The use of performance enhancing drugs and anabolic steroids within the sport of baseball is perhaps one of the most passionately and fiercely disputed and discussed topics over the last 1 – 2 decades (throughout the late 1990s and into the 2000s). The actual subject at hand of anabolic steroids in baseball was, as the general population was concerned, did not even come to mind within in the sport of baseball until the latter part of the 1990s and into the early 2000s and beyond. This was approximately 40 years following the very beginnings of anabolic steroid use in sports and athletics in general. The initial beginnings of anabolic steroid use in athletics and sports was first established in the Olympic games in the mid-1950s, and as history would dictate, the benefits of anabolic steroids and its use in enhancing athletic performance would slowly but surely descend upon other major sports and athletic competitions. Following the initial use in the Olympics was the use of anabolic steroids in powerlifting and other strength-related sport. Bodybuilding then followed suit, almost simultaneously with powerlifting and strength sports. Football would follow in logical order as the next sport to experience the proliferation of anabolic steroid use amongst its athletes, and onwards to baseball and almost every other sport. Although anabolic steroids in baseball had in fact been extensive long before “the steroid era in baseball”, it was this “steroid era” of baseball during the aforementioned late 1990s to the early-mid 2000s that had brought most of the attention to anabolic steroids in baseball, and served as the time period during which the issue was highlighted extensively.
Once again, it should be emphasized that it was of little concern and not very commonly known that the use of anabolic steroids in baseball pre-dates the 1990s by a large margin, and that the “steroid era in baseball” was simply the period whereby the issue was the hot topic of the time, as it was brought to the forefront of media attention. This article will clarify and educate the reader of the fact that steroids in baseball has existed for a very long time. As a matter of fact, general performance enhancing drug (PED) use within baseball, whether or not the drug in question is anabolic steroids, is nothing new to baseball. Nor is it anything new to any sports, as athletic sporting along with its athletes, for the thousands of years it has existed, has always attempted to obtain an athletic edge or advantage through the consumption and use of various foods, plants, herbs, drugs, and substances. Baseball is no special exception to this fact, but as previously stated, it had surprisingly only become a major highlight of concern in the late 20th century, despite its existence for many, many years prior.
Performance enhancing drug use and steroids in baseball can essentially be broken up into several subsequent time periods/eras: the experimental era (or the era of experimentation), the amphetamine era (or the era of amphetamines), and finally, the steroid era.
The Era of Experimentation
The urge and desire to obtain an edge/advantage in athletic performance, which exists in all sports and athletics, with baseball begins with an almost infinite number of historical examples from which to reference. Pud Galvin, who is known as being one of the very first baseball players that ‘pioneered’ the experimental use of PEDs in baseball, was known for using and experimenting with various PEDs during his career. One of the most prominent experiments in the attempt at the use of a PED was Galvin’s use of a Testosterone supplement obtained from ground up animal testicles, which is very interesting to note, because this occurred nearly 70 years prior to the modern use of synthetic Testosterone and anabolic steroids in general sports and athletics. Even more astounding is the fact this was also approximately 100 years prior to the modern use of Testosterone and related anabolic steroids in baseball itself. There exist plenty of documents, books, and literature that also document and link Babe Ruth, perhaps the most famous baseball player in history, to the use of the same animal-based Testosterone extracts that Pud Galvin had utilized (with the difference being that Babe Ruth’s utilized extracts were from sheep testicles rather than other animal sources). As with any experimental stage, there are bound to be errors and ineffectual practices, and Babe Ruth had stated that the use of these animal extracts were ineffective and that it had furthermore caused him to briefly become sick.
The important take-home note from these historical facts is that although these notable baseball players engaged in the use of PEDs (albeit experimentally), such behavior and activity was not frowned upon, nor was it opposed by anyone, nor viewed upon as being ‘disgraceful’ or ‘inappropriate’, and nobody had considered the concept as “cheating” or that it would “ruin the sanctity of the sport”. It was regarded as just another part of being an athlete using one of the many tools to assist training and performance. As such, most (if not all) baseball players at the time had engaged in experimentation with different potential PEDs.
