The Necessary Love Affair: Baseball & Steroids

Major League Baseball is a business, and like all businesses, the main goal is to earn profit, and not always ethically.  For the case of the MLB, steroids is obviously unethical; it is a form of cheating that a majority of people frown upon.  As for the MLB, they appear to be against steroid use, but with amazing statistical numbers being produced by doped-up players, MLB executives do not seem to mind the dollar signs performance-enhancing drugs tend to attract.  It is evident that baseball enjoyed some of its most productive years financially during the height of the Steroid Era, and even fans showed their love, by wanting more long balls, and 100+ MPH fastballs.  The role of steroids and the culture of the MLB is influenced by many factors, whether it’s economics, American heritage, or exceptionalism.  Each of these factors, knowingly or unknowingly, help create, sustain, and prolong a relationship between baseball and steroids that is highly dependent on one another.  Throw in some American pride, and misleading advertisements, and you have a recipe that is poison to the integrity of the game, but is fully necessary for future success.

As an avid baseball fan, I have seen steroids completely revamp the way the game is portrayed and played.  In every day advertisements, players are shown smacking the ball out of the park using their ferocious arms wrapped around a tiny wooden bat.  Many times as a child, I have dreamed being able to hit a ball over the fence, mimicking the ads on television, and idolizing players like Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, who were featured in those ads.  Coincidentally enough, these two players portrayed in these ads have been linked to steroids, and McGwire being guilty of using them.  In an earlier blog, I explained how McGwire was used as the model for the more masculine and attractive player in baseball, due to his ability to hit the long ball.  In Nike’s “Chicks Dig The Long Ball Ad, ” McGwire is compared to two scrawny, less preferred players, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, ultimately ending with McGwire getting the girls.  This ad provided the perfect modern day example of Lionel Strongfort’s “100% man” ad, where he was depicted next to a scrawny nerdy businessman (Living the Strenuous Life, Green, 250).  Although McGwire’s link to steroids came well after this ad was produced, the fact that his massive, strongman appearance was the poster child for a real man’s body sticks into the heads of many fans, and players.  Not all people can achieve a physique like that naturally, and thus, McGwire’s body and success could encourage players to search for other forms of physical enhancement.  Not only would steroids help players achieve the “ideal” body in baseball, it will also increase their chances in earning more of what we all need, money.

As I said before, Major League Baseball has proved to gain decent amounts of profit from steroids.  In Joe Solberg and Richard Ringer’s article, “Performance-Enhancing Drug Use in Baseball: The Impact of Culture,” they explain how through the 1990s, owners and executives only focused on baseball’s popularity and how much revenue it could produce (96).  The Steroid Era was referred to as a “renaissance,” attracting more crowds, and producing more super stars.  Players like McGwire, Bonds, Sosa, and Conseco were household names, and remembered for their astronomical power numbers.  With bigger power numbers, meant more fan appreciation and popularity, which meant more money being made.  Solberg and Ringer explain that MLB executives linked the increase in home runs to the increase in the popularity of baseball.  Instead of the league putting a stop to it, they seemed to turn away from the phenomena.  Blinded by the Benjamin’s, the league owners and officials found themselves defending players who were possibly linked to steroids.  Solberg and Ringer refer to an incident that took place with the St. Louis and their esteemed slugger McGwire, who was questioned by reporters about the known anabolic steroid that was visible in his locker.  Instead of the league pushing an investigation on McGwire and his steroid friend, they decided to defend him, and the Cardinal Franchise, calling them a “disciplined organization” that would not tolerate illegal activity (98).  The leagues passive nature on the subject only increased the use of steroids in baseball because players saw the leagues lack of interest on the matter, giving players an option to boost their financial stability.

