The steroids/performance enhancing drugs (PED) debate in baseball lost me a long time ago when I became convinced that it really is all about statistics, particularly home runs.  And more specifically I believe, the debate has been fueled by the Cult of Babe Ruth.  babe_ruthThe steroids/PED issue is often discussed by baseball purists, crusading sportswriters, and shortsighted fans with the use of the code phrase: the integrity of the game.   But the fact is concerns about the so-called integrity of the game do not appear to extend to any other facet of baseball other than home runs.  The concern over the integrity of the game never seems to address other hits or pitching, or wins and loses.  Many of those outraged over PEDs have suggested as a remedy: stripping the record book of home run totals – particularly those of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa or now Alex Rodriguez.  It seems to me that this obsessive focus on home run hitters in and of itself seems to invalidate any real efforts to rid the game of steroids and PEDs or realistically deal with the problem.

Let’s start with records.  How I ask might we alter the record book without dealing with the far reaching impact of the overturned records?  How would this actually work?  Do you also take away the victories that came with the additional home runs hit?  Do you strip away World Series games or championships that may have been won based on the alleged artificial power added by steroid use? Do we name new champions for suspect years?   Do we refund ticket buyers who were “deceived” by steroid/PED fueled hitters?  Someone please answer those questions first before we go on any further discussing altering the record book.

On the other side of it, where is the equal outrage over the pitchers who now throw fastballs over 100 mph?  Pitchers whose throwing speed may have been artificially increased because of steroids or other PEDs.   Based on what we now know about the results of steroids/PED tests since official testing began five years ago, a disproportionate number of the players who have failed tests and have been suspended have been pitchers. But where is the equivalent public outcry over those pitchers and their violations of the integrity of the game?  Even the finger pointing at alleged steroids cheater Roger Clemens rarely suggests we should take away his strikeouts, or his wins.  Roger Clemens’ violation of the so-called integrity of the game doesn’t appear to carry the same weight as the home run hitters.   Why is that?   I believe the answer is simply that the steroids/PED debate is at its heart dishonest, laced with hypocrisy and is ultimately fueled by the Cult of Babe Ruth.

The sport of baseball remade itself from the deadball era (The deadball era which ended nearly 90 years ago was a time when baseballs weren’t nearly as hard as today’s baseball and couldn’t be hit as far) by literally changing the composition of the ball, which as a result made home runs easier to hit because the ball was much harder.   The first player to really take advantage of the end of the deadball era was the mighty Babe Ruth, who remains baseball’s all-time icon. The Babe’s prodigious feats not only built Yankee Stadium, but also built a cult of personality which still has millions of adherents to this day.

The theology of the Cult of Babe Ruth has warped and bastardized the debate over performance enhancing drugs and steroids.  There can be no rational discussion of the issue I believe until we deal with the real culprit – the Cult of Babe Ruth.   Ruthites like to hide behind their token affection for Hank Aaron.  But it seems to me that the Ruthites’ affection for Hank Aaron is really just a smokescreen.  Ironically it was Aaron who learned first hand just how powerful the Cult of Babe Ruth was when he was taunted with death threats and racial slurs 35 years ago as he began encroaching on the Babe’s hallowed home run total of 714.

Lastly, many steroid debaters talk about the impact ballplayers’ use of steroids has on “the kids”.   The kids, the kids, the kids.  The refrain is nearly deafening.  This is the most spurious claim of all.   If this witch hunt was really about the kids, or even the serious health risks posed by the use of steroids, then the hypocritical disgust of so-called fans and sports writers would be equally applied to all ballplayers and all sports.  Most of the disgust is saved for baseball players who allegedly cheated the game by using PEDs to hit home runs.  The same outrage is not directed at football players like Shawne Merriman of the San Diego Chargers, who three years ago tested positive for a PED, was suspended, and returned to his sport with little harm done to his reputation, and relatively little outrage over his PED use.

Clearly, the evidence suggests to me that the PED/steroids debate is not about the kids, or health risks at all, and the sanctimonious claims that the integrity of the game of baseball has been harmed by PEDs is at best dishonest and hypocritical.

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  1. Very good article. The “integrity of the game” never seems to enter the debate in any other sport other than baseball and only with regards to home run records. I agree the “Cult of Babe Ruth” takes away from a rational discussion.

  2. Baseball is like boxing. You never know when the game is actually pure or fixed. I think the game has larger problems that PED’s. The pace of each game is too slow. The season is too long. Finally, baseball is unattractive to most African American athletes. The fact that few blacks participate in baseball guarantees the game is in some ways competing with watered down talent. It’s like during the days of imposed segregation. MLB didn’t really become a man’s league until it had an influx of Black Americans and Latinos to give it a well rounded, competitive pool of players.

  3. Anonymoose says:

    Injectable testicular extract existed as early as the 1890s. Cult of Ruth? Well, he was the only player ever who was provably an HOF caliber pitcher and an HOF position player in one person. No one, but no one, comes close. But anyone, in any era, could have been using PEDs. Amphetamines were prevalent for three decades? No benefit to staying awake and alert? Excuse me.