The Era of Amphetamines
The amphetamine era of baseball began after the end of the Second World War when troops returning home from serving during World War 2. Many of these troops during their service in the various theatres of war had been issued amphetamines to be consumed during periods of fatigue for the purpose of increasing alertness, focus, mental acuity, and wakefulness which was often the case during strenuous periods of extended operations. Following their returns home back in the United States and elsewhere, their experience in utilizing amphetamines was then applied in their post-war civilian lives whereby they would engage in amphetamine use in order to increase performance in college/university level athletics and sports, which had eventually transferred into professional level sporting and athletics. Among those professional sports was, of course, baseball. Needless to say, the use of amphetamines in baseball had become very prominent and commonplace during the post-war period. For example, one of the most noteworthy events was in 1961, where Mickey Mantle was administered an injection in the middle of a baseball game that contained a mixture of several different drugs, including amphetamines as well as steroids. Ironically, however, this injection of a concoction of PEDs actually ended up hampering him due to the fact that the needle happened to be unsterile and resulted in Mickey Mantle developing an abscess as a result. A plethora of MLB players had openly confessed to amphetamine use during the 1985 Pittsburgh drug trials, which investigated drug use in the MLB, and among those who admitted amphetamine use were players such as Dale Berra, Bill Madlock, and Willie Stargell. Even in recent years have baseball players come out openly admitting their amphetamine use, such as Mike Schmidt who’s career in the MLB lasted from 1971 – 1978 had admitted amphetamine use in 2006 and even proclaimed that “amphetamine use in baseball is both far more common and has been going on a lot longer than steroid abuse”.
The Steroid Era
Finally, the ever popular steroid era in baseball had arrived. However, as mentioned in the introduction of this article, the fact is that anabolic steroids in baseball had been established and underway far earlier than the majority of people have been lead to believe, with various early incidences of steroid use in baseball having already been touched upon thus far throughout this articles. The steroid era of baseball had officially begun in the late 1990s, but actual steroid use in baseball began decades prior. Some of the earliest reports were in the 1970s, where pitcher Tom House admitted to anabolic steroid use during his 1971 – 1978 career, and he had even stated that PED use of all types was widespread and commonplace during that time. Heavy anabolic steroid use in the sport of baseball was not seen until the 1990s, however. Furthermore, it was not brought to the attention of the public and/or the media until the late 1990s and into the 2000s. What had sparked this heavy interest was an incident in the early 2000s where a reporter had supposedly spotted a bottle of Androstenedione (which was a legal nutritional supplement at the time) in Mark McGwire’s locker. Androstenedione was marketed as a legal nutritional supplement at the time, and specifically was a prohormone, which are compounds that exhibit no hormonal activity themselves, but when ingested will convert into active anabolic steroids in the body. The sighting of Androstenedione is considered by many to be the very first spark that lit the powder keg of anabolic steroids in baseball, leading to perhaps the largest amount of media sensationalism, turmoil, and inquisition-like witch hunts in baseball and all of sports history.
A domino effect followed as baseball player after baseball player took steps forward to openly admitting anabolic steroid use in baseball whilst simultaneously accusing and exposing other players of anabolic steroid use. The accusations and exposing had occurred both in secret behind closed doors, as well as openly to the media and magazines. Among the first was Ken Caminti, who admitted his own anabolic steroid in Sports Illustrated as well as declaring that 50% of professional baseball players had been actively using anabolic steroids alongside other PEDs. This initial confession to the media was the farthest impacting where anabolic steroids in baseball is concerned. It was Ken Caminti’s confession that drew the mass media to the issue of steroids in baseball like a giant magnet, resulting in a hornet’s nest-like swarm of anti-steroid sensationalism and hysteria, but this was only the beginning. The second major notable event concerning steroids in baseball was Jose Canseco’s book known as Juiced, wherein he exposed every single facet of anabolic steroids in baseball in great detail, claiming that over 80% of MLB players had been utilizing anabolic steroids. Of course, alongside the exposing information in regards to other MLB players, Jose Canseco admitted his own anabolic steroid use and had even attributed his career to steroid use.
