Examining The Use of Performance-Enhancing Drugs in MLB

For the past two decades, MLB has faced a dilemma when it comes to preventing the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport.

While the overall percentage of players using PEDs has gone down since the “Steroid Era” in the late 90s to early 2000s, there are still a number of players in the league today who have recently been suspended due to a failed drug test.

Looking back on what is now considered the “Steroid Era” in baseball, offense was the highest fans had ever seen it in the sport and that is because it was coming from an unnatural source. Single-season home run records were being broken left and right, including Roger Maris’ 37-year record that was broken by both Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire in the same year. This was no coincidence.

The ball was flying out of the ballpark in astronomical numbers and players were reaching milestones quicker than anyone could have ever imagined. Between 1998 and 2009, 10 players reached the 500-career home run plateau, the largest increase in membership of the club in baseball history. Out of the 10 players to reach the mark, six of them have since been linked to performance-enhancing drugs.

Then as the era came to an end in 2003, a nutritional supplement firm based out of California was discovered to have been providing undiscoverable steroids to athletes. After further investigation, dozens of major leaguers were exposed for using these illegal substances, including Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Gary Sheffield.

Testing for banned substances in MLB did not begin until 2003, so that means that even though there were “banned substances” in the sport, there was no testing to determine whether or not players were actually using those substances. This caused many players to break the rules and put up astronomical statistics with no penalty.

However, since then, MLB has been continuing to make improvements in their anti-doping policy and give players more frequent, random testing while also providing harsher penalties to those who fail their test.  While these harsher penalties and testing rules have lowered the number of players in baseball failing tests, there are those out there who are skeptical whether or not these tests are entirely accurate.

MLB’s current penalty system for failed drug tests consists of the following: First positive test result: 80 game suspension, second positive test result: 162 game suspension (the entire season, including the postseason), and third positive test result: lifetime ban from MLB.

One suggestion that could be made to eliminate the use of PEDs completely is providing harsher penalties for first-time offenders. After being caught for the first time, players should receive a lifetime ban from the league as a way to show them there is a no tolerance policy for cheaters. Right now, MLB is showing its players that it is okay for their players to use PEDs the first two times before receiving a lifetime ban. 

Author of “Baseball Cop: The Dark Side Of America’s National Pastime”, Eddie Dominguez, believes that the use of PEDs is still running rampant throughout Major League Baseball to this day and players are just finding sneaky ways to avoiding failing their test.

“I would say 70 percent of players who have been in the league a year are using upper-echelon PEDs that can’t be detected,” a doctor who served prison time for distributing performance-enhancing drugs told Dominguez, according to CBS Boston.

What makes this even more frightening is that it is not evident anymore whether or not a player is taking something he is not supposed to just by looking at him. Back a few decades ago, players who took these drugs would be massive with muscles breaking out of their uniform but shown by two players who recently served suspensions for PED use, Robinson Cano and Dee Gordon of the Mariners, you can be of smaller stature and still be taking banned substances.

As for the future of the use of these drugs in major league baseball, it seems like players are going to keep trying to find loopholes in the system to allow themselves to get away with getting an upper hand on the competition.  According to Victor Conte, founder of BALCO, a laboratory which was raided for supplying athletes with steroids, there is a major loophole in MLB’s drug testing policy that everyone just seems to be avoiding.

“During the season, MLB players can be tested only at the stadium. That gives them roughly 16 hours to dope elsewhere and has popularized the practice of “micro-doping,’’”. Conte told USA Today. “Has all of the sudden everybody found God and decided they’re going to be clean athletes and respect the fact that everybody deserves to compete on a level playing field? I don’t think so,”.

MLB has to stop showing their players that there is tolerance for this type of behavior. But then again, it is possible that MLB does not mind these issues and just turn a blind eye to make the game more attractable to fans, because the numbers show that revenue is up for MLB in the seasons where more home runs are hit.

In the past few seasons, the number of home runs in baseball have been on the rise and many are unsure where the largest power surge since the steroid era is coming from. Many believe this could be a result of MLB wounding the baseballs tighter, so they travel further, but some also believe this is because players have found a new way to avoid the drug testing system and are once again finding a way to gain an advantage in an out of touch league.

It is surely a dilemma that is crowding not only Major League Baseball, but also the rest of professional sports as well. It does not seem like an issue that will ever be permanently gone, but there are steps slowly being made to be sure the game is being played as clean as possible throughout all levels of the sport. 

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