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More Money, More PED’s

Published: February 14, 2013
Section: Opinions

America’s national pastime yields four times as many television viewers per season as the National Football League (NFL) and National Basketball Association. What began as a casual game established in Hoboken, N.J., has burst into an international business. It involves trillions of dollars in tickets and merchandizing and several professional teams are worth more than one billion dollars. The business extends from baseball cards, jerseys, hats and memorabilia to video games, books and movies.

While each individual baseball game does not receive more attention than the average NFL game, the number of baseball games that each team plays in the regular season, 162, makes baseball better known around the world than the NFL and NBA with 16 and 82 regular season games, respectively. As the nation’s first major professional sport, baseball has had historical moments that have gained the attention of many outside the sports world. The sport has had a turbulent past, from Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in MLB, to the Negro and Women’s leagues. Despite its illustrious place in American history today, steroids and performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) are marring baseball’s long cultural heritage.

I could go on and on about all of the historical moments in baseball history, but I’ll stick with two key points: PEDs and the rising salaries of players. In its early days, playing baseball was looked down upon as a profession lacking in prestige, although many athletes earned a comfortable living. In the Hall of Famer Ty Cobb’s 1911 MVP season, he earned $9,000, which, after inflation, would be about $200,000 today. In the earlier years of baseball, injuries were more prevalent and difficult to treat and diagnose.

The lifestyle conditions that players could afford were much rougher than the first class hotels and flights that today’s players enjoy. Because of this, players in the 20th century deserved the high pay that they received. These incomes had to be saved and spread out during the course of a lifetime, as most baseball careers did not last long. Historically, professional baseball players have not received a proper higher education to make a healthy living after retiring from play.

The minimum salary in 2013 is $490,000, more than most college students will go on to earn as a salary during their life spans. I believe that the use of PEDs and rising salaries are related.

Although I have no concrete evidence to corroborate this, I believe that the chain of events follow logically. As salaries rose, more public and professional pressure was placed on players to perform well. What had once been a fun game that players enjoyed became much more stressful as the advancement of technology (radio, television, computer and fantasy baseball) put athletes in the cultural limelight. Due to the increased pressure, players felt more competition from their peers and pressure from managers and owners, which led to using performance enhancing drugs. These substances could enhance their success, earning potential, professional longevity and value to the club.

The New York Yankees Gold-Glove-winning first baseman Mark Teixeira admitted last month that, “My first six years, before I was a free agent, I was very valuable. But there’s nothing you can do that can justify a $20 million contract,” referring to the lower salaries that younger, sometimes more successful players earn next to their veteran counterparts.

Although first coming to the nation’s and even the world’s attention fairly recently, steroids and other PEDs have been used for more than a hundred years. A survey taken at the 1972 Summer Olympics in West Germany found that 61 percent of competitors in the games had taken anabolic steroids in the six months leading to the games. Steroids were not banned by the MLB until 1991, so PED use by baseball players prior to that did not break any rules.

Steroid use is not solely a baseball problem, nor is it exclusively an American issue. Some of the public attention to steroids may have been due to the outsized compensation that the athletes receive but it seems commonsensical that one would cause the other. It can never be known with 100 percent certainty who took what steroids at what time. Fortunately, Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association and numerous other athletic governing bodies around the world are taking a proactive look at PEDs and the scorn that sports reputations receive from it. We can only look to the future and encourage the young crop of burgeoning athletes to not feel the temptation to cheat.