The Steroid Era: BALCO Scandal
Following the initial anti-steroid sensationalism and hysteria carried forth by Jose Canseco, the situation would then become far worse in the 2002 – 2003 BALCO scandal. BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative) was a sport supplement and neutraceutical company founded and run by Victor Conte. In addition to legitimate product manufacture and development, BALCO would acquire a customer base of high-profile athletes and secretly market and administer various undetectable anabolic steroids to these athletes through a particular supply system. The anabolic steroids manufactured were either brand new compounds, or unknown compounds, and were therefore undetectable in testing methods. THG (Tetrahydrogestrinone), AKA “The Clear” was one such particular undetectable and unknown anabolic steroid that was used. THG and other anabolic steroids manufactured by BALCO were distributed and administered to a plethora of athletes that did not just include baseball players, but also other types of athletes a well. Trevor Graham was a US Olympic sprinting coach had come forward to the USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) anonymously in the summer of 2003 and exposed BALCO’s ongoing clandestine network of anabolic steroid distribution by mailing the USADA with a syringe containing designer anabolic steroids such as THG. Trevor Graham provided his knowledge to the USADA, including which athletes known to him that were known to be using these anabolic steroids manufactured by BALCO. Working with Trevor Graham, USADA eventually developed a successful testing procedure that could now detect THG and the other various anabolic steroids that were previously undetectable. After this was established, approximately more than 500 professional athletes were then urine tested from urine samples that had been gathered years prior. Needless to say, 20 of the tested athletes failed the test, turning up positive for the various aforementioned anabolic steroids, and among the athletes tested were of course various baseball players. This had only been the beginning of the investigation (especially in regards to steroids in baseball), as it was only a short period afterwards before BALCO was then investigated during fall 2003 when a BALCO warehouse was identified containing crates and containers with anabolic steroids and other PEDs within them. Within this warehouse were also lists containing the names of athletes as well as their anabolic steroid usage protocols and doses. Among those on the list was: Barry Bonds, Benito Santiago, Jeremy Giambi, Bobby Estalella, Armando Rios, and others.
The United States government was then brought into the picture when Congress proceeded to hold hearings concerning anabolic steroids in baseball. Many top-tier baseball players were summoned forth to testify in these hearings, including those who were incriminated in the BALCO scandal. Throughout the hearings, Jose Canseco had openly confessed to his anabolic steroid use as well as stating that anabolic steroid use was in fact considered to be acceptable throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and other MLB players such as Rafael Palmiero, however, denied any anabolic steroid in front of Congress. Mark McGwire had also been called forth to testify in front of Congress, whereby he refused to speak on the matter on the grounds that he felt that he would be deemed guilty despite anything he had to say, whether admitting use or not. Jason Giambi confessed to his anabolic steroid use and his involvement in the BALCO scandal, and Greg Anderson who was his trainer, had provided the BALCO-manufactured anabolic steroids to him as well as to various other professional baseball players. It was through Greg Anderson who had trained many different MLB players and other athletes that BALCO had used as the distribution hub for the anabolic steroids being provided to the athletes. Some of these other baseball players implicated through Greg Anderson included Jason Giambi, Barry Bonds, and other baseball players. It is very important to make note of the fact that Barry Bonds purportedly passed all drug tests issued to him, but according to transcripts of his testimony to Congress on Dec 4, 2003, he had apparently stated that he was provided and administered anabolic steroids without his knowledge by his trainer Greg Anderson. Following this, Greg Anderson refused to testify against Barry Bonds and was then sentenced to a three month prison term.
Victor Conte, BALCO’s founder and former president, pleaded guilty in 2005 and served a prison sentence of four months. He currently runs a different supplement company known as Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning (SNAC), while BALCO is no longer existent. Patrick Arnold, who was the chemist working for BALCO that designed the various designer anabolic steroids and prohormones, served a three month prison sentence (as did Greg Anderson). However, Greg Anderson followed with another prison sentence some time later for the refusal to testify against Barry Bonds.
