Lentis/Steroids and Baseball


Mark McGwire confesses to using steroids on and off for a decade.

The players' strike of 1994 caused attendance for MLB games to be at an all time low and threatened to bankrupt the sport. That was until 1998, when two players began a well-publicized race to beat one of baseball’s most coveted records: most home runs in a single season.[1] Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s battle for the new record revitalized baseball. However, the sudden offensive explosion raised questions about how these numbers were being achieved. Rumors of steroid use among players were later released. Newspaper columns and sports talk radio shows were filled with comments about who was on what and what should be done. This chapter focuses on steroid use in professional baseball and how changes in the professional sport impact society.


Performance Enhancing DrugsEdit

Performance enhancing drug use dates back to the ancient Greeks, and we can see how they have developed through the years. Although they did not use the same type of steroids we use today, they were also focused on increasing athletes stamina and performance in sporting events [2]. Athletes would use herbal medications, wine potions, hallucinogens, and eat animal hearts or testicles to improve their performance. In the Late 19th Century, athletes would drink wine and coca leaves to prevent hunger and fatigue. In the early 1900’s, it was common for Olympic athletes to mix drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and caffeine to increase performance. In 1928, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) prohibited doping of athletes[2] . Coaches and teams could no longer train with "secret-formulae" as before.

Anabolic Steroids are the most commonly used performance enhancing drugs today. They increase protein synthesis in cells which is naturally done by testosterone. [3]. The synthetic hormone was best used for medical purposes dealing with normal growth, development, and sexual functioning [4] In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, it was speculated that the Nazi army used steroids to increase aggression and stamina of soldiers.[3] The drug was also used to help malnourished victims and soldiers.[4] After the more precise steroid was created, athletes began to use steroids to build muscle and increase stamina. After many years of struggling to regulate steroid usage, the first act of Congress was the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990 and 2004. [2]


The 1744 reference to baseball from "A Pretty Little Pocket-Book"

Baseball originated in England as a similar game called “rounders.” “Rounders” was played much like baseball, but the rules were not established so the game changed often.[5]. Abner Doubleday is commonly thought of as the father of modern baseball, but as early as 1744 young boys were calling the sport “base-ball” in both England and America. [6].

Some also place Alexander Cartwright as the founder of baseball in the early 1840s because of his involvement with the first organized team, the New York Knickerbockers. [6]. The actual founder of baseball is debated by many because of the long history of the sport. After the pioneering, social teams, baseball became a professional sport with the Cincinnati Red Stockings started in 1869. [5].

Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869:The first professional team

The National and American Leagues would be started in the following years. By the 1920s, fans were able to listen to baseball by radio. Baseball grew even more with the development of the television in the 50s.[5]. More teams were added in both leagues because of the growing demand.

In the 1920s, not only did radios make baseball more popular, but star players like Babe Ruth became popular. Babe Ruth was on the New York Yankees when he built his strong slugging record. [7]. The 1930s was also a time for women, children, and minorities to start to play baseball. Jackie Robinson was the first to break the color barrier on the Brooklyn Dodgers.[7] Modern baseball includes star players such as Alex Rodrigez, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa.

Baseball is known as “America’s passtime” because of its rich history and longevity.

Supporters and DetractorsEdit

There are number of social groups that impact the socio-technical interface of steroid use in baseball. It is not only important to look at the influence of these groups, but we need to understand why these groups acted at this interface. The issue of steroid use in baseball is a socially constructed debate where power comes from control of people’s perception of the drug. The groups which have the potential to influence the debate are: players, managers and owners, fans, the media, and recently congress.


One of the most outspoken people against steroid use in baseball was Rick Helling. He is not widely known, but he was the first to warn people in charge of baseball. In 1998, he spoke to the players' association, the owners, and the executive board of the MLB and said that steroids were corrupting baseball and was ignored for seven years until the Mitchell report was released. He believed steroids were bad because of how they affected players that were morally good.[8] He saw players taking steroids not to gain an edge but to keep from falling behind.

"Do I feel cheated?... All the non-users feel cheated. I think in a silent way, a lot of people who hadn't cheated over the years are happy with the way the media exposed the problem, and they're happy we're making progress toward evening the playing field." [9]

This quote from Jeff Kent embodies the integrity that has been missing in baseball. The problem he is referring to is about people’s perception of steroid use in baseball. In the early 1990’s, fans and managers were blissfully unaware or they intentionally turned a blind eye. Neither group questioned what players did behind closed doors. The use of drugs has developed a stigma that can tarnish a player’s reputation and the sport’s image as a whole. Many players oppose drug use because it disrupts the fairness of the game not because of the negative side effects of steroids[10].

Chad Curtis, a former player, held the same regard for integrity in baseball as Helling and Kent, but he made it known why he abstained from steroid use.

"There are two things that might stop a person from using steroids: a moral obligation -- they're illegal -- and a fear of the medical complications. I was 100 percent against the use of steroids. But I must tell you, I would not fear the medical side of it. I fully agree you can take them safely." [11]


The integrity of baseball has been questionable since the early days of baseball (see: Black Sox Scandal). The goal of MLB during the steroid era was to make money. The face of this era is Jose Canseco, whose career was self-admittedly successful due to steroid use.

"The players and owners disagree on most things, but when it comes to making money, they're on the same page." [12]

Canseco was not entirely untrue, since there was an increase in attendance of 20 million fans from 1995-1998 across the entire league[13]. Players would use steroids to get a larger paycheck and secure a spot on the team. Steroids would earn them millions of dollars instead of having to retire or be cut. In 1998, Bud Selig, the commissioner, had Robert Millman, MLB chief medical adviser, talk to the players association at the same meeting that Helling brought up steroid corruption[8].

