use might very well have a *depressing* effect on offense rather than vice versa... Pitchers would gain an advantage not from increased muscle mass, which as I have argued is a benefit that only accrues to the fanatical workout freak, but rather from increased recovery times, thus allowing the best pitchers to recover faster and throw more innings).

In short, the commonly held "theories" about steroids and baseball really just don't pass very well through the filters of critical thinking.



I would dispute that 5-7% is a smale number, given that it is obvious that some players were using a masking agent, that they were not testing for the type of steroids Giambi was using and Bonds was provided, and the players knew well in advance when the test was going to be taken.



Yes, there are lots of questions about any interpretation, from which we can conclude that to state with any high degree of confidence that it is any particular interpretation is poor reasoning! And yet, many are stating things like "Bonds' success in the last 5 years *is obviously due to steroids*" and "the increased offensive levels of the last 10 years are *due to steroids*". I certainly don't know that those aren't true statements, but the rules of critical thinking certainly don't allow us to make those kinds of definitive statements, *and so we should stop doing so*.

FWIW, again, changing body type is hardly a definitive sign of steroids. For one, men fill out very naturally through the 25-35 year period (and we're not always happy about that, no ;-).


Two, weights workouts sans steroids can make *enormous* differences. . . I have been a weightlifter for 18 years, and while I am very casual about it now, there was a time when I was pretty serious about it and the rumors started circling back to me that I was "juicing", and it *really ticked me off*. What I had achieved through hard work and discipline was being taken away from me in some respects based on absolutely no evidence ...


. . .

Ah, f*ck it: mail groups are useless places to try to conduct a reasoned discussion. You have to write the same damn things over and over and people just cherrypick things out of context and nothing is ever accomplished.



Let me ask a question - what is the real issue you [those who have feel Bonds’ accomplishments are tainted] have with Bonds? Is it really the steroids use?


To me the evidence shows he broke the law, further that he has given a very feeble answer about not knowing etc, etc. Now he seems indignant that the media and the world at large does not believe him. He sounds a lot like a politician trying to spin the facts around to his benefit.

To some degree, I think he is only encouraging young kids to break the law and harm their bodies to make it in sports. Besides if there is a benefit ( I would assume that those who do not think he was one of the greatest would argue there is a significant benefit) should the cheater be worshiped as opposed to the guys who played by the letter of the law? Greenwell and Burks have a point that they lost MVP awards (which cost them money) to admitted steroid users is that fair?



Let me ask a hypothestical question for the Bonds bashers:

Would you still feel the same way about Bonds, if he lived in Mexico in the off-season, and legally used steroids during his off-season workouts? That is, if he did not break any laws, and he did not violate any MLB rules (MLB did not prohibit steroids in the 90's and early 2000's), would you still feel he "cheated" by using steroids?

If so, ho do you draw the distinction between players who use any number of over-the-counter supplemements, vitamins, etc. to get an edge?

Or is it simply that he broke the law, in which case this is not really about steroids, but moral character.


Scoresheet player known as becl_atl:

I probably dislike Bonds more because 1) he's a wife beater and 2) punkish things he's said and done before and 3) as I understand it,is intensely disliked by teammates and other b'ball players (stand back when you talk about Bonds with Jeff Kent).

Also, just because other people broke other rules (corked bats, spit balls) doesn't mean that its alright to break U.S. (and Canadian) drug laws and cheat at the sport in another way.


And what if Scott Petersen had gotten a divorced rather than have gone "fishing", or if O.J. would have taken a long walk to cool off rather than going over to Nicole's place on that night, I'd probably feel better about those two as well.



. . . "right and wrong" and "legal and illegal" are hardly the same things. The US system, and probably most systems, were set up so that legality changes over time. It is in fact a responsibility of citizenship to constantly check whether the current laws need to be changed to reflect new understandings of right and wrong, which implies that at any given time, some laws may very well be "wrong" in the sense of not reflecting the prevailing" notions of what they *should* be... Law follows morality, not the other way around.



If you think steroids have ruined sports, check out this story on



Athletic performance as we view it is essentially over.

All human sports will be like car racing is now. The human or athletic element will be essentially eliminated. The teams with the best chemists will rule. Humans will become objects (like cars) upon which technical and chemical innovation will apply.