The BALCO scandal had impacted athletics and sports in a massive manner in general, but had the most impact on baseball. It is important to make note of the fact that prior to the BALCO scandal, baseball was the only major sport that had gone without a policy against anabolic steroid use. It was after the BALCO scandal that MLB commissioner at the time, Bud Selig, had issued a league-wide policy regarding steroids in baseball. Following this, it was determined then that if a player is to test positive for anabolic steroids for the first time, the player is then subjected to a 50 game suspension. A second offense results in a 100 game suspension, and a third offense carries a permanent ban from the MLB. All suspensions and penalties are void of pay for the players who are penalized. These terms are very similar to football’s anabolic steroid policy, which is likely where the MLB’s policy ideas were drawn from. Despite the implemented anabolic steroid policy in the MLB, many still criticize the MLB claiming that its policy against anabolic steroid use is still far too lenient/lax in comparison to other major sports.
The Steroid Era Part Two: The Mitchell Report
After the BALCO scandal, which occupied the first half of the 2000s concerning anabolic steroids in baseball, the next chapter in the steroid era would be the Mitchell Report in the latter half of the 2000s. The Mitchell Report is actually an abridged name for the Report to the Commissioner of Baseball of an Independent Investigation into the Illegal Use of Steroids and Other Performance Enhancing Substances by Players in Major League Baseball. The Mitchell Report is named after former senator George J. Mitchell, who led a 21 month long investigation into anabolic steroid, HGH (Human Growth Hormone), and PED use in the MLB. This was an all-encompassing investigation that included both past and present events/incidents related to PED use as well as both past and present players involved with anabolic steroid and PED use. For the most part, the Mitchell Report basically reinforced and re-confirmed what had already been understood and discovered concerning anabolic steroid use in baseball. Some notable details during the report surfaced, such as the fact that the MLBPA (Major Leage Baseball Players Association) for the most part was “largely uncooperative” in the investigations, and that the MLBPA had encouraged baseball players to refuse compliance of cooperation . Despite this, however, various MLB players did end up cooperating with the investigation, such as Kirk Radomski as well as strength coach/trainer Brian McNamee.
The report had overall gathered findings, details, and data on almost every single facet of anabolic steroids in baseball. These findings included the health effects of anabolic steroids, the legality surrounding anabolic steroids, the fairness of use of anabolic steroids and PEDs in general, and how the use of anabolic steroids in the MLB impact the youth who look upon baseball players as role models. The Michell Report’s conclusion was that throughout the MLB’s testing for anabolic steroids (which began in 2003), of the total players tested, it was 5 – 7% that failed the test. It made note of the fact that in spite of those numbers, there had been a roster of 40 baseball teams that were in fact immune in one way or another from the testing procedures until 2004, which was when drug testing became mandatory for all baseball teams in the MLB. The Mitchell Report also made note of the fact that once mandatory drug tests were implemented in 2004, HGH then became the PED of choice among MLB players because of the fact that there is no possible way of testing/detecting for HGH use. From investigating the results of mandatory testing, the average number of players who tested positive was determined to be at least one player from every team. The Mitchell Report had also compiled a complete list of every professional baseball player in the MLB who had been implicated and/or tested positive for anabolic steroid use. The total number came to 89 players  and included some very well-known prominent players such as Eric Gagne, Roger Clemens, Miguel Tejada, and Andy Pettite who were all found to be involved in a social network centralized around Kirk Radomski whereby the PED use would be centered at.
The Mitchell Report resulted in the MLB taking action to make major changes to its drug testing programs and protocols, with the goal to make it stricter so as to halt the use of anabolic steroids. As previously explained earlier in this article, the MLB after the BALCO scandal had introduced mandatory testing every year as well as random testing for various particular players both in-season as well as off-season. If a player had failed a test, suspensions would be placed upon the player without pay. Following the Mitchell report, the MLB opted to increase the frequency of testing as well as the punishments for testing positive. Testing was then increased in frequency to twice yearly for any and all players, as well as random testing for particular players. The test had expanded to include many other substances aside from anabolic steroids and other drugs that are commonly and frequently tested for. The testing had specifically expanded to testing for 7 different types of drugs, 47 different anabolic steroid analogues, and 30 different stimulants. The punishments had expanded to include more suspensions without pay. Specifically, it had been altered to: the first drug test failure is punished with suspension from 50 games, the second offense is doubled at a 100 game suspension, and the third offense results in a permanent suspension from the MLB.
