While most of you like to call me a steroids apologist, the fact of the matter is that I am not pro-steroids. I am anti-hysteria and distortion. I am also against a baseball writing community that overwhelmingly thinks that the most worrisome and therefore most newsworthy aspect of PEDs in baseball is what it means for the record books and the Hall of Fame when there are far more important implications of PED use.
If you don’t believe me, allow me to quote myself from April 2007 — the very month I began blogging about baseball on a regular basis. It was around that time — months before the Mitchell Report came out — that Kirk Radomski was making news and the names of some marginal players to whom he dealt were coming out. I opined then that, once we know more about PEDs in baseball, we’ll see that it’s likely a bigger problem among those marginal players — the guys trying to crack the bigs or hang on; the 26th man in the organization who feels he need that extra oomph — than it is among superstars:
I don’t say this in an effort to minimize the steroid problem. Indeed, minor leaguers and players who aren’t superstars constitute the vast majority of professional ballplayers. If my theory holds, the problem could be far greater than that which is portrayed by sportswriters who like to caricature only the most prolific sluggers as juicers. If I’m right, our concern over records and the Hall of Fame would seem pretty petty in comparison to the scores of regular Joes who are ruining their health as they walk the line between a lifetime of comfort and a job at a warehouse. Players that the steroid moralizers in the media almost uniformly ignore.
Now, I got a few things wrong back then, of course. I probably underestimated the number of superstars who used PEDs and I hilariously lumped Alex Rodriguez in with the non-users because that’s the best information anyone had back then. But I think the dynamic still holds: it’s a way, way bigger moral problem for a marginal player to feel like he has no choice but to take steroids than it is for an already great baseball player to feel like he should take steroids to break some records.
This doesn’t mean that the superstars aren’t cheaters if they take PEDs and it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be held to account. What I’m getting at is that, in the great baseball conversation about PEDs, we should not care nearly as much as we do about records and legacies and we should care far more about what PEDs are doing down at the lower levels of baseball. We should spill way less ink about who we think “the real Home Run King” is — as if that matters — and think way harder about those frequent minor league suspensions and what they mean to the people who are faced with the choice to take dangerous drugs or wind up out of baseball.
Against that backdrop is this excellent column from Eric Knott. Knott pitched 11 years in the minors and 24 games in the majors. He is the quintessential borderline guy who, if he had an extra couple of miles per hour on his heater, may have stuck. But he didn’t get those miles per hour, and he didn’t try PEDs in an effort to do so.
Knott gives a fascinating, clear-eyed and detailed rundown of the environment in baseball during the height of the Steroid Era, as well as what factored into his decisions about whether to use.
It’s an absolute must-read. There’s more useful information in this piece than anything that can be found in the Mitchell Report or the latest bombastic anti-PEDs screen from Johnny Sportswriter.