Andy again:

Barry may not deal with racism, but as we've seen in this mailing
list, he puts up with an awful lot of *ignorance*, from fans and
media, though it isn't racially based, it's just the classic definition of ignorance: people speaking authoritatively about things they can't possibly have enough information and evidence to speak authoritatively about. "Barry did steroids: just look at him" is a classic case of "ignorance". "Barry did steroids: just look how he got better at age 35" is a classic case of "ignorance". "You can only get that muscular with steroids" is a classic case of ignorance. "Steroids help you to gain muscle mass even if you only do normal workouts" is a classic case of ignorance. Etc.


John R Mayne, Californian lawyer:

It's a classic case of ignorance by doctors who use it to improve muscle mass in those with wasting diseases. It's a classic case of ignorance for the early experimenters who used animals, who, if my pet history is any indication, seldom lift weights.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (not one of Andy's faves, I'm sure) is also ignorant, *conceding that steroids build muscle mass despite a clear agenda against them.*

I'm having a very hard time with my ignorance, since there are studies supporting steroid use for muscle buildup in people who are dying of AIDS and other wasting diseases. Those people just don't look all that buffed out to me.


John, the two are not mutually exclusive.

Steroids help people build muscle mass *by allowing them to do workouts that they otherwise wouldn't be able to do.* For an athlete, that means they help build muscle mass past their normal, pretty freakish workout schedule. For someone who is sick, etc, they may not be able to work out *at all*, and so a steroid that allows them to work out even a little is going to help them build muscle mass (just a little resistance training can do a lot for bone, ligamend, and tendon density as well as muscle mass).


Scoresheetwiz John Carter:

I'm not saying there hasn't been such a case, but I can't off-hand think of a single player from the pre-steroids era who had his best years in his late 30s - excluding knuckleball pitchers, perhaps. (Even if not, I'm not saying that proves that steroids enhances performance - it's just another thing that does lend suspicion.)


I, also, can't think of a reason someone of Bonds' intelligence and in his situation would take a substance on an ongoing basis and know so little about what it was.


Johnny from Massachusetts:

There is no way in hell an elite athlete like Bonds puts anything into his body without knowing EXACTLY what it is.


Theron Skyles of Sacramento:

While peaking in your late 30's is rare, its certainly be done before. Hank Aaron was a better hitter in his late 30's than his early 30's, and just about as good as his peak in his 20's. Ted Williams was also as good in his late 30's as any other point in his career.

Mickey Vernon, John Lowenstein, Cy Williams, Zack Wheat, Gene Woodling, Bob Johnson, Hank Sauer, Jose Cruz Sr. amd Brett Butler all peaked in their mid to late 30's



Terrific prompt response, Theron, thank you.


Aaron: From the age of 29 to 34, Aaron's stats started to slip as we would expect for a player of that age in that era. This was despite the fact that at 32, his team moved from a pitcher's park in Milwaukee to the "launching pad" in Atlanta. However, Aaron's stats did return to his mid-late 20s prime at the age of 35 his fourth year in Atlanta (1969) - and sustained that level for another five years (except with fewer at bats). Milwaukee was notoriously a pitcher's park, so I would still have to say his prime was in the years you'd expect, but he continued to hit extremely well throughout his 30s.


Williams: Yup, except for a decrease in games (which Bonds has experienced, too, to a lesser degree), Williams was as awesome throughout his 30s as he was throughout his 20s. After an off year at 41, Teddy Ball Game came back with a 1.096 O+S at age 42, then retired.


Vernon: had a career year at age 28, then came back at age 35 with another one. His next two seasons were probably his 3rd and 4th best. Afterwards, it looks like he became a platoon player.


Lowenstein: a career platoon player had his best years after he was traded to Earl Weaver's Orioles from age 32 to 36 peaking at age 35. Weaver was a stathead before anyone heard of Bill James, and made judicious use of Lowenstein's skills.


Cy Williams: an ex-Cubs, then Phillies outfielder who's stats took a jump at age 32 after Major League Baseball started using clean balls only and illegalizing spitballs and scuffballs. He may, also, have been one of those players influenced by Ruth's success. His home run rate rose sharply each year until he was 35. That was followed by an even better all-around season. For the next four or five seasons he kept hitting as well as ever, but his playing time decreased sharply.


Zach Wheat: another National League left-handed hitting outfielder (Brooklyn) who's hitting vastly improved in the 20s, while he was in his 30s. His two best seasons, however, were at 36 and 37. then he fell off a cliff.


Gene Woodling: was traded around a lot and I don't know that much about each park he played in. However, you can safely say his best year was in Cleveland in 1957 at the age of 34 (turned 35 that August). He was essentially a platoon player all his career. However, it appears he was as good from 34-38 as he was at any other five year period in his career.


