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5 Reasons Steroids Were Never the Real Problem in Baseball

Major League Baseball finally wraps up the regular season less than one week from today, and that means it's time to talk about one thing. Playoffs? No, that's boring. I'm talking about steroids, of course.

In 2013 alone, the league hit 13 players with steroid suspensions for a combined total of 811 games (of which A-Rod accounted for a record-shattering 211). In the eyes of most fans, steroids are an epidemic that will forever taint the records and accomplishments of many of baseball's biggest stars from the past two decades. Should that really be the case, though? Nope. Here are five reasons why:

#5. There Are Admitted Cheaters in the Hall of Fame Already

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

When it came time to vote for the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame class, not a single player was elected, because that'll show 'em! It was the first year of eligibility for steroid villains like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, you see. Whether it was the intent or not, the snubs sent an obvious message. The Baseball Hall of Fame voters unanimously reject cheaters.

Except that's not true at all. There are admitted cheaters in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame right now. Take the hilariously-named case of Gaylord Perry, for example.

Wikipedia
"Seriously, just call me Greg."

He pitched for 22 seasons, during which he racked up an impressive 314 wins and won the Cy Young award twice, becoming the first player to take home the coveted "Pitcher of the Year" award in both the American and National leagues.

He was also a shameless cheater. Gaylord Perry's specialty was the spitball, a pitch that's been illegal in baseball since 1921, in part because it's nearly impossible to hit. He was so bold in his use of the pitch, he actually wrote an autobiography called Me and the Spitter in 1974, a full nine years before he retired.

Amazon
Subtle!

Despite this admission, he made it 21 years in the league before finally being ejected from a game for throwing the illegal pitch on Aug. 23, 1982. Earlier that year, he'd become the first pitcher since 1963 to reach 300 wins. In 1983, his final year in the league, he was one of three pitchers to break Walter Johnson's all-time strikeout record in that season alone (Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton were the others).

In short, Gaylord Perry ascended to the highest ranks of MLB pitching royalty, and he did it all while openly cheating. For his crimes against sportsmanship and fairness, he was elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991.

If baseball historians really have a problem with cheating, they certainly have a selective way of showing it. That's why, if you ask me, I say ...

#4. Everyone Deserves an Asterisk

A lot of people just flat out hate Barry Bonds. Not only did he insult our intelligence by lying about using steroids while his head otherwise inexplicably doubled in size, he used those steroids to break Hank Aaron's long-standing career home run record. Because of the allegations leveled against him, you rarely hear that achievement discussed without someone mentioning the need to add an asterisk next to his name in the record books. Somehow, baseball fans of the future must always be reminded that, even though Barry Bonds is technically the best home run hitter of all-time, he's not really the best home run hitter of all-time.

Fine, but if that's true, then who is the best home run hitter of all-time? Is it really Hank Aaron? He played approximately the same number of seasons as Babe Ruth. Yes, the Babe played 22 seasons to the Hammer's 21, but most of Hank Aaron's seasons were eight games longer and far less impacted by hot dog-eating injuries, so it balances out.

Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images
The only plate Babe Ruth truly cared about.

Seeing as how he outhit the Bambino 755 to 714 in the same relative amount of time makes it a pretty cut and dry win for Hank Aaron, right?

Not so fast. Babe Ruth played the first six seasons of his career under the cloud of baseball's dreaded Dead-Ball era, a period of time in which the competitive advantage was slanted so heavily in the favor pitchers it fucking killed a guy. On top of that, Babe Ruth played those six seasons primarily as a pitcher, so he appeared in way fewer games than an everyday player like Hank Aaron would.

I can hear the objections now: "Steroids were a personal choice Barry Bonds made, the Dead-Ball era was beyond Hank Aaron's control. It was just a part of the game at one point." That's true, but still, an advantage is an advantage. If you adjust Hank Aaron's stats during his first six seasons to reflect Dead Ball era playing conditions, his advantage over Babe Ruth would likely shrink dramatically.

Except it wouldn't, because Babe Ruth had the biggest competitive advantage of all, he didn't have to play against black people.

Wikipedia
Yankee power!

Take that as a racist joke all you want, but it's a valid goddamn point. The league Babe Ruth played in at the time excluded an entire segment of the population from competing. That means the talent pool in those days wasn't any more pure than it was during the steroid era.

I'm not saying steroids should be completely disregarded when it comes to the legacy of Barry Bonds. I'm just saying everyone has their asterisks, even if not all of them are self-imposed.

Also, there's something you should keep in mind before assuming hitters during the steroid era gained any advantage other than lighter and easier to carry testicles ...

#3. Pitcher Is the Position With the Most Performance-Enhancing-Drug Suspensions

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Home runs sell tickets, so it's no surprise that sluggers like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire became the most high-profile targets when steroid accusations began swirling. The problem is, steroids and home runs don't have a ton in common.

For starters, hitting a home run requires skills that steroids don't improve, like hand eye coordination. Your gigantic forearms are useless if you can't make the bat and ball meet on a consistent basis.

Wikipedia
Or keep Olive Oyl from banging Bluto.

It's also important to note that of the 43 players suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs since 2005, 15 of them were pitchers. The next closest position was outfielder with 13, but that blanket term actually covers three positions on the field (left, right, and center fielder), so even then it's not really as close as it seems.

It makes perfect sense, too. Steroids, even more than helping muscles get huge, help muscles heal. Throwing a baseball is one of the most physically destructive acts in sports. Doing it over the course of several innings will destroy your arm. That's why pitchers don't play every day. They're supposed to be fucked up for a few days afterward. Steroids help that not be the case, and you don't have to know how to swing a bat to feel the benefits.

Bob Levey/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
You barely even need to stand up!

That raises an obvious question. Are steroids really a competitive advantage if they're being used by everyone? When the pitcher on the mound is as roided up as the hitter at the plate, don't the two sort of cancel each other out? Roger Clemens was the only huge name pitcher to get swept up in the steroid talk, and he's not even on that list of players who were suspended. If we somehow magically received a definitive list of every player to ever use steroids while playing in the majors, there's no guarantee that the final number wouldn't skew heavily toward hitters, but it certainly isn't trending that way right now.

Still, an unfair advantage is an unfair advantage, and the "real" players from the days when baseball was "honest" had to set and break their records without the benefit of steroids. Is that fair? Of course not, but it's also not accurate, because ...

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