Went for an annual physical exam the other day in Manhattan. The doctor asked the usual questions about new aches and pains. I gave the usual answers.
Don't get enough sleep. Work too hard. Work out way too hard. Left shoulder barking from lifting too much weight. Knees screaming from running too much.
I admit it: I'm a psycho.
"You should think about HGH," the doctor said, as if he were referring to Advil. I was shocked -- but not surprised.
I was shocked because this was the first time I'd been slapped in the face by the very real possibility that I, too, could have a performance-enhancing drug by merely picking it up at my local pharmacy! Steroids were always cloaked in black-market smoke. You bought steroids from some ponytailed musclehead out behind the gym -- or ordered them from some Canadian or Mexican Web site.
Now a doctor was suggesting he could write me a prescription for the drug that has become the hottest three letters in sports this side of MVP. Now HGH has become as real and attainable as Vitamin C.
But in the bigger picture this didn't surprise me, because I'd seen recent ESPN.com and "60 Minutes" pieces about how so many anti-aging doctors around the country are prescribing human growth hormone for 40-and-over patients. And in some cases, for 20-somethings and 30-somethings. Nowadays just about anybody can get a prescription for a drug banned by pro sports. HGH might as well be Ambien.
And until recently, the men who run pro sports were asleep at the switch about HGH -- which wasn't even an issue at the congressional steroid hearings just 15 months ago. Yes, their goal was to warn kids about the dangers of steroids, which are artificial testosterone. But for pro athletes, HGH is even more effective.
"It works," the doctor said with a shrug. "You'll recover quicker from injuries and workouts. You'll have more energy and feel stronger and mentally sharper."
Hmmm. Actually sounded pretty good. Hadn't thought much about the potential benefits.
All I had ever heard about HGH were all the terrifying side effects: the grotesque facial bone growth, the spade-like hand growth, the excessive growth of vital organs, the increased cancer risks caused by accelerated cell growth.
"All those are possibilities," the doctor said with another shrug, "if you don't regulate your dosage."
That crystallized my conflict over steroids, testosterone and HGH. For years, fitness experts have tried to convince me of the near-miraculous benefits these drugs can have for professional athletes.
But they always added "if used in moderation."
How many pro athletes have used these drugs in moderation? Few, if any. For that matter, how many have used these drugs under strict doctor's supervision? Maybe some of the new wave of HGH users who get their prescriptions at "wellness" or anti-aging clinics.
But in general, pro athletes have lived (and in some cases, died) by this rule of overgrown thumb: If a little works, a lot more will work a lot better. So most pro athletes (as well as most amateurs, including teenagers) who have used any of these performance enhancers have routinely overdosed.
God help them.
If, say, baseball could regulate the administering of HGH to every player, their season-long health no doubt would improve. If, say, each player could be restricted to a moderate dose, he no doubt could recover quicker from nagging injuries and feel stronger and sharper in the dog days of August.
But how could baseball govern moderate doses? It couldn't.
So HGH will never work for baseball.
Several fitness experts have predicted to me that someday -- 25, or maybe 50 years from now -- our society will be enlightened enough to make steroids and HGH legal. For now, these drugs are supposed to be prescribed only for extreme illness or injury -- for, say, dwarfism or AIDS patients or accident victims. But anti-aging doctors are beating the system by arguing that aging is a disease.
The FDA might soon try to crack down on that.
But even if steroids and HGH eventually are made legal, how could pro sports make them legal? That would force almost every player to use them if they wanted to compete with those who were. And with no limits, even players who didn't trust steroids or HGH would be forced to subject their bodies to potentially deadly overdose risks.
Of course, while HGH improves recovery and healing, it also enhances muscle growth. So while older players use it to stay healthy, younger players use it strictly to get bigger and stronger. It definitely works for that, too.
The book "Game of Shadows," written by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, alleges that HGH became Barry Bonds' performance-enhancing drug of choice. For an older slugger, it can help prevent injuries and help produce more home runs.
But as my doctor said: "Long-term, we just don't know enough yet to know exactly what the risks are."
So once again, it's time for the players' unions in every pro sport to have the good sense to save themselves from themselves. They shouldn't resist blood tests. They should be pushing for them.
If I were a professional athlete, I would want to be blood-tested every single day. I'd want to know my playing field was completely level. I wouldn't care if the "big brother" owners were effectively watching me. I would give up my right to privacy for the opportunity to be a star and make set-for-life millions.
Someday, pro athletes will be blood-tested every day.
Blood tests are the only way to detect excess HGH. Remember, it's present to some extent in every body because it's an anabolic hormone secreted by the brain's pituitary gland. So as yet, no urine test can measure it -- and no blood test is universally accepted as completely accurate.
That's why every pro league -- especially MLB and the NFL, America's two wealthiest leagues -- should be spending whatever it takes to develop an accurate HGH blood test. Instead, baseball is wasting money on full-page ads running today in several publications.
These pathetic ads are in the form of an open letter to fans from commissioner Bud Selig, who says he's "disappointed and angered" by "a player's" admission that he used HGH, and that this player named names of other major leaguers who have used it. I'm disappointed and angered that Selig once again is trying to win the PR battle instead of the drug war.
The "player," of course, is Jason Grimsley. And the only reason he admitted using HGH and named names was because he was busted by the feds who, according to Grimsley's lawyer, wanted him to wear a wire to help them nail Bonds. When Grimsley drew the line at the wire, the feds knocked down his door, searched his house and outed him to the media.
How they thought Grimsley, who played for the Diamondbacks, was going to get Bonds to confess (or even a Giants teammate to rat on him) is laughable. Are the feds ever getting desperate.
Think about this: The feds nailed some relatively unknown 38-year-old reliever -- when Grimsley could have qualified for a valid prescription from any of hundreds of anti-aging doctors.
And think about this: If Grimsley was using HGH, a whole lot more major leaguers are using it -- including lots of pitchers. Why wouldn't they? Why wouldn't nearly every NFL player? HGH works, neither sport tests for it, and doctors everywhere will prescribe it.
In his open letter, Selig warns players that using these drugs "in this manner" is against the law. But any anti-aging doctor could successfully argue that Bonds, going on 42, is fighting age.
So am I. But the only records I'm capable of breaking are the albums I've kept from the '60s and '70s.
So when my doctor explained that I would have to inject myself with HGH on a daily basis, into my stomach or thigh, that was the end of that discussion. No thanks.
But if I played big league baseball or pro football, I'd be injecting like crazy -- while pushing my peers to agree to daily blood tests. They're the only way.
Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice a week on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.