"There is no evidence andro (anabolic steroids) does anything bad or good." [14]

MLB had effectively eliminated the public’s concern for steroids in baseball for the time being.

Impact on FansEdit

After confessions from McGwire, Canseco, Caminiti, and Giambi, public outcry about cheating and rampant steroid use in baseball caused fans to discredit recent records by Barry Bonds. In 2008, 70% of fans believed that at least one out of every four players were using steroids to enhance their performance[15]. The prestige and moral order of baseball was replaced by shame and distrust. Due to the emotional connection fans have with players, some fans can feel betrayed by players who cheat. Fans were asked if players implicated with steroid use such as, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens – both of whom have hall of fame caliber resumes, should be allowed into the hall of fame, their response was the following: 40% said Bonds should not be allowed and 31% said Clemens should not be allowed[15].

Role of the MediaEdit

The media were a major factor in exposing those who used steroids. Few openly admitted usage[16] and many were implicated through trainers and team employees[17], but the shame and humiliation of seeing celebrity athletes being questioned in court had the most impact on the public. The Congressional hearing on steroids in baseball was televised allowing the public to see baseball’s former superstars try to avoid the consequences of their actions. In a sport where stealing is a recorded statistic, it is no wonder deception is a big part of the game on and off the field.

Social ImplicationsEdit

Many athletes participate in sports for the opportunity to pit their abilities against those of their peers, and to experience the satisfaction that comes from playing to their potential. Others do so for a desire for recognition and fame[18]. Despite evidence of steroids causing possible physical harm and significant side effects, some athletes are determined to win at any cost. The fact that baseball offers guaranteed contracts, players are provided the incentive to ignore health risks and attempt to cash in. Diamondback Craig Counsell stated, “if you can get an advantage somewhere, even if it involved crossing an ethical line, people will do it. Home runs are money [19].” One professional sports icon stated “the message that (steroids) sends is definiately not a positive one: I can do steroids and make $250 million [20].” Many professional athletes know that kids at high schools and youth sports levels look up to them and “what they do ultimately filters down [20].”

Alex Rodriguez admitted to using steroids in 2001-2003. He's earning the highest salary in MLB in 2011 at $32 Million. He also has highest career earnings in MLB history. [21].

Impact on YouthEdit

Several factors in our society might contribute to children and young adults using steroids to achieve athletic success. First is the message that is being sent by many sports idols today. Recent steroid investigations in baseball make it clear that steroids have played a part in record-breaking performances. However, the fame athletes get when on steroids sends the message that steroids are accepted, if not necessary, to reach such success. Society places emphasis on sports at the collegiate level with stadiums seating thousands of fans and countless events televised nationally. From championship games to Little League World Series, our youth is placed under national spotlight at exceedingly young ages. College and professional sport recruiters are scouting out younger talent, and the pressure to succeed is high[22]. Economic factors encourage steroid use to gain an edge in sports. The money and social status that accompanies athletic success when granted a professional contract is highly appealing to young athletes [21]. Another more subtle but increasingly wide-reaching monetary influence is the rising cost of collegiate education. Whether steroids are used for the competitive edge or as a mean of keeping up with fellow peers, our youth is beginning to use steroids at exceedingly young ages.

Recent study indicated that 6.6% of 12th grade male students use or have used anabolic steroids and that over two thirds of the user group initiated use when they were 16 years or age or younger[23]. Approximately 21% of users reported health professional was their primary source [23]. The current strategy for dealing with performance enhancing drug use by adolescents is multifaceted and primarily involves education and prevention strategies and drug testing programs. Although adolescent boys, particularly those involved in athletics such as football or bodybuilding, make up the majority of high school steroid users, national surveys show that adolescent girls are also vulnerable to the lure of steroid use [24]. Girls take steroids for a variety of reasons, but most prominent is to get more lean body mass. Studies show that teens that use or have used steroids were significantly more likely to practice other health-harming behaviors, including smoking, drinking, and using marijuana [25].


The issues of steroid use in baseball stresses how technology doesn’t define the culture, it reflects it. Society’s image of the ideal body and “winning at any cost” attitude is shaped largely by forces outside the chalked lines. For effective change to be implemented, the culture surrounding baseball needs to be addressed.


  1. History of Baseball in the United States.
  2. a b c History of Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports.
  3. a b Anabolic Steroids.
  4. a b Anabolic Steroids.
  5. a b c History of Baseball
  6. a b Baseball:The Early Years
  7. a b Baseball
  8. a b The Man Who Warned Baseball
  9. Jeff Kent,Quote Source: San Francisco Chronicle, March 3, 2005.
  10. The Social Construction of Drug Debates
  11. Chad Curtis,Quote Source: Sports Illustrated Magazine, June 3, 2002.
  12. Jose Canseco,Quote Source: Canseco at Congressional Hearing, March 17, 2005.
  13. MLB Attendance Figures from 1990-1999
  14. Robert Millman,Quote Source: Washington Post, Dec. 1998.
  15. a b Survey of Fans in 2008 about Steroid Use in Baseball
  16. Admitted Steroid Users
  17. Implicated Steroid Users
  18. Anabolic Steroids in Sports.
  19. Shipley, A. (2002, May 29). Baseball players say steroid use is heavy. Washington Post, p. D01.
  20. a b Baseball's steroid issue calls ethics into question.
  21. a b Alex Rodriguez.
  22. Scouting Little League Baseball Talent.
  23. a b Estimated Prevalence of Anabolic Steroid Use Among Male High School Seniors.
  24. NIDA.
  25. ABC News Health.