Deer antlers: the hot new PED

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Given how many baseball players spend their offseasons hunting you’d think we would have heard about this by now, but this is the first I’ve heard of ground up deer antlers being used by athletes as a PED:

They harvest the so-called velvet antler (a soft coating that covers deer antlers) in New Zealand, freeze-dry it and then grind it into a powder. It then gets shipped to the United States, where it gets put into either capsules or liquid extracts that can become a simple mouth spray. You can buy it for $68 a bottle.

For the elite athlete, experts say it’s essentially a human growth hormone, one of the substances organized sports is trying to keep out. The difference here is deer antlers are natural, not synthetic, and properly discovering it in a test falls somewhere between extremely challenging to virtually impossible.

Apparently the active ingredient — IGF-1 — is one of the main proteins in human growth hormone. The author of the piece — Dan Wetzel — talks about its use being widespread in the NFL and gets quotes from the usual hand-wringing suspects about just how awful this is.  Indeed, as this story was being written I was asked to ship my personal fainting couch to the WADA offices in Montreal because they’re suffering a shortage.  It wouldn’t be so bad but everyone up there is afraid that the medication doctors prescribe for cases of the vapors might unfairly impact their job performance.

Of course, you know where all this is heading:

Freeze-dried, ground up, liquid extract, New Zealand velvet deer antlers. That’s the level the athletes will go to gain an advantage. Anyone got any good ideas how far the leagues have to go to stop it?

I suppose that question is inevitable. Seems to me that another question should be asked first, but isn’t: does the stuff actually improve athletic performance one iota?  Because HGH hasn’t been proven to do so. At all.  But of course, anti-doping groups don’t care nearly as much about that as they do about coming up with, selling and promoting the latest drug testing methods and shaming those who don’t seek their seal of approval, so it’s understandable why that’s all glossed over.

Oh well.  All I know for sure is that given what passes for reasonable suspicion these days, Luke Scott’s Hall of Fame case is in deep trouble.

Cubs sign Drew Smyly to a two-year, $10 million contract

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The Cubs announced on Tuesday evening that the club signed pitcher Drew Smyly to a two-year contract. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports the contract is for $10 million total and allows Smyly to earn another $7 million with performance bonuses. Smyly was non-tendered by the Mariners at the beginning of the month and became a free agent.

Smyly, 28, underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery in late June. He’s expected to miss, at minimum, the first half of the 2018 season. The Cubs are hoping he can contribute to a playoff push in the latter half of the season as well as in 2019.

Smyly didn’t pitch at all in 2017. When he was healthy the season prior, he made 30 starts for the Rays and put up a 4.88 ERA and a 167/49 K/BB ratio in 175 1/3 innings.