Everyone — and I mean everyone — should read Gabe Kapler’s essay about his decision not to use PEDs and his views on speculation about PED-using players over at Baseball Prospectus. It is easily the best take I’ve seen on the matter.
For PED hawks, there is an extremely useful lesson about the assumptions we tend to make about muscular or powerful players. Kapler was absolutely chiseled as a player and put on muscle to spare from the time he was drafted in the late rounds until he emerged as a power-hitting outfielder. But he explains in detail the emergence of his power, the reasons behind it and the pressures which led him to the point where “to take PEDs or not to take PEDs” was the biggest question in his life. He didn’t, and if you throw him into the pile of “why should we believe you?” guys, you’ve simply not read the article and simply won’t believe anyone about anything ever.
At the same time, the folks who tend to defend PED-using players — folks like me — have a lot to take away from this as well. Kapler talks about the effect of testosterone on a player, the confidence-boost involved and the pressures one faces when one senses physical decline. It’s awfully hard to read that and to maintain a blithe “most PEDs have little effect” stance as some of us are prone to doing.
Given his balanced take, it’s not surprising that the two takeaway quotes from the whole piece are words that you rarely if ever hear from one person in the PED discussion. First:
In baseball, there isn’t a factor more responsible for success than confidence. I’ve never in my life had a player tell me different. If a man is stronger on the field and can recover more quickly, he’s inherently going to believe in his ability more. I submit that if anything, the value of PEDs to a player has been drastically underpublicized as opposed to overblown.
The men who have tested positive for PEDs include Ryan Franklin (skinny), Bartolo Colon (not skinny), Melky Cabrera(not muscular), Neifi Perez (skinny) etc. Do bodybuilders use steroids? Of course. Like the American population, users come in all shapes and sizes. Men in major league baseball who don’t use also vary greatly in body type … Until we have a positive test, an admission of guilt, an accepted suspension or some other unequivocally accurate anecdotal evidence, we’d be wise to assume innocence so as not to unjustly jeopardize the reputations of undeserving human beings.
The common denominator: don’t ignore the facts, especially when they are uncomfortable for you. If, like me, you believe that people go to crazy extremes to demonize those who take PEDs, don’t forget for a second that they are banned and are banned for a reason. If, like others, you believe that the PED problem is huge and awful for baseball, don’t forget that your convictions on the matter don’t give you actual information about who is using.
Just a fantastic read from someone with way more knowledge and experience on the matter than almost any of us will ever have.