Death Match: Greenies vs. 'Roids

Over at It's About the Money, Larry has written an outstanding primer on athletes and amphetamines, and if you're interested in that sort of thing, I can't recommend it highly enough.

One section, though -- yes, the section that's sort of about me -- caught me short. Last week I wrote (among other things) this: "Players used amphetamines so they could play better. And to be completely frank, anybody who tells you different is either lying or foolish."

To which Larry responds:

    Oh, boy. As we’ll discuss below, the people that Rob thinks are “either lying or foolish” include many experts on this subject.

    Rob does not help the “Tolerance Camp” cause by making simple, sweeping and disputable statements about the nature of amphetamines. I do agree with Rob that amphetamines should be classified as “performance enhancing”, though for reasons that Rob might not anticipate, I’d prefer to classify amphetamines as “performance altering”. If given the opportunity, I’d ignore these categories altogether, because PEDs like amphetamines defy easy categorization. Drugs like amphetamines do not behave in ways that make for convenient arguments about who should (and should not) be Hall of Fame inductees.

    For the moment, let’s toss the categories out the window, and look at the facts instead. With all of the facts in hand, it becomes impossible to compare amphetamine use to the use of anabolic steroids. These two drugs are not remotely similar. No good can be accomplished by blurring the important distinctions between these two drugs.

Just to be (more) clear, my point was never that amphetamines and anabolic steroids are the same drug or do the same thing or that amphetamines "enhance" performance or that we can make an apples-to-apples performance comparison, and frankly I have no idea where Larry got the idea that I did.

When you're terribly misunderstood, the natural reaction is to blame the reader for reading what he wants to read, rather than what you actually wrote. I do try to skip past that reaction quickly, and instead blame myself for not writing well enough. So I'll try this again.

If the Hall of Fame voters' arguments against the steroids users were performance-based, it would make sense to engage in detailed analyses of the relative effects of amphetamines and steroids. But that's not the argument. You'll rarely see a writer discuss Rafael Palmeiro's performance, for the simple reason that there's not much evidence to suggest that Palmeiro owes much of his Hall of Fame-worthy performance to steroids. Rather, writers simply label Palmeiro a cheater and move along to the next crusade. The argument as explicitly made is not about performance, but rather morality. The guy cheated.

But here's a stone-cold fact: The non-prescription use of prescription drugs -- amphetamines, anabolic steroids, you name it -- has been a violation of Major League Baseball's drug policy since 1971. Every player who ingested a single molecule of amphetamines without a prescription since 1971 was, technically speaking, breaking the rules. And if they were doing it with the intent of playing better, they were cheating.

When it comes to morality, the only thing that matters is intent. When Hall of Fame voters penalize players from the (so-called) Steroid Era while giving a free pass to every player who ever cheated with amphetamines, they're drawing a line that -- and yes, I'm going to say this once more -- is intellectually indefensible.

I'm not "blurring the important distinctions" between amphetamines and anabolic steroids. Not at all. I'm saying that when it comes to the Hall of Fame, since 1971 there is no important distinction.

In the 1970s (and before, and beyond), players who used amphetamines to "get up" for games were breaking baseball's rules and society's laws. During much of the Steroids Era, players who used anabolic steroids were breaking baseball's rules and society's laws.

As I have been for some time now, I'm waiting for someone in the BBWAA to draw the Hall of Fame-relevant distinction between those two acts.