Culture-roids vs. Baseball

Throughout my research on baseball I found it very difficult to narrow down a specific research question.  Baseball has plenty of outlets to question, whether the topic pertains to racism, male masculinity, or steroid use.  All topics could pose rather interesting questions, but I thought I would focus my question and research more towards the cultural aspects of professional baseball and its relationship to steroid use.

Research Question: How does the culture of Major League Baseball interact with use the of performance enhancing drugs?

The first book I decided to focus on was, Legal Decisions That Shaped Modern Baseball by Patrick K. Thornton.  The book outlined all the major trials and legislation that helped shape the game we see today.  Some of the trials date back to the beginning of the 20 Century, while others are as recent as the 1990s.  Since my research question asks to focus on the culture of the MLB and its relationship with steroids, I felt that one particular chapter fit that bill perfectly.  In chapter 11 titled, “Baseball’s Collusion Cases: Free Agents Take on the Owner”, Thornton dissects the collusion charges that the MLBPA (Major League Baseball Player’s Association) filed against the 26 teams in baseball in 1986.  Thornton explains that the Player’s Association accused the teams to be in violation of paragraph H of article XVIII in the General Agreement that, “Players shall not act in concert with other players, and Clubs shall not act in concert with other Clubs” (196).  Thornton’s chapter explains how the 26 teams were pushing to “destroy free agency” by not participating in free agent transactions, saying that their lack of movement in the market was economic based and a periodic trend (197).  These were all found to be false, and the teams tried to defend themselves by showing statistics of how players, after signing free agent contracts, tend to spend more time injured, and their production is lower than when they were under their original teams control.  Thornton summarizes that the clubs were all found guilty of collusion had to pay for damage claims the Player’s Association presented to the arbitrator, claiming that collusion costed players lump sums of deserved money.  The chapter continues with another collusion charge against the 26 teams that was filed a year later, stating that the teams continued their illegal activity.  Once again they were found guilty, and once again had to pay the Player’s Association, creating one of the most expensive labor battles ever (215).  After reading this article, I started to make connections to how the arbitrators ruling in favor of the MLBPA allows players to pursue larger and riskier contracts for MLB teams.  When it comes to steroid use, the article helps give my question direction in how the desire for larger contracts must reflect a player’s performance on the field.  With great performances comes a greater contract, and an easy way to obtain great performance and a greater contract is through performance enhancing drugs.

As I continued my research, the second article I found directly answers my question.  In the article, “Performance-Enhancing Drug Use in Baseball: The Impact of Culture,” by Joe Solberg and Richard Ringer, they focus on the value and behavior norms of baseball and its actors.  Solberg and Ringer explain that the shared values and norms that create culture are what the actors in a group, in this case, the actors within professional baseball, base their decisions on what is appropriate and legitimate behavior (94).  The authors explain how sports, especially competitive professional sports, promote winning at all costs, which in retrospect, legitimize unacceptable behavior, like cheating (95).  With this mindset, players are under the impression that it is okay to explore options to help boost their play, not just team success, but for individual success   The authors then show how continued steroid use is encouraged by the lack of leadership notoriety (97).  They explain how owners and league officials were so blinded by the increased profit of baseball during the Steroid Era, that they paid no attention to, nor cared about, what was happening in locker rooms.  Solberg and Ringer even argue that Major League Baseball and its officials indirectly encouraged steroid use after they sided with the St. Louise Cardinals after a discrepancy with Mark McGuire and a reporter.  The story goes that McGuire was asked about a bottle of a known anabolic steroid that was visible in his locker after a game.  McGuire admitted to using it as it was not illegal, but this brought the questions of purity in the game, and McGuire, being a famed power hitter, had his legitimacy challenged.  McGuire and the Cardinal organization filed a grievance to have press access blocked to their club house, to which the league showed their full support.  Though nothing actually happened, Solberg and Ringer believe that with such defense from the league, what was seen as immoral was now acceptable (98).  The authors continued their research on how the league benefitted from power hitters, and the demand from fans to see more home runs only boosted player ego’s thus encouraging this behavior.  With power hitters being rewarded for their outlandish offensive production through multimillion dollar contracts, the presence of steroids would be inevitable and completely change the culture of the game (100).  This article directly shows the relationship of MLB culture and steroid use.  It also shows an aspect that never crossed my mind which is the role the owners and league officials had in steroid use.  For the most part, I approached my question through the point of view of the players, and how they were so willing to jeopardize their career for fame and money.  Little did I know that their actions were directly related to the lack of reaction from the league.

For my last article, I decided to take a different approach when researching about baseball.  My new approach was based on the Americanism of baseball, and how it represents this nation, and how this can indirectly encourage steroid use.  In the article, “Baseball Doubles as the Symbol of the Country: July 4 Games and Other Developments Help Define the Nation” by Craig Muder, we are shown the ways in which baseball has been tied to deeply into patriotism and American values.  Muder explains how baseball’s link to American patriotism dates back to Independence Day and WWII.  Not only does baseball season incorporate July 4th, games are played on that day.  Muder shows how plenty of major events in baseball have occurred on July 4th, like Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech, 20 innings pitched by starters, Cy Young and Rube Waddel, along with other amazing feats (17).  Patriotism is highlighted even more as Muder explains how players, during WWII, left the game to serve their country.  When Pearl Harbor was attacked, the commissioner of baseball asked FDR whether the season should be cancelled, but he declined believing that baseball should continue to provide an escape for those working to help fund the war (17).  Muder also points out that WWII re-sparked the playing of the National Anthem at ball games, instilling America into it’s own past-time.  With all this patriotism in baseball outlined in this article, I started to examine other forms of patriotism, or American ideals that propel this country.  America is vastly based on the idea of being the best at all costs, always thriving for self-improvement, leaving competitors as far behind as possible.  With these values in American identity, and with Muder’s article explaining how tied that identity is to baseball, we can see how player’s see steroid use as an outlet to express their own patriotism.  Players want to be the best; they want to win and self-improve, and they will do so at any cost.  Like America in WWII, players will resort to the S-Bomb and forget fair play to blow the competition of the face of the Earth, and establish themselves as superior entities within their world.

Each article has given me different points of views as to how baseball has shaped itself into the game it is today.  The culture of Major League Baseball is framed by each participating actor, whether players, owners, or fans.  The sport I love is tainted, but not just because of a few athletes trying to make an extra million bucks, but it is tainted because that is what we as the actors in the culture want.  We want the home runs and the sacrifices.  We also want American Pride, but above all, we want to win.

Work Cited

Muder, Craig. “Baseball Doubles as a Symbol of the Country: July 4 Games and Other Developments Define the Nation.” Phi Kappa Phi Forums 2009, 16-18. Web.

Solberg, Joe, and Ringer Richard . “Performance-Enhancing Drug Use in Baseball: The Impact of Culture.” Ethics & Behavior. 2I.2 (2011): 91-102. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.

Thornton, Patrick K.. Legal Decisions That Shaped Modern Baseball. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2012. Ebook Library. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.

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One Response to Culture-roids vs. Baseball

  1. Sarah McCullough says:

    Nice variety of sources that point toward the directions your project can take. I like how you looked to the larger trends in sport to determine the role of steroid use by players. Your observation that the desire to dope is related not just to individual player volition, but also to the very management of the sport and fan desires is insightful, and worth exploring further.

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