Like Barry Bonds, Baseball Widow hasn't retired; she's just not playing.
Enjoy the archives. . .

Monday, May 03, 2004

PEDs, part IV (I think)

In the past, Baseball Widow has been quick to point out that the Performance Enhancing Drug ("PED") moniker is inadequate, especially to the extent that "performance enhancing" relates to competitive balance. I don't want to re-tread water under the bridge, but I've pointed out that the Yankees' payroll is an artificial advantage that smaller-market teams can never rival. We've talked about performance enhancing. Now let's talk about drugs.

Two recent events have caused Baseball Widow to think about drugs. No, neither of them involved law school finals.

1. Baseball Hubby's paternal grandmother recently had a terrible respiratory infection with some dangerous complications. She spent over a month in the hospital. At one point she was injected with steroids to keep her lungs open. The woman has incredible pluck--when visitors walked in, she asked, "Wonder if they'll finally let me in the big game?" She was, of course, referring to baseball. (Baseball Hubby's grandmother is a huge baseball fan, but that's another post.)

2. Baseball Widow recently spent an evening on a police ride-along. No, she wasn't arrested. Baseball Widow rode in the patrol car with a police officer for a ten hour shift, going on every call. The most eye-opening part of the experience was touring the slums and seeing how drugs permeate the community. Baseball Widow isn't saying anything new when she says that crack has devastating effects.

This is perhaps the most simplistic idea I've ever posted, but sometimes simple ideas need spelling out: drugs are neither inherently good nor inherently bad--they're just drugs. Sometimes drugs are essential to save lives. Sometimes drugs are instrumental in ruining lives. And, although people don't really like to think about it, sometimes drugs are just for the kick. We see all three instances in baseball.

Just for the kick: Maybe they work, maybe they don't. Sometimes they're legal, sometimes they're not. Creatine, Ephedra, Hgh, Steroids, Slim-Fast, Viagra, whatever.

Ruining lives: Steve Howe, Darryl Strawberry, Otis Nixon, Dwight Gooden.

Saving lives: Detroit Tigers pitcher Jason Johnson, wearing an insulin pump during games to keep his life-threatening diabetes in check.

It is inadequate to draw the illegal/legal distinction. First, there is a fundamental difference between Jose Canseco trying to hit a few more homers and Greasy Eddie the neighborhood crack dealer ripping off car stereos to support his habit. Second, the illegal/legal distinction is simply an arbitrary standard set by government officials who are susceptible to lobbying influence. Pop quiz: which is more dangerous, marijuana or tobacco? Well, if you grow it and roll it, you're gonna live a longer, healthier life smoking dope than buying Lucky Strikes. What's the difference between crack and powder cocaine? Chemically, pretty much nothing, but if you get busted for crack, you're gonna do at least twice the time as if you peddled cocaine. Look, I'm not making the case that anyone should be doing any of these, but I am saying that an intelligent conversation about drug policy--both nationally and in baseball--requires making finer distinctions than illegal/legal.

So, what is the standard that baseball should use? "Artificial Advantage" is about as slippery as "Performance Enhancing." What if I told you that some baseball players were abusing a prescription-only steroid injection in order to deaden themselves to pain so that they can play longer and harder? Outraged? Why should you be? It's just cortisone. Sure, excessive use can kill white blood cells, cause cataracts, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and cause tendons to explode, but, hey, if everybody uses it, it can't be a big deal, right?

Is it possible that the uproar over illegal steroids is just because they haven't gained widespread use or acceptance yet? And if this is the case, haven't we really worked ourselves back around to the issue of competitive balance?

Baseball Widow doesn't have an answer or a conclusion. This is a topic in progress. . .

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