The Mitchell Report was criticized by some as holding a conflict of interest, as former senator Mitchell, who was director of the Boston Red Sox, did not name any particular Red Sox players in the report. This was very concerning, considering the fact that David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez (both Red Sox players) were both later on discovered to have used PEDs back in 2003. These details were reported by some major media outlets, such as the New York Times in the summer of 2009. In the same similar situation, MLB commissioner Bud Selig (who played a major role in the Mitchell Report, actually commissioning the report) was a prior owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. Many questioned the fact no members of the Milwaukee Brewers appeared in the report at all, especially considering the fact that the Mitchell Report itself had stated that the average of “at least one player from every team” had been implicated in anabolic steroid use. Other criticisms of the Mitchell Report included the fact that the report had leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle just before a major deciding game between the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox, but the report was not officially made public until months after that series had ended. As a result, many individuals both within the sport of baseball as well as the general population, were very suspicious about the timing of the leak and the official release of the report. In particular, Paul Byrd, who was the Cleveland Indians pitcher, was named in the Mitchell Report as one of the athletes implicated in PED use, and that the timing of events related to the release of the report was concerning.
An Important Final Take-Home Message Concerning Steroids In Baseball
It has been touched upon countless times throughout this article of the fact that anabolic steroid use in baseball had begun decades prior to its carriage onto the forefront of the media spotlight in the late 1990s, dubbed as “the steroid era” for baseball. PED use, both non-steroid and steroid, in baseball (as well as all athletics and sports) prior to the mid-late 20th century was not regarded as an anathema offense among professional sport.
Before Mark McGwire’s homerun record breaking, the discovery of Androstenedione in his locker, and the countless amount of anabolic steroid scandals, it is quite a well-known fact that the state of baseball both in popularity and financially was not in good standing. Losses in revenue and overall popularity of the sport was at an all-time low, and continued to dive further as time progressed. However, it was the increase in performance that was assisted by the anabolic steroids (the astounding homerun record breaks) that actually pulled baseball as a sport out of the rut it had landed itself in, both financially as well as in terms of popularity. The anabolic steroid enhanced home runs and the sensationalism surrounding anabolic steroid use in baseball is what provided this much-needed life save to the sport. As the frenzies grew and the performance of the players skyrocketed, more tickets were sold, and more people tuned in to the games on television to watch their favorite players (who were all likely using anabolic steroids). The steroid scandals did not hurt Major League Baseball – it helped it beyond belief.
With that having been established, it is also extremely important to understand that anabolic steroids are not the sole reason for the home runs. Anabolic steroids merely enhance the fine-tuned ability, strict nutrition, and training that the athlete already engages in. They enhance, but do not create profound ability out of nowhere. Anabolic steroids have assisted and contributed to the recent stellar home run record breakings, but they are not the sole reason for them. All baseball players who have been implicated with the use of anabolic steroids, whether they are top-tier famous players or not, are top tier driven athletes regardless of the anabolic steroid use or not.
It should be finally understood that anabolic steroid use does not enhance form, hand-eye coordination, or the ability to swing a bat (or bitch a ball) more precisely. Anabolic steroids simply serve to enhance strength and muscular size, provided that it is facilitated with proper nutritional and training habits. With this being said, the majority of anabolic steroid and growth hormone use among baseball players both past and current is more so for the purpose of injury recovery, and the ability to be able to get back into the game quicker rather than performance enhancement within the game itself. The vast majority of players who have openly discussed and admitted their anabolic steroid use have attested to that fact. The fact of the matter is that baseball is not a sport that the direct performance enhancing effects of anabolic steroids are very beneficial for (compared to weight lifting or strongman competitions, for example). The majority of baseball players that were implicated in the anabolic steroid use and scandals have admitted that their use was due to recovery purposes and injury related.
The drive among baseball players to achieve an edge and provide greater and greater spectacles for their fans will always exist, and whether the substance that will give them the edge are anabolic steroids or not, they will be used as dictated by baseball’s history of PED use. It is a constant game of cat-and-mouse between the testing procedures and the athletes, and as long as there is a will to use substances to gain an edge, there is always a way – and a way around the testing procedures.
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