5 Reasons Steroids Were Never the Real Problem in Baseball

#2. Steroids Weren't Even Banned in Baseball Until 1991

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Steroids have been around for a long time. They first made their way to the United States as a performance-enhancer in the 1950s. The NFL's San Diego Chargers are widely acknowledged as one of the first major sports teams to benefit from using steroids way back in 1963. That means steroids have been a part of professional sports in some way for at least 50 years.

With that in mind, who honestly believes steroids didn't start impacting baseball until the 90's? To believe that requires the kind of gullibility usually only seen in victims of Nigerian email scams. Even the fact that baseball finally outlawed steroids in 1991 is a sham, because they didn't start testing players for them until 2005. What's the point of banning them if you don't check to see if anyone is complying?

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In the league's defense, you could probably identify steroid users in baseball just as easily this way.

Even more telling is the fact that the resulting uproar from the player's union following commissioner Fay Vincent's attempt to ban steroids from the game in 1991 was so intense he eventually resigned over it. So why are we still clinging to this idea that baseball was ever steroid-free? Not taking steroids and not getting caught taking steroids are definitely not the same thing, Lance Armstrong. The fact that the MLB player's union was only able to fight off drug testing until 2005 doesn't make that year the starting line for steroids in baseball.

At least one player, former Atlanta Braves pitcher Tom House (the guy who caught Hank Aaron's record-breaking home run ball, coincidentally enough) says he used "steroids they wouldn't give to horses" during his playing days from 1971 to 1978.

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There is no caption that could do this picture justice.

He even claimed that "six or seven" pitchers on every team experimented with steroids at the time.

Look, the fucking Olympics didn't even ban steroids until 1975. If you think baseball just magically stayed clear of steroids until Barry Bonds showed up, you're exactly as naive as Major League Baseball hopes you are. After all, the more you fixate on steroids and home run hitters, the less time you have to figure out that baseball is hiding the fact that ...

#1. Amphetamines Were the Real Scandal

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Baseball had a way bigger performance-enhancing drug problem than steroids on its hands for a long time. Since as far back as the days when Willie Mays (the 4th most prolific home run hitter of all time, for the record) allegedly kept a liquid version called "Red Juice" on hand in his locker at all times, baseball players have relied on amphetamines to provide the boost that becomes necessary so many times during a grueling schedule that sees major league teams play 162 mostly boring-as-fuck games in just over 180 days.

Respected legends like Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, and even Hank Aaron himself have admitted to using amphetamines at some point during their career. Commissioner Bud Selig, the man credited with finally ridding the game of amphetamines, said they'd been a problem in the league for for seven or eight decades. There was a tell-all book written by a major league player detailing the various ways players were benefiting from the use of amphetamines way back in 1970.

Jim Bouton, the Jose Canseco of his day.

They even have a cutesy nickname for the most commonly abused form of amphetamines in sports, pills called "greenies."

Despite amphetamines being an acknowledged problem in baseball for longer than most of our parents have been alive, the league didn't start testing for them until 2006, a year after testing for steroids began. So which drug had more of an impact on the game? Let's look at some statistics.

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For all intents and purposes, the first year of widespread testing for steroids was 2005. If the accepted logic that steroids equal more home runs is true, production in that area should have dropped off dramatically in 2006, right? Well, it didn't. In 2005, teams across both leagues hit an average of 167 home runs and scored 744 runs. While that was indeed a steep decline from the previous year's numbers, it didn't stay that way. In 2006, those totals increased to an average of 179 home runs and 787 runs scored, which is about where they were the year testing for steroids began. A full year removed from that monumental moment in baseball history, things seemed to actually get better for home run hitters. Just a reminder, the majority of performance-enhancing drug suspensions have been pitchers. Draw your own conclusions.

Meanwhile, the league finally got around to mandatory testing for amphetamines in 2006. Can you guess what happened next?

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Instead of focusing on home runs, as so much of the PED debate does, let's look at the meat and potatoes stuff, hits and strikeouts. From 2004 to 2005, production in both areas dropped. Again, 2005 was the first year of actual steroid testing. The next year, things basically recovered for both sides at about the same rate. It was as if banning steroids had no real effect at all. After amphetamines, though? Things haven't just tilted in favor of pitchers, it's been a veritable golden age of expert pitching.

Total hits in 2006, the first year of mandatory amphetamine testing, were at 45,073. They've dropped every single year since amphetamines were banned. Again, they went down and back up again after steroids. The drop since amphetamines were banned, though, has been noticeable and drastic. In 2012, the total was just 42,063.

As for strikeouts, in 2006, there were 31,655. Just as hits have continuously gone down, strikeouts have gone up almost every single year since 2006. There were 36,426 in 2012.

If that doesn't do anything for you, consider the fact that of the 23 perfect games (meaning no one on the opposing team even reaches first base) thrown by pitchers in major league history, 17 of them happened between 1880 and 2004. That's 124 years. Perfect games used to come around with the frequency of visible comets in the night sky.

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Get your Nikes on!

Now, ask me how many perfect games there have been since 2006. Six! And when I say "since 2006" what I actually mean is "since 2009." There were two in 2010 alone, which seemed mighty impressive until there were three in 2012. At that pace, after 124 years there will have been 186 perfect games thrown. What in the motherfuck is happening?

The explanation is pretty simple and obvious. Hitting a major league pitch is something the majority of Americans can't do at their most awake and alert. Position players take the field every single day, which is naturally going to tire out any athlete (especially if you routinely spend the night before games getting hammered). For decades, players have been able to fight that fatigue with amphetamines. Sure, they won't help you hit the ball harder, but if those pills are the difference between mentally alert or tired as hell, their benefit at the plate is undeniable. Hitters aren't less productive because they can't take steroids anymore, they're less productive because they can barely stay awake.

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Now they know how we feel!

Pitchers, on the other hand, generally get lots of rest between appearances, making the energy boost from amphetamines less helpful or necessary. For the everyday player though, losing that amphetamine boost has been a disaster. Oh, and in case you're wondering, there were 5,386 home runs in 2006. In 2012, just 4,934.

Coincidentally, since amphetamines were banned, the rate of diagnosis for ADHD in baseball has skyrocketed to twice the national average, resulting in hundreds of players each year receiving exemptions to take drugs like Adderall, which, of course, are basically amphetamines. Imagine that.

So what does all this mean? Well, if amphetamines really do have the impact on hitting that the statistics seem to indicate, and if the steroid era really didn't start until sometime in the '90s, doesn't every record set when hitters had the benefit of using amphetamines but pitchers didn't have the benefit of using steroids deserve the same asterisk we're so eager to affix to the steroid-era records? If amphetamines have really been around for seven or eight decades like Bud Selig says, that covers everything from Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak to Pete Rose's all time hits record and everything in between.

Steroids didn't make baseball a dirty game. It's just a lot easier to write off the past two decades of professional baseball history as tainted when the alternative is admitting that baseball has always been a dirty game.

Adam hosts a podcast called Unpopular Opinion that you should check out right here. You should also be his friend on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.

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