Do a quick Internet search for the term Steroid Era and the call backs include headlines like "Baseball Pays the Price for Steroid Era," "Hall of Fame shuts out steroid-era stars" and, my personal favorite, "Baseball's Steroid Era put in perspective," as if that time in the history of the game is over, a time long since passed.
The Steroid Era isn't over. It's never going to be over.
There's no way to put the Steroid Era into perspective because we have no idea when it's going to end. We are acres into the performance-enhancing forest, with no idea how deep this thing will go.
Now Tim Elfrink of the Miami New Times has published a damning report that links the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, Gio Gonzalez and a host of other major leaguers to businessman Anthony Bosch and his Miami-based company Biogenesis, an organization the report calls "the East Coast version of BALCO":
The names are all included in an extraordinary batch of records from Biogenesis, an anti-aging clinic tucked into a two-story office building just a hard line drive's distance from the UM campus. They were given to New Times by an employee who worked at Biogenesis before it closed last month and its owner abruptly disappeared. The records are clear in describing the firm's real business: selling performance-enhancing drugs, from human growth hormone (HGH) to testosterone to anabolic steroids.
The report chronicles Bosch's dealings with professional athletes, as documented in hand-written notebooks he kept with specific records of which steroids and performance enhancers he provided for which athletes, and how much money he was charging them.
Per the report, some of the drugs he provided include HGH, IGF-1—a banned substance in baseball—and something called "pink cream" that includes testosterone.
When exactly did the Steroid Era end?
Maybe all the people who pronounced the end of the Steroid Era in baseball when MLB finally put in actual punishments for failing drug tests just wanted us to stop using the term "steroid." In fact, per the Miami New Times report and many documented cases over the last decade, anabolic steroids have become one of many different drugs to fall under the classification of performance enhancers. Perhaps, technically, the Steroid Era is over and we've reclassified it to a broader "PED Era."
That has to be it, because the darn thing isn't over nor will it be any time soon.
The truth is, baseball players have been cheating for generations. Players would routinely pop greenies on their way out to the field. Greenies, for those unfamiliar with the term, were amphetamines and weren't banned in the game until 2006. From a 2006 New York Times story on the ban:
But a practice that was essentially winked at will no longer go unpunished now that Major League Baseball has rules banning the use of amphetamines. For the first time, baseball will test for them, meaning that any number of players will have to adjust.
The suggestion by a host of Major Leaguers interviewed for that 2006 story was that coffee and energy drinks would become the replacement for greenies. Turns out, in addition to caffeine drinks, bogus prescriptions were the unspoken answer.
The drug of choice may be new, but the concept surely isn't. Players have often been one or two steps ahead of the process. Hell, Rodriguez admitted in 2009 to taking drugs during the early part of his career while with the Texas Rangers.
Did Rodriguez publicly admit to taking drugs because he failed a drug test and was suspended? No. Sports Illustrated published a detailed report that said he had failed a test in 2003, back when MLB's testing came with no enforceable punishment. Still, it took six years for that news to come out, and when it did, Rodriguez swore it was something he no longer did.
This era will never end, and reports like the Miami New Times one will continue to come out year after year after year because players will continue to find shady opportunists who will happily supply whatever they need to stay ahead of the competition, and the league.
This wasn't even a sophisticated system in Miami. Records were kept in hand-written notebooks by a fake doctor who was reportedly dumb enough to keep client nicknames right next to the players' actual names.
Take a page in another notebook, which is labeled "2012" and looks to have been written last spring. Under the heading "A-Rod/Cacique," Bosch writes, "He is paid through April 30th. He will owe May 1 $4,000... I need to see him between April 13-19, deliver troches, pink cream, and... May meds. Has three weeks of Sub-Q (as of April)."
Cabrera was listed 14 times in Bosch's notebooks, sometimes under the nickname "Mostro." Nelson Cruz was nicknamed "Mohamad." Bosch also had a player he called "Josmany" and "Springs," which was likely code for Yasmani Grandal, the former Miami Hurricanes catcher who played scholastically for the Miami Springs and now plies his trade for the San Diego Padres.
Think about this for a second: Baseball was being outwitted by a fake doctor dumb enough to put his clients' actual names into a hand-written notebook, and the guy can't even spell the names right.
Though to be fair, MLB did catch both Cabrera and Grandal last season, slapping them each with a 50-game suspension. Still, a lot of other players, even some named in this report, weren't careless enough to get caught.
That's what the Steroid Era has become—it's no longer about which players are cheating, it's about which players are careless (read: dumb) enough to get caught.
Baseball needs some players to get caught. Frankly, MLB needs enough players to get caught to justify the testing process but not too many to warrant further action. The testing will surely continue to get better, with the understanding it's only in place to serve as a deterrent, and not a method of policing the game.
There is no way Bud Selig and those in charge at Major League Baseball want to catch the players who are cheating. They simply want to make it harder for those who are cheating to continue to circumvent the rules and hope it turns some players off the idea altogether.
While that's a noble task, we can't really believe the players are suddenly going to stop cheating because testing got a little bit harder. They're just going to find better drugs and better ways to beat the tests. Those "troches" listed in the report are akin to throat lozenges. That's how advanced the sciences have become that performance enhancers can come with a side of soothing throat relief.
The cheating will never stop. Those who can't figure out a way to beat the system will continue to get caught, becoming the sacrificial lambs of the testing process.
Those who can beat the system—those who will never get caught and never get suspended despite a career fueled by PEDs—will probably end up in the Hall of Fame.
At least, well, those players will get voted into the Hall of Fame once the stigma of the Steroid Era finally disappears for the voters. Whenever that will be.