Performance Enhancing Drugs in Baseball: What Are They? What Effect?

Perry ArnoldSenior Analyst IFebruary 9, 2009

As a New York Yankee fan and a fan of Alex Rodriquez, I agree with what others have said, and that is that we should all be saddened by the news that apparently A-Rod is among many others who tested positive for steroids.

Steroids have been labeled "performance enhancing drugs."

What is the meaning of this? Obviously, it means a controlled substance introduced into your body that gave you the ability to perform better in the game.

But why are steroids, HGH, and testosterone the only things considered performance enhancing drugs?

For many years players have taken cortisone shots to allow them to play. A player with a bad ankle gets a shot in the joint and he can run without as much pain.

Therefore, he can play better.

Therefore, he has used a performance enhancing drug.

A pitcher with a gimpy shoulder gets a shot, or maybe two or three so that he can take his spot in the rotation and pitch without pain.

Therefore, he can play better.

Therefore, he has used a performance enhancing drug.

A player has a bad cold. So the team doctor gives him a Vitamin B-12 shot, and in a couple of hours he feels better, his head is clearer, he can breathe more easily, and he goes onto the field and plays.

Therefore, he can play better.

Therefore, he has used a performance enhancing drug.

It has been well known for many years now that in many big league clubhouses over the past four decades amphetamines were widely available. Many players took them and were encouraged by management to take them.

Amphetamines make you sharper short-term, give your more alertness, and allow your brain to process impulses faster than if you were fatigued.

So players wolf down some amphetamines and go out and play sharper, see the ball better out of the pitcher's hand, and pick up the ball faster off the bat.

Therefore, they play better.

Therefore, they have used performance enhancing drugs.

One could go on and on with this type of consideration. A player who has surgery and takes drugs to help him rehab during the surgery is taking performance enhancing drugs, even if it is not an anabolic steroid or human growth hormone.

For that matter, the surgery itself is performance enhancing. So is weight lifting, so is extra batting practice, so is stretching before the game, and so is taping a weak ankle.

All of those things enhance one's ability to perform better.

So where does one draw the line?

I understand that steroids, HGH, etc. are illegal; they are controlled substances that are not to be taken without valid medical reasons and a doctor's prescription.

But, you need a script for a cortisone shot. You need a doctor's okay to get a B-12 shot. Amphetamines are a controlled substance. Taking these without a doctor's okay is against the law.

With some medically prescribed medications, e.g., cortisone, a player might not be able to play at all.

Steroids, HGH, etc., don't permit one to play who otherwise could not play. They supposedly allow someone to play at a higher level than they ordinarily would have been able to play.

The theory, as I understand it, is that steroids make a baseball player stronger and therefore give him an unfair, chemically-induced advantage as opposed to someone who works his butt off in the weight room, or who simply puts more effort into being in the best possible shape than anyone else has the fortitude to do.

Two points to be made here.

First, if strength is the only issue then every team in the bigs would be going to the World Weightlifting Championships or trying to sign D lineman before they get to the NFL.

Strength does not make one a better hitter. To this writer, who has a degree in physical education, it is unclear how steroids affect eye-hand coordination, flexibility, range of motion, and static and dynamic balance.

All of those attributes of athleticism are key to hitting a baseball. All of them are much more important than sheer strength.

It is argued that getting stronger simply allows a person who was already a Major League player to hit the ball harder and throw the ball faster.

I have tried to read articles to determine how steriod use can improve bat speed; can improve the ability to pick up the ball faster out of the pitcher's hand; to facilitate the ability to discern a curve ball from a slider.

So far, I remain unconvinced that steroids can promote any of the things that make a hitter better than all the other hitters in the league. Getting bigger simply doesn't answer the question.

The second point to be made here is that two of the players who are now in the very center of the controversy about steroids, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriquez, are known by everyone in baseball as two of the players who absolutely work the hardest to keep themselves in the best possible shape.

Clemens and Rodriquez have always worked harder at the weights, worked harder at keeping their legs in shape by running, tried harder to stay on the cutting edge of stretching, and other workout regimens that would make them better.

In other words, they simply worked very, very hard to make themselves the best they could be.

Did Clemens and Rodriquez take PEDs? Evidence would seem to say yes. Did this give them the incredible ability they have shown in their Major League careers?

Absolutely not.

They were both incredibe athletes with talent God gave them over and above what most humans will ever have.

Did they take PEDs to improve their performance? Maybe so. But we will never know to what extent they got better as a result of something they injected or ingested and to what extent they got better because they just worked harder than almost anyone else.

Nothing is going to stop the debate about performance enhancing drugs. But we need to broaden the scope and realize that there are many other things that enhance performance that we don't associate as PEDs.

And we have to acknowledge that at this point nobody can quantify to what extent PEDs make a player better and to what extent the performance is a result of the combination of God given talent and extraordinary effort.