Zocalo: The legacy of baseball’s steroid era

From Becca Maclaren at Zocalo Public Square on March 21, 2014, with SABR members David W. Smith and Jane Leavy:

Major League Baseball’s “Steroid Era” of the 1990s is over, but what should we make of the athletes who played during that time and the records they set? And, how should we consider and handle performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) today and in the future? At an event co-presented by Arizona State University at Scottsdale’s Clayton on the Park, a panel of baseball insiders offered their observations and opinions.

USA Today baseball columnist Bob Nightengale, the evening’s moderator, asked the panelists whether they qualify statistics based on whether or not the numbers were posted in the era of drugs.

Retrosheet founder David W. Smith, who collects extensive play-by-play data, said he’s not nearly as bothered by the question of drug use as other people. “Is it true that taking steroids made people hit baseballs further?” he asked. Steroids add strength and give people big muscles. But their effect on performance hasn’t been adequately tested or scientifically proven.

It’s not just about muscles, said Barry Axelrod, a longtime agent for baseball players who is currently a special assistant to the general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Performance-enhancing drugs also allow athletes to recover more quickly. And in the case of human growth hormone (HGH), a side effect is increased visual acuity. One argument in defense of Barry Bonds was that he saw the ball better than everyone else. But that excellent vision could have been thanks to the drugs he took.

Smith said that his biggest concern when it comes to PEDs is teenage athletes who emulate pro players’ drug use. “You’ve got a bunch of 15-year-olds who are never going to be professional baseball players who are taking this stuff that is demonstrably horrible for them,” he said.

Watch the full video of the panel here: http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2014/03/21/hall-of-fame-or-hall-of-shame/events/the-takeaway/

Originally published: March 25, 2014. Last Updated: March 25, 2014.