In light of recent news about Braun, A-Rod, Cruz and other baseball stars accused of or confessing to PED usage, I wanted to weigh in on a different topic related to steroids in baseball. Steroid usage has always intrigued me because its benefits are difficult to measure. Can we definitively determine how many additional strike outs Roger Clemens pitched due to his PED usage? What about how many additional home runs McGwire hit because of steroids? In short, their benefits although real, are very difficult to flesh out.
Here’s something you won’t hear discussed in the media. Logically, I don’t believe that steroids improve the most important skill of a hitter – hand-eye coordination. For anyone that has played baseball, you can certainly appreciate how incredibly talented professional ball players are in this category. Like all sports, it’s incredibly hard to turn pro in baseball and work your way up through the rungs of the minors. To do so requires a strong work ethic, tremendous athletic ability, but also, the unbelievable skill to consistently hit a tiny ball with a wooden bat that’s traveling ninety miles an hour while moving left, right, up, or down. I believe that of every sport, baseball requires its professionals to have the highest degree of hand-eye coordination. Without this ability, a player cannot generate hits and contribute to his team. A hitter that cannot hit will quickly find himself out of a job. Plenty of ball players never get called up due to this. As the competition intensifies up the food chain, survival of the fittest emerges. Those that don’t have the skill to hit against the stiffer pitching competition plateau. Others that can continue to move up.
In the media, steroids are discussed primarily in connection with being able to generate more power. However, what good is that power without the ability to hit the ball? This really makes me question why players take steroids in the first place. If solid bat-on-ball contact is made, how much of an advantage do steroids provide? If a player’s home run clears the wall by 2 feet, could he have done the same thing without steroids? What if he clears the wall by 50 feet – were steroids really necessary in this instance? In this way, I find the issue extremely murky. Do players feel that steroids help in hitting a ground ball single up the middle or pulling the ball to the opposite field, or are the benefits just for distance? Perhaps part of the allure to keep using is the placebo effect. A PED using hitter who hits a home run may truly believe that the drugs helped him achieve this feat. In reality, he may have hit the homer regardless. This causes a vicious cycle of drug use.
The other major advantage of PEDs are accelerated recovery times from injuries. This, I feel, is probably more measurable than the power advantage from hitting. If a typical injury suffered by a sample of one thousand athletes takes about a month to recover from and a steroid user recovers in two weeks, we can say with some certainty that using illegal drugs sped up recovery for that athlete. Although there may be one person out of a thousand that could recover especially quickly, it becomes more of a fact when recovery times improve across the board with all injuries suffered by PED users. In this way, I feel like PEDs really give baseball players an edge when it comes to increased stamina and durability. The demands of playing are tough on the body – 160+ games per year, constant travel, sleep deprivation. PEDs can really make these demands easier to handle for a player.
The steroid debate has caused us to try to measure the immeasurable. One thing is for sure; we’ll never know how much of a benefit PEDs give a particular player.
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