WASHINGTON – Since reports surfaced last week that several MLB players — the biggest being New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez — would be suspended for using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), I’ve consistently been asked two questions by my colleagues here at WTOP, and friends:
“Drugs have run rampant in the major leagues for years, why go after these players so vigorously now?”
And: “Did you ever take PEDs?”
A little context for the second question: Before getting into the news business I played in the minor leagues for the Milwaukee Brewers organization from 1997-2000. Some would call that the height of the “steroid era.” So, I’ve seen some things.
No, I never took PEDs. I didn’t take them because I think every player has a moral obligation not to take banned substances.
Heck, in the 1998 offseason, I was a 6-foot-4, 18-year-old toothpick who needed to bulk up. Some teammates introduced me to the nutritional supplement creatine. It helps add muscle mass quickly, which I needed. As a competitor, you’re always looking for an edge. Physically, I thought creatine would give me one, and it became part of my workout regimen.
But after three months I stopped taking it. I got tired of drinking a Pacific Ocean’s worth of water to stave off the side effects of dehydration and muscle cramps. Plus, creatine’s long-term term effects on the body weren’t known, so I was scared to continue using it. It’s also why I haven’t taken another supplement since.
Truth be told, though, I never bothered to ask if creatine was banned. The MLB had no mandatory drug testing in 1998, so what was legal or illegal wasn’t talked about in a lot of clubhouses. My teammates and I never thought to ask if what we were using was banned.
The overwhelming majority of professional athletes take some sort of supplement. Baseball, especially in the minor leagues, was no different. It was a sign of the times.
I can say without hesitation, though, that if I found out creatine was illegal, I would’ve stopped immediately. Being seen as a cheater isn’t something I would’ve wanted. But from the guys I was around, myself included, that wasn’t the overriding factor in our decisions to take or not to take PEDs. We all had parents who taught us right from wrong. Guys I played with juiced. All it would’ve taken is my interest, and they could get me on a program.
If someone was taking a shady substance, it was because — in his mind — it would give him an edge to get to “The Show” faster. If a player stayed away from PEDs, it was out of fear he’d make his body more vulnerable to injuries.
It’s said that “you can’t make the club in the tub.” In the minors, you don’t have millions of dollars to fall back on if you suffer a major injury. For us, our bodies were all we had. Half the battle was playing well. The other half was staying on the field.
I also chose to hang my hat on my work ethic. Like a lot of guys, I felt that alone would get me to the big leagues. It’s what got me drafted in the fourth round as a 17-year-old, snot-nosed high school kid. It’s also what made me play through painful shin splints the day I collided with a teammate and suffered a compound fracture in my left leg, effectively ending my career less than two years later.
The guys I know personally who made it to the majors did it with hard work. So I know it can be done.
Really, if you cheat, and you get caught, you gotta go. It’s that simple. The 12 players who accepted their 50-game suspensions for admitting they took PEDs knew the risk of their actions the first time they ingested a pill, took a shot or smeared on a cream.
They’re cheaters. They were caught. They gotta go.
The 13th guy, Rodriguez, still gets to play while he appeals his 211-game suspension. He has every right to defend himself. But if reports from ESPN are true, Rodriguez likely will go down as well.
Besides, he’s a known cheater. He was caught, again. So he’s gotta go. Hopefully, he’ll stay gone.
Even when this latest charade is over, PEDs still will be part of the game. I doubt I’ll be alive when they’re completely out of baseball.
But the sooner the “steroid era” has run its course, the sooner the next crop of minor leaguers trudging it out in rookie leagues and making the climb through Single and Double A can get to the business of restoring the good name of the world’s greatest game.