KC Kingdom Editorial: MLB Steroid Era Took Stigma Out Of PEDs


Major League Baseball’s 13-year delay in acting upon steroid use has taken some of the stigma out of the side-effects.

When former KC Royals player, now Minnesota Twin, Ervin Santana recently received an 80-game suspension for the use of the anabolic steroid stanozolol, I think the majority of the general public thought, “How stupid, doesn’t he know that MLB has cracked down on this?”

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I don’t recall hearing, “Doesn’t he know the damage he is doing to his body?” You know why? People think that anabolic steroids just make you stronger and the one side effect you might get is a little “Roid rage”, like the from 1980’s DARE video’s you watched in middle school.

Anabolic steroids are illegal to possess for non-medical use, but not every class of anabolic steroids has always been illegal, and baseball did not formally deal with drugs of any type until the 1985 Pittsburgh Drug Trials, although there were stories that amphetamine use went back to the Milwaukee Braves clubhouse in the 1950’s.

It took literally two acts of Congress (Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 and Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 1990) for MLB commissioner Fay Vincent to issue a memorandum in 1991 banning controlled and illegal substances.

It took another 13 years to formally implement randomized drug testing. MLB’s delay in testing for anabolic steroids has effectively rationalized its usage. It is not seen as taboo. It has been well documented that many of the adverse side effects are reversible.

The heightened risk of ligament tear during a dosing regimen, which has been shown here and here doesn’t make that ligament un-tear when you go off the drugs. That is really my thought on this, and one that doesn’t seem to ring through to the general population.

It is difficult to find much peer-reviewed scientific literature on anabolic steroids even with animals post-1992 since they are now schedule III controlled substances. As a controlled substance they require DEA licensure for use even in controlled laboratories. There are also ethical and legal obstacles that accompany working with a substance like this in a clinical setting.

That is not an excuse, however, to just go to YouTube to get info from Stiff Biff with the 22” pythons trying to explain the pros and cons of taking a drug that can alter your metabolism, tissue repair, and general health.

Steroids function as inflammatory inhibitors. Inflammation is a terribly complex process that has only really started to become associated with human disease in general (e.g. cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc.) in the last 10 years.  Currently I don’t believe that we know enough about the cascade of anti-inflammation on long-term tissue health.  There are potential epigenetic consequences that we may not currently realize.

To go into taking drugs like this that don’t have extensive clinical documentation is effectively like starting a first-in-human study. Not to mention you are potentially opening a Pandora’s box by toying around with substances known to alter characteristics of your tissue that have been associated with virtually every type of human disease.

It is Russian roulette with a professional athlete’s career and with a pitcher especially.  The incidence of Tommy John appears to be increasing and it is not apparent as to why this is occurring.  I am not suggesting these pitchers are taking steroids, but when the cause isn’t readily identifiable, it is just another risk factor for a hard-throwing pitcher.

Though hard to evaluate from the outside, the internal culture of each major league franchise, including the KC Royals, can have a significant impact on whether their players use PEDs. Deterrence by teams, and the league, is a good thing. Yet, the underground nature of steroid abuse makes some of their consequences impossible to identify.

I want to finish on this note. As a scientist who was trained in health-related fields, and as a baseball fan, I am all for improving the nutrition of and possibly supplements (when shown to have efficacy). I would rather see more development into tissue recovery by this dark side of science than looking to hit more Home Runs or pitch with 4-5% additional velocity.

Next: Luke Hochevar Close To Returning To KC Royals

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