Posted by mike in News,Science,Sports at 1:00 pm on August 8, 2007

This morning when I woke up, I took a Levothroid, as I do every morning. I do this to cheat my hypothyroidism so that I do not continue to gain weight (something I’ve struggled with since quitting smoking a year and a half ago), and am not as tired all the time as I would be if left only to the hormones that my body is capable of naturally producing on its own. I then put on my glasses, because I can’t see worth a damn without them; in a way, you could say I’m cheating by artificially improving my eyesight so as to function better in my day-to-day life. After showering and getting ready for work, I then took a Prilosec, another part of my daily routine, which helps me to avoid the heartburn that I would normally suffer from (partially as a result of the weight gain) without the help of medication. When I go to lunch today, if I have something with dairy products in it (which is almost everything that tastes good), I’ll have to take a Lactaid with my meal. My body isn’t capable of producing lactase enzymes on its own, you see, so I have to cheat if I want to enjoy a cheeseburger or a slice of pizza.

Could I live without these products? Sure, and man has been doing so for centuries. But I enjoy my life more thanks to them. Am I cheating by taking them, or just enhancing myself to make me a little better? People who are depressed take Zoloft to help them function better in society. Are they cheating? How about people who take Viagra, whether recreationally or as a prescribed fix for ED? Is it cheating when they “perform” better?

More to the point, people who work out often take Creatine to help them bulk up. This is legal and generally considered to be “ethical.” Millions of people, whether they work out or not, take vitamin supplements to help boost everything from their immune systems to their memories. And none of this is generally regarded as “cheating.”

So why is it, then, that when athletes take steroids so that they can perform better in the job they have dedicated their lives to, all of a sudden a whole nation of vitamin-taking, supplement-ingesting, over-the-counter and prescription drug dependent people suddenly becomes sensitive to what people put into their bodies? The vast majority of these people then proceed to denounce such atheletes, writing off their accomplishments as “cheating” or “supplemented” and debating asterisks when talking about records. To me, this is like saying that Ray Liotta was cheating because he wasn’t really a mobster. Well, no shit: he’s an actor whose job it is to pretend so as to entertain us. Likewise, a baseball player’s purpose is to entertain, and what’s more entertaining that hitting a record-setting number of home runs? How could one–especially a spectator–possibly think that what Barry Bonds ate for breakfast yesterday, or which vitamins he took, or which cream he rubbed on his muscles prior to hitting number 756, somehow makes the achievement less remarkable? I certainly don’t. That’s what he’s supposed to do: be the best specimen of human performance that he can be. In this case, the metric of human performance in question is hitting home runs, and he has achieved that goal better than anybody in history. Did he use “performance-enhancing drugs” in order to help him achieve this? Of course he did. We all do. It’s just much more obvious with him.

I’ll draw the line when a player uses mechanical appendages that actually swing the bat for him, or make him able to swing harder and faster than he would be able to on his own, or guide his arms to make more solid contact with the ball. And then that line will disappear again when pitchers start using that same type of equipment to throw more strikes, or to make the ball curve more, or to throw it faster.

Don’t get me wrong. I dislike Barry Bonds on a personal level, because he just seems like a huge self-centered asshole. Any athlete who doesn’t want media attention can suck it up and deal with it or find another profession, as far as I’m concerned. But that’s not to say that I still don’t think his accomplishment should not be regarded for what it is: the most home runs hit in the history of the game, plain and simple. I couldn’t care less how he did it; to me all that matters is that he did it. As long as he was the one standing up at the plate and swinging the bat those 756 times, it’s a legitimate record in my book.

I will say that I am in the camp that believes A-Rod, the youngest player to hit 500 home runs, will some day in the not-too-distant future hit more than 800, making all of the Bonds discussion moot anyway. For now, though, Barry’s the king, whether you like it or not. And if you don’t, at least it’s over, the inevitable has happened, and we can all get back to watching the Cubs blow their playoff chances yet again.

Comments (22)

22 Responses to “Cheating”:

  • Shortly after making this post, I stumbled across an article that appears (I think the guy’s joking) to insinuate that Bonds has, in fact, been doing just what I mentioned: using a mechanical apparatus to assist in his homerun hitting. It’s both funny and interesting to think about. Maybe that future I jokingly predicted isn’t as far off as I’d thought.

  • Ok I’ll admit, I wear contact lenses and I take a Centrum every single morning. I’m a cheater too.

    But the thing about Bonds is this:
    Steroids are illegal because they are proven destructive to the body. It’s not pleasant to see someone do something self-destructive, no matter what cause.
    Whether Bonds likes it or not, he is a role model, and kids don’t know better. Whatever his reasons for doing ‘roids, he will have an ending that will not be well.
    Morally, in the name of fair competition of the sport, it isn’t right to break the rules or laws of the land.

    As for the article, I saw somewhere else too that the elbow pad aided his swing. Some people say Biggio’s 3,000 hits are bogus because he had so much padding enabling him closer access to the strike zone. Knowing that, he’d probably be around 2500 to 2750 without it. Tho the true number will never be known. And I don’t think that guy is joking.