Bob Johnson: Philadelphia Athletic outfielder during the 30s and early 40s peaked at age 31-33. He did have one more excellent season at 38 in Fenway Park during the war.


Hank Sauer: didn't get a real shot until 1948 when he was 31 (with the Reds). He then put in 7 fine major league seasons mostly for the Cubs. That seventh one was probably his best, but they took his bat away quickly after that.


Jose Cruz, Sr. struggled to maintain a full time job until he broke through as an Astro at the age of 29. He seemed to go slowly down hill until he came back revived his career again in 1983 at age 35 and continued to be a solid force in the Astros outfield for another three more years. His best seasons came at 29-30 and 35-36. I remember this Cruz playing so well at such a ripe age and have always wondered if his son was going to do the same. Jr. will be 31 in April and was moved to a hitters' park.


Brett Butler first established himself as a solid centerfielder with Atlanta at the age 26. His next four years were with Cleveland reaching new peaks at 28 and 30. Neither of those seasons were equalled in SF's Candlestick Park, but only one of them 1989 at age 32 was an off year. Then playing in Dodger Stadium from age 34 to 37, Brett Butler put up as good hitting stats as his years with Cleveland. After signing on with the Mets, his career sank. Sound familiar?


In conclusion, these are all good examples (except Johnson) of players who managed to play as well in their mid to late 30s as they had at any other time in their career - but not significantly better. The closest anyone comes to that is Mickey Vernon. Barry Bonds has actually hit quite significantly better these last four seasons at ages 37-40 (last July) than he has throughout his excellent career. That doesn't prove he's taking performance enhancing drugs. It seems all around training techniques have improved in the last couple decades - but probably not enough to make Bonds the monster he's become. Call me ignorant. I am. But I don't see how he goes from being a steady 1.050 hitter to a steady 1.350 hitter at his age unless there's a significant performance enhancer in those mysterious creams given to him by a renown steroids dealer.



It's been much more common recently though. Besides Bonds we have McGwire, Luis Gonzalez, Edgar, Clemens, Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer, David Wells, Caminiti, Velarde, Benito Santiago, Steve Finley, Fisk, Tettleton, Nolan Ryan, Burks, Palmeiro, Al Leiter, Kevin Brown, Schilling, and Galarraga. And I'm sure we can come up with a lot of other guys.



I would like to state that I am hardly a "Bonds apologist". I don't like the persona that I have seen (necessarily an unrealistic slice, unless we think that people act pretty much the same in front of tens of thousands of people, or a media audience in the millions, as they do in regular life, but what I've seen, I don't patricularly like), and it is my guess that he probably has used drugs designed to be performance enhancing, whether within or outside the letter of MLB rules and/or the law or not. I just don't think that those drugs had anything close to a statistically signficant effect on his performance because I can't see a causal path by which they could, so while his use would bother me if I watched baseball to observe excellent moral characters, I don't, I watch baseball to watch outstanding baseball achievement by a human being, and since I think his baseball achievement is the same as it would have been if he hadn't ever touched a "steroid", it doesn't bother my enjoyment of his baseball achievements one whit. It's a red herring. It's as the same as if playing baseball while wearing thong underwear was against the rules: to break records while wearing those thong underwear would be "against the rules" and strictly speaking "cheating", if it doesn't have a causal effect on his performance, I really don't care. If the rule exists to "protect the children, damn you!" from the perils of role models who wear thong underwear, well, I prefer to have my entertainment mediums *entertain* me and to give my children moral lessons on my own.

Besides, I kind of like thong underwear.



Most parents do what they can to provide their kids with strong moral foundations. Not all succeed. Not all bother. Whereas, it's probably not a good idea to shelter kids from reality too much - especially as they get older and more sophisticated in their view of the world - and more secure with their own sense of right and wrong - it is generally accepted that kids will learn more from their peers than their parents. Seeing Bonds' success with his steroid use (and I know you don't believe that steroids significantly contributed to his success) will probably have more impact than a parent saying, "don't use steroids, because it's cheating."


Finally, writer Brian Fawcett says:

You can find an asterisk to slap on literally everything in life if you look hard enough. But you'll have a crappy life looking for them. We've been lucky to be able to watch Barry Bonds play. I wish I'd seen Babe Ruth hit but I'm glad I'm not old enough. Neither of them did very good imitations of Jesus.


Well, not so finally. A few weeks later Andy shared with us this challenging article from Baseball Prospectus (written by Nate Silver):  

John Carter