Alright, then. Over at the gym, after the workout, and every teevee is tuned into the newest steroid scare. Wall to wall. I call it that — "scare" — because, for one, I don’t care about it — so you’re welcome to count that in your assessment of my assessment. For another, it smells so much to me like any other pedestrian "crisis" that’s simply going through the routine they need to go through until people, en masse, call for regulatory oversight, which is what they wanted in the first place — of course.
I don’t care about it, but I’m educated about it. And that’s real science and real critical analysis Art is enjoining to the hysteria. But let me summarize, and this would go under the category, if I had one, of "perception is reality."
First of all, we’re talking about massive selection bias and causality problems. Athletes win at stuff all the time — that’s kinda the point. When a winner is subsequently found to have used steroids, it’s fait accompli determined that the steroids were the cause. But of course, any rational, logical analysis demands a comparison against all the steroid users who lost. DUH! And I guarantee that for many of you, that may very well be the very first time you ever considered that crucial element. And it’s everything — everything, if you’re interested in reality (over perception), that is. The problem is that we don’t know who used steroids and lost, and we never will. The whole thing can not be determined so long as the legal prohibitions, social stigma, and professional sanctions exist. Losers are never going to come clean. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Secondly, how do you quantify the benefit? Steroids, it’s well known, increases lean muscle mass as a proportion of total body weight. In what sports, and in what specializations within sports, does that necessarily benefit? Well, offensive linemen in football, probably. Sumo wrestlers, probably, Wrestlers in general, probably. And you can probably come up with a few other examples where muscle mass and ratio is an overriding factor. But hitting in baseball? C’mon. First of all, as Art has demonstrated, there’s no real increase in hitting in baseball. So there’s a functional problem? Really? Hitting in baseball at the professional level is an amazingly specialized skill. Only an itsy bitsy percentage of all the people in all the world can make a single dime doing it. Think about that.
Let me wrap this up, because after all, it doesn’t interest me that much. (It’s the political, state oversight overtones that do.) But I’ve made my points. What I think is that if there’s any real correlation to steroid use and better hitting, it’s placebo — a well documented and established reality. The baseball players using steroids think they have an edge, so some of them perform better. So, if that’s true, then I’d have to say that "Spinach & Jesus" are responsible for one hell of a lot more performance enhancement in baseball than steroids ever hoped to have.
A final thing, because I don’t want to sound too unsympathetic to those who so cherish "The Game" and its history. Billy has the best take yet, against steroids. Now I know Billy and I know the last thing he’d ever call for is regulatory oversight, so I’m not even going there. But ya, what about the kids, and the example? Never mind that you don’t have to care about the kids, but why the hell not? What kind of men are you? Well, and it must be said, I guess it’s been a really long time since professional baseball cared about the kids beyond the trademarks stamped and printed on all the paraphernalia the kinds (or their parents) buy.
I’m only partially sympathetic to that. I get it, but it’s not everything. Mostly, until I own a baseball team, it’s none of my business beyond deciding what of their wares I care to buy or pay any attention to. But mostly I just don’t really care. Shoot ’em up; I guess. If that’s the image you want, go for it. It’s yours to destroy.