  • I agree with you in principle on the illegality of it being a sticking point in my perspective. If that’s the crux of most people’s problems with his steroid use (it’s so obvious that he has used them, I don’t even bother using the “alleged” qualifier), then I suppose I can see the point. And I agree it’s not good to teach kids to do things that are destructive to their bodies, much less illegal.

    I don’t know that I agree with the unpleasantness of seeing somebody be self-destructive. There’s some good that can come out of that, e.g., De Niro famously gaining all of that weight to accurately portray Jake La Motta. I suppose I see a person like Bonds as having made a conscious decision to strive to set a new homerun record, and sacrificing his personal health and life expectancy to reach that. In exchange, he gets immortality. Is that such a bad trade off, really?

    Here’s a question that really interests me: If steroids were legal and available over the counter at your local Walgreen’s, would that change your opinion of him?

  • The deal with steroids is that it is no longer a contest of the better natural athlete; it is now a contest of the better steroid. If blood doping were legal, would anyone care about the Tour de France? (I’m assuming here that someone DOES in fact, care.) Would horse racing be the sport it is if owners could dope up their horses? If ‘roids were legalized, I have no doubt you would see athletes flocking to them. Then even an outstanding natural athlete wouldn’t stand a chance of competing. It would result in an escalation of steroid use and steroid strength until athletes started dropping like flies or producing two-headed kids.

    The difference here is that Hank Aaron was a naturally gifted athlete. The best of his generation. Bonds (and Sosa and McGuire) are naturally gifted athletes who needed an unethical edge to become superstars. If steroids were legal, these guys would be just a few of the dozens of high home run hitting players. As it is, they’re superstars only because steroids are illegal and they chose to cheat.

  • And speaking of baseball and teams on the way down, here’s a predicition: the Red Sox will fritter away their lead over the Yankmees until NY is a couple of games behind when the two teams meet later this month. Then, in a repeat of the disaster last season, the Yankmees will sweep the Sox and go into the post season in first place.

    Mark my words.

  • Damn, I was going to link to that article alleging that Barry’s elbow armor helps his swing consistency.

    Anyway, if anabolic steroids weren’t a federally controlled substance, the only way for them to be fairly used would be to allow all players to use them. But I don’t like that possibility because if all the players were getting better through chemistry, natural talent and practice would be smaller factors in their baseball abilities. The all-stars wouldn’t be much different from the benchwarmers, and the teams with the biggest R&D budgets (Yankees, I’m assuming) would be consistently better than their competition.

    While a few guys performing superhuman feats of baseball make for a good show, I don’t think it would be all that interesting if Bonds’ hitting became the norm.

    All that said, he (allegedly) violated federal law by using anabolic steroids without a prescription. I don’t think it should be necessary for baseball to ban the use of illegal substances for their use to be considered “wrong.”

    If it were legal substance in question, then it’d be up to MLB to decide what’s best for their profits. Given their history, they’d make a profitable short-term decision (steroids for everyone!) and ignore the long-term issues (everyone bats .300!).

  • Where is the line, Mark? If “supplements you put into your body” is sufficient to make somebody not “natural,” then no player currently in the big leagues or for the past 20+ years would fit your definition, guaranteed. Most Americans, period, are not “natural,” and that was my point. And let’s not forget that even before he started doping, Bonds was already one of the 10 or so best to ever play the game.

    CK, I think you’re grossly oversimplifying to imply that steroids are the only thing required to become a successful hitter. There are plenty of guys playing right now who have taken or are still taking steroids and aren’t hitting .300 and 40 home runs every year. I agree that if they’re illegal, they’re illegal, and MLB shouldn’t need separate rules from the law. But that seems to be a different gripe entirely from “he cheats!”

  • As always, The Onion says it best.

  • Hey, you beat me to it. I was just going to add something saying how I found that to be an unusually bitchy and surprisingly whiny article for the Onion.

  • Steroids wouldn’t be the only thing required for success, but if everyone were openly using steroids, natural talent would be less important than it’s historically been. Even with steroids, neither you or I could hit major league pitching, but among the tiny group of players who have the talent to play in the majors, across-the-board steroids would make them closer to each other.

    In completely made-up numbers, let’s pretend a player’s baseball skill is 50% innate ability (reflexes, vision, skeletal structure, etc) and 50% practice and training. If everyone takes steroids that result in a ~50% boost in performance (again, completely made up and exaggerated numbers), then innate talent and practice each become half as important. If those are the factors that separate players from each other, then the all-stars will stand out less from the crowd.

    Even with that in effect, some players would still be more talented than others (I’ve still got baseball cards celebrating skinny Bonds’ entry into the 40-40 club), and steroids aren’t equally effective for different people, but they’d still account for a chunk of skill that wasn’t there before.

    Regarding “he cheats!,” if he’s doing something he shouldn’t do in order to gain a competitive advantage, it’s cheating. It’s fun to talk about what we’d think in alternate realities where he wouldn’t have broken the law, but in this reality, he’s a cheater.

