The AJC’s Dave O’Brien points us to an extended podcast interview of Former Braves catcher Javy Lopez on Atlanta Baseball Talk last weekend, in which the topic turned to steroids. While the hosts did not explicitly ask Lopez if he personally did steroids, he was pretty candid all the same:
“Well, everybody seen players getting big, hitting the ball harder,
home runs and stuff. All of a sudden – boom — they got the big contract
and everybody’s like, ‘You know what, did that, it worked for him, why
not do it?’ . . . I mean, how can I explain this? It’s like if you’re going to race cars,
if you’re going to race a car and some people are using nitro in the
fuel [Lopez laughed], and you see them winning all the time, and you’re
using regular gas – you know what? If they’re using nitro and they’ve
been winning, well, I’d be stupid enough not to use nitro, too.”
If Lopez’s .328/.378/.687, 43 home run season during a contract year at age 32 in 2003 hadn’t already raised several red flags — and believe me, for most Braves fans it and Javy’s newly-buffed physique did, even at the time — this interview seems to put the matter to rest. But of course Javy Lopez never broke any big records and isn’t in the Hall of Fame discussion, so people won’t go crazy about it.
But I kind of wish they would go a little crazy. Not because I want to see Lopez burned at the stake — as with everyone else I take the “man, I wish he hadn’t done that, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it” approach — but because here he has has put forth the cost/benefit analysis players made regarding steroids in clearer terms than anyone else has to date. The guys who were trying to beat you and/or take your job were doing it. The powers-that-be didn’t care. The difference between taking the “nitro” or not could be the difference between being unemployed or signing, say, a three-year, $22.5 million contract with Baltimore.
This crystal clear dynamic is why I get so aggravated when the steroid discussion, as it almost always does, revolves around the record book or the fans’ perception that they were cheated or betrayed. Who cares about the record book or the fans’ subjective, retrospective experience? A system was in place which strongly incentivized players to take potentially harmful substances without a prescription. Some players — think a borderline major leaguer — no doubt felt that they had to “take the nitro” or lose their jobs.
Players took the steroids, but baseball looked the other way, as did the union and the media, allowing an environment which left many feeling that they had no choice but to juice to grow and persist. Yet it’s the players who take all the heat? Madness.