In today’s game, player salaries are at record breaking numbers.  Every year, we see players signing nine figure contracts, with no sign of them decreasing.  30 years ago, players could not even dream of making over 100 million dollars to play a sport, but with the help of arbitration hearings falling in the players favor, we see how it is all possible.  In Patrick Thornton’s book, “Legal decisions that shaped modern baseball”, specifically chapter 11 that dealt with Major League Baseball collusion cases, Thornton highlights that the MLBPA (Major League Baseball Player’s Association), filed lawsuits against 26 teams for violating paragraph H of article XVIII of the General Agreement (196).  The text stated that ,”Players shall not act in concert with other players, and Clubs shall not act in concert with other Clubs”, or in simpler terms, no collusion.  The league was found guilty of colluding with one another to drive the free-agent market down, along with allowing teams to keep their stars, not giving them an opportunity to earn more money elsewhere.  The MLBPA winning these cases opened the door for increased steroid use within baseball.  Since player contracts are obviously focused on the individual accolades the player has accumulated combined with hopes that they will continue that success on new teams, steroids becomes reliant for players and teams for future success.

Although, success does not just stem from money-hungry attitudes of MLB officials or players; it is deeply rooted within our culture as Americans.  Throughout our history, America has always tried to be known as winners, and this hegemonic ideology is instilled within all citizens of this great nation.  From a young age, especially in sports, we were told to “Never give up!”, “Never surrender!”, and “Win at all costs!”  Baseball has time and time again acted as America’s white light, especially in times of tragedy.  During WWII, FDR wanted baseball to continue as it would give Americans familiar recreation after long hours at work trying to fund the war (Baseball Doubles, Craig Muder, 17).  After 9/11, baseball was continued and America cheered and became one unified fan base as Mike Piazza hit a home run to dead center giving the Mets the lead, proving we are a nation that can overcome adversity.  Unfortunately, this “Win at all cost” attitude has its negatives.  As Solberg and Ringer explain, competitive athletes, like baseball players begin to adopt these cultural norms, like American hegemony, and eventually become self-concerned, ego-centric players willing to do anything to earn a tactical advantage (94).  This  leads to the militarization of baseball, especially when it comes to steroid use.  Players shoot up, so they are able to attack the ball with their bats hoping to weaken the defense by getting more hits off the pitcher to get him out of the game.  With the starting pitcher lost, the defense is forced to make adjustments to their game depending how many runners are on base, and who is up to bat now.  The attacking team can either continue to pile on runs until the defense finds a way to launch a counter-attack in the form of an out.  Steroids only makes offense and defense, especially offense, that more effective.  It sounds unorthodox, but you can think of baseball player’s use of steroids like America’s use of the Atomic Bomb in WWII.  Players “need” to boost their game for their own individual success, just like America “needed” to drop the a-bomb to stop Japanese defense manufactures, so they can take over the lead in the war.  Now, I am not saying America cheated in WWII, but even if I am, or even if we did, just like baseball fans with the use of steroids, we accept what was done, and in most instances, we celebrate the results (Solberg & Ringer, 95).  Because we celebrate forms of success rather than paying attention to how exactly we achieved it, players will not stop using steroids.  There is too much upside financially and personally to not take the risk of using them.  Major League Baseball does not help their cause in this matter because I feel that punishments are not harsh enough.  Players can be busted for steroids, get suspended for 50 games, come back, play well, and still make millions of dollars.  For baseball players, steroids, or other forms of performance enhancing drugs is a no brainer because it gives them the ability to surpass the competition while asserting their dominance within their profession (Solberg & Ringer, 95).

Through ways of greed, personal success, and American pride, Major League Baseball’s relationship with steroids is deeply embedded into the framework of the sport.  We as fans hope to experience miraculous things, like 500-ft home runs, or a 105 mph fastball. Owner’s constantly try to find ways to make money so they can pay players to come help them win, and make even more money.  Players, well this is their job, so why would they not want to do whatever they can to earn as much money doing something we all do for recreation.  The only way for fans, owners, and players to get what they want, is made possible by the very thing that is tearing this game apart.  Like some sick plot to a bad movie, a parasitic virus using the your body to survive, steroids needs baseball, and removing it, like removing that virus, will ultimately destroy you and “America’s Pastime.”

Works Cited

Green, Harvey. “Living the Strenuous Life,” Fit for America: Health, Fitness, Sport and American Society. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986, 219-258.

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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