  • I have to agree with CK. Steroids are banned. He used them to gain an advantage. It’s the very definition of cheating. I’m no chemist, but from what I know I can’t see that you can equate steroids, which alter blood chemistry, with supplements, which only give you more of what you could get from eating certain foods. Vitamins are a far cry from steroids.

  • That’s why, Mark, my very first example was of something that I take which results in increased hormone production in my body. That’s exactly what steroids do.

    Regarding CK’s estimations: Considering the many allegations that steroid use in this decade has been very widespread, obviously your supposition that all of the talent would get evened out is off base, because we are not seeing even the faintest signs of that beginning to happen.

    I found somebody who actually worked with some real numbers, and it’s very interesting. Bonds basically went from hitting 36.3 HRs per year to hitting 40.4 per year after he obviously began taking steroids. This is pretty consistent, percentage-wise, with other articles I’ve read that try to answer the question of how many additional home runs Bonds hit thanks to steroids.

    My point, basically, is this: I know that he cheated. I know he took steroids. It’s ridiculously obvious. I know steroids are against the law. I just don’t care. I still think he’s a remarkable ballplayer and probably the best hitter to ever step into the batter’s box, regardless of what he did or didn’t put into his body. I dislike him personally, but I think his record is legit.

  • I know very little about Bonds as a baseball player beyond his hitting. Is (or was) he a decent fielder?

    And do you think at his age he’d still be hitting as well as he is without the steroids?

  • And there is a difference between your hormone supplements and his. Yours is for health reasons, his is performance enhancing.

  • His career numbers are pretty damn good across the board. He’s been the NL MVP 7 times, an All-Star 12 times, and a Gold Glove outfielder 8 times. Do I think he’d still be hitting home runs right now without the steroids? Absolutely–it’d just probably be 85% as many as he’s been hitting lately.

    I still see a lot of subjectivity with how you view various supplements. Why are steroids in their own special category? Why is it so off-putting to so many people to consider steroids to simply be one of many different supplements people take to enhance their body’s natural abilities and/or workings in one way or another? Is it only because they’re illegal, or is there something else to it?

  • Bonds has always been one of the best all-around players in the game. He’s got eight gold gloves and seven MVP awards and he’s proven himself to be one of the rare players who can hit for power and steal bases. I think it’s a shame that he cheated.

    I meant my predictions on the leveling of player abilities to reflect a future where all players were taking steroids openly and with the guidance of team trainers. Right now, the juiced players are benefiting from steroids and the clean players aren’t, so none of my predictions are presently applicable (convenient for me, I know). If anything, the illegal steroid use that’s going on now widens the gap and brings in fans.

  • Interesting look back in time here:

    It sort of lends support to both sides of this discussion. Yes, what he did was unprecedented, but as it states in the article:

    “That calendar knows that Bonds just turned 39 years old. And we all know what number comes next. So for Bonds to keep on cranking out those home runs at the same rate he has for the last three years — one every 7.67 at-bats, one every 2½ games, upwards of 55 a season — would defy every precedent, every page in the baseball history books, every time-established limit on human performance by men his age.”

    Here again I claim that Bonds was able to do what no other player has ever done because he used steroids which either weren’t available to those other players or weren’t considered by them as acceptable (or legal). What Aaron did he did through natural talent alone. Bonds wouldn’t be where he is today, holding the record, without steroids.

  • I wish I weren’t so lazy that I didn’t want to take the time and effort to research what Hank Aaron’s nutrition regiment was like, to combat the “natural talent alone” argument. I just don’t see the big line that you do; it’s not either “took steroids” or “purely natural” to me, it’s several varying degrees of supplementation, with nobody actually being “only” natural. That said, I don’t dispute that steroids aided Barry Bonds in his achievements. I just don’t care that they did, and think those achievements are impressive regardless.

  • I found the most interesting thing about the 616* article was the focus on bat speed. Usually the first thing that goes in a hitter with age is bat speed. In retrospect, it’s amazing how unprecedented Bonds’ stats truly are. It was also very odd (and was very obvious to me at the time) that gaining 20 pounds of pure muscle in your late 30s was due to ‘roids. Now Mike, your question of Walgreens brand steroids; I still don’t know how I’d feel. But I’d be wary of using such a hazard product. If steroids were legal… I’d probably feel the same way, because of the nature of the beast. And I guess I felt the same way about Andro before it was banned.

  • Er, um, I retract everything I said. Really, Barry, you’re a great guy. My hero, in fact.

    Now call off your lawyers.

  • There’s no way Barry Bonds will sue anybody. He’d have to testify under oath, and that would mean exposing his steroid use or face perjury later on. So yeah Barry, you’re a steroid taking fucker.

  • I am happily eating crow tonight. It doesn’t taste too bad. The Red Sox kicked the White Sox to the curb this weekend and the Yankmees had their problems with Detroit, so the BoSox will go into this week’s series with the Bronx Bozos with at least a 7 game lead, meaning they can’t come out of it with less than a 4 game lead. Looks like the Yankmees won’t be taking over first place. Not yet anyway.