Were '80 Percent' L.A. Dodgers HGH Allegations the Exception or Rule in MLB?

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Were '80 Percent' L.A. Dodgers HGH Allegations the Exception or Rule in MLB?
Doug Benc/Getty Images
Eric Gagne won the NL Cy Young Award in 2003 with 55 saves.

When former major leaguers talk about their past steroid use, do they feel it makes them look better to lump themselves in with a larger group of peers who also used performance-enhancing drugs? 

In a new memoir, ESPN Los Angeles' Mark Saxon reports former Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Eric Gagne writes that 80 percent of his teammates were using PEDs during his time with the team. Gagne played with the Dodgers from 1999 to 2006, though his prime was from 2002 through 2004. 

During that period, Gagne appeared in 224 games and compiled 152 saves. He converted 84 consecutive save opportunities in that span, setting a major league record. In 2003, Gagne won the NL Cy Young Award with 55 saves (in 55 opportunities) and a 1.02 ERA in 77 appearances. 

When the late Ken Caminiti admitted to Sports Illustrated that he took steroids, he said that at least 50 percent of MLB players used them too (via the New York Times). In his book Juiced, Jose Canseco claimed that 85 percent of major leaguers took PEDs. (However, Canseco said nine years later that MLB was "100 percent clean," so how valid is his opinion?) 

That's not to say Gagne's claim isn't true. It's just that when someone is accused of doing something wrong, it arguably helps him look better if he wasn't the outlier—if he was part of a bigger movement. Hey, it wasn't just me—we were are all doing it! Or perhaps it's an attempt by the accused to bring everyone else down with him as he falls.

While 80 percent seems like an awfully high number, the Dodgers of Gagne's era did include plenty of accused PED users.

As USA Today's Gabe Lacques points out, Paul Lo Duca, Kevin Brown, Todd Hundley, Matt Herges, Mike Judd and Chris Donnels were all named in the 2007 Mitchell Report that associated 89 players with PED use. (You can read the list of names here.) Gagne and Herges admitted to steroid use to USA Today after the Mitchell Report was released. 

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
How much of a role did PEDs play in Eric Gagne's success?

Of course, seven players doesn't constitute 80 percent of the roster. But the Mitchell Report undoubtedly missed some names too. Was Guillermo Mota—suspended in 2006 and 2012 for PED use—taking steroids when he was on the Dodgers from 2002 to 2004? 

However, Gagne's claim would seem to support the notion that plenty of big league ballplayers were getting outside help during MLB's "steroid era."

Personally, this is one reason why I don't feel it's right to single out Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza and Roger Clemens when it comes to Hall of Fame voting. How many other players could have been using steroids during the aughts? Call it the "They were all doing it!" belief system. 

One problem with defining a "steroid era" is determining its beginning and end. (This website could be a handy guide.)

Did it begin in the late 1980s with Canseco and Mark McGwire on the Oakland A's? Were steroids much more prevalent in the mid-1990s—for instance, when Brady Anderson slugged 50 home runs in 1996? Was 1998—the year of the McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run race—the heyday of steroid use in Major League Baseball? Did the era end in 2003 when MLB implemented drug testing?

Gagne's 80 percent number doesn't necessarily apply to all MLB teams of the time either. The culture of steroid use may have been more prevalent among the Dodgers than other clubs throughout baseball. The Mitchell Report would seem to indicate that.

Nick Laham/Getty Images
Did Eric Gagne use PEDs when trying to prolong his career with the Brewers?

But ballplayers talk to each other. Stuff gets passed around. No one was likely working in a vacuum. 

Is Gagne trying to sell books? Well, almost certainly. No one writes a book with the intention of not selling them.

That's the cynical view of this, but it stands to reason that his publisher wanted him to come up with a big number that would grab headlines (mission accomplished). It would've been better if he named names, but to avoid becoming a Canseco-like pariah from baseball, perhaps Gagne's editors settled for a big, round number. 

In doing so, Gagne got an opportunity to clear his conscience and redeem himself to whomever he feels he has to answer to. The redemption project is so prevalent in our modern culture—we'll forgive so long as someone is candid about their mistakes.

The question with Gagne is whether or not anyone chooses to pay attention. Obviously, he's gotten a lot of attention now. But do you believe him?  

 

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