by Kent Morrison
Well, another winter, another controversy in Major League Baseball. Just like the past five y ears, steroids have become a hot topic with another superstar testing positive for performance enhancing drugs.
First there was Barry Bonds and BALCO, then there was McGuire/Sosa in front of congress, Jose Canseco’s book Juiced and of course last season it was Roger Clemens taking on the U.S. senate. It has become as much of an off-season tradition as free agency.
This year on the block: Yankees third basemen Alex Rodriguez, or A-Roid, as he has been affectionately dubbed by the media. Just this week it was revealed that Rodriguez tested positive for steroids during the 2003 season, the same year he won the league MVP.
What makes this case a bit different is he didn’t deny it. The report was filed by ESPN on the weekend and by Monday, Rodriguez went on the record and said he did it.
“When I arrived in Texas in 2001, I felt an enormous amount of pressure," Rodriguez said in an interview with Peter Gammons. "I felt like I had all the weight of the world on top of me, and I needed to perform - and perform at a high level - every day.”
And you know what? He’s right.
A baseball season constitutes 162 games a season where any given players is expected to be at his best no matter if it is his third game in a row or his 63rd. For A-Rod, the only thing hotter than the Texas sun in those years was the media spotlight that shone on him after he inked a $252 million contract with the Rangers.
Rodriguez, like a lot of ball players, felt the need to ensure that his body was at its best to perform for his team and his fans. Well, let’s face it, he did it for the money, too. But, like it or not, these days that is a formula for steroids.
The drugs provide athletes with means to become bigger, stronger and faster in sports which demand all of the above. A rare few in this world can perform at a high level every single day. The rest have to find other ways to keep up.
For many ball players, the choice to take steroids is not about hitting home runs or chasing illustrious records. For a lot of them, it means the difference between having a baseball career or not, between making major league dollars or scraping by in the minors.
Do I condone players doing steroids? No.
Do I understand why they do them? Yes.
While I never had a shot at the ‘bigs”, and my baseball career was modest at best, I still played college ball. And guess what? Steroids are there, too.
The world of college ball is not much different, but instead of playing for the money, you are just playing for a shot at the money. Same pressure to perform, same pressure to juice.
I was offered steroids on more than a few occasions: $100 a bottle, as I recall. To be honest, I had to think about it long and hard.
Just like A-Rod, I was young and, just like A-Rod, I was trying my best to perform, and, just like A-Rod, I’ll admit it, I took testosterone – once.
In the end, the reward was not worth the risk, But for a lot of players it is.
I know many guys who have experimented with drugs and here is the thing: despite how users are depicted in the media, none of them are vicious criminals or egotistical villains; actually most of them are good hard-working guys and a lot of them are my friends.
These are the guys who spend hours each day on the field and in the gym, playing through pain and sickness, not just for the love of the game, but because the game is all they have.
For these guys steroids may be the difference between reaching their lifelong dream and being left with nothing. Steroids are illegal, steroids are wrong, but steroids are a choice.
Are steroids really the shortcut we all think they are? Or are they actually the only open road?