For the Love of the Game: In Defense of the Steroid Era

By Geoff Ratliff

Jeremy Sickel, Editor

With Jim Thome – presumably one of the classiest and cleanest players to ever put on an MLB uniform – reaching the 600 home run plateau during the same week that Mike Jacobs – former major leaguer – became the first North American athlete to be suspended for the use of HGH, it seemed like a good time to write about a topic that’s bothered me for years. During the 2005 congressional hearing on steroids usage in Major League Baseball, I naively hoped that just one of the players involved would shock the world and give a no holds barred, completely candid take on why he used. During the subsequent witch-hunts targeting Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, my naiveté reached epic proportions. I thought to myself, surely the hubris that drove these guys to be arguably the best position player and pitcher to ever put on a major league uniform would also allow them to face the world, without a trace of remorse, and convince us all that they’d have been idiots NOT to indulge in performance enhancing drugs (PEDs as they are now commonly referred to). And even after Bonds and Clemens let me down, I was absolutely POSITIVE that Alex Rodriguez would laugh in our faces and give us 252 million reasons why taking PEDs was the easiest decision he’d ever made.

I was certain that my thought process on this was air-tight. I mean, Bud Selig and the “traditionalists” would have cried bloody murder at such an admission, but eventually they, and the general public, would have been won over by the fact that the player came clean and didn’t compound the problem by lying about it. It is commonly accepted that had Pete Rose admitted to his gambling when the scandal first broke, he’d eventually have been allowed to return to the game he loved, and would undoubtedly be officially recognized along with the other greats in Cooperstown. This nation is very forgiving so why would a steroids confession be any different?

I imagine it being similar to a significant other admitting to an act of infidelity. There’s an initial horrified reaction to it, which I think is less about the discovery of the act itself and more about the shock of finding out that your trust has been betrayed. Eventually though, cooler heads prevail, and if the relationship was truly worth anything to begin with, you forgive the person, and work on repairing the damage, hopefully honing in on the root of the problems that led to the infidelity in the first place. In baseball terms, this would lead to fans and fellow players quickly moving past the shock of the revelation, and focusing on the bigger issues within the sport of baseball that led the player to feel compelled to use PEDs in the first place.

During each one of the recent PED related scandals in baseball, I played out in my mind what a press conference might look like if one of these guys actually just owned up to it and faced the music; no prepared statement, no agents or lawyers standing by…just a frank, unrepentant baring of the soul. I understand that there are legal implications involved in PED usage that might prevent such a player from being totally candid, but in my scenario, the player is fully committed to this, meaning he’s willing to accept any consequences that may come out of his statements, be that a suspension/ban from baseball, prison, or both. I’ve also presumed that this player would be a big enough star that his name would resonate with people that aren’t necessarily baseball fans and that the admission would be leading news nationwide

So without further adieu, the admission of Player X…

In the press room of  some major league stadium…

Player X: “Good morning everyone. I want to thank all of you for coming out. You guys know that I’ve been pretty frank with everyone throughout my 13 years in the game, and will continue to do so today. As you may have guessed, I’m here to address the recent allegations by a former teammate that I used performance enhancing drugs. I’m willing to answer any questions that you guys have in as much detail as I possibly can, but before we get into the Q&A, I’m gonna just sit here for a few moments and tell you everything I can imagine you might want to know. I didn’t prepare a statement so forgive me if I tend to ramble at times, but I want this to be as raw as possible guys. I have absolutely nothing to hide and I’m willing to deal with whatever fall out comes from this.

Over the past 6 years, many of my colleagues have been implicated in the usage of performance enhancing drugs. Some of these guys have even been ex-teammates and I know deep down that they are good guys. It’s been agonizing for me to continue to play the game over the past several years, knowing that it was just a matter of time before I got caught up in the campaign to “clean up the game”.

When I first found out that John had implicated me, I felt really angry that a former teammate, a guy that I went to war with 162 games a year for five seasons – even shared dinner with his family many a time – would sell me out like that. Then I thought about the guys who’d been accused before me, and how a few of them knew that I was using. I began to imagine how they felt watching me continue to reach significant career milestones while they were vilified in the press and had their career accomplishments scrutinized. To be honest with you I’m not sure how I managed to keep performing at a high level for the past 6 years. This shit was really eating at me. So once I got over the anger, this amazing sense of relief actually overwhelmed me. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from me, which is probably why, oddly enough, I’ve been on a tear these past three weeks. I know it doesn’t make sense, but fellas, I’ve been looking forward to this press conference for years!

Believe me I’ve paid very close attention to each one of these scandals that have broke over the past six seasons, and each time, I was waiting for someone else to step up and take one for the team; to be that guy that just told you guys flat out what the real deal was. I’ve spent a ton of time over the past two to three years thinking about what I might say if it were me facing all the microphones, cameras, and ice-cold stares, but I never really thought I’d be blazing that trail. Now that day is finally here, so here it is…

I did it fellas, and I can honestly say that I have zero regrets. I first started taking the stuff back in 2001 when I was rehabbing from that knee injury that easily could have ended my career and crushed my lifelong dream. I know most people sit here and tell you that they were just young and impressionable and they didn’t really grasp what using this stuff meant, but that’s bullshit! I knew exactly what I was doing. There was so much hype around my potential when I came up, being the #1 pick in 1996 at 18. I tore up the minors that year and in 1997, and my first three years in the majors put me on the hall of fame trajectory that everyone thought I’d be on. I was already looking forward to that first major free agent deal and the endorsement deals were rolling in like clockwork.  Best of all, with the team struggling for my first two years, management had finally made some moves to put our team in a position to start competing for championships. There was a lot of pressure trying to keep up with Jete (Derek Jeter) with us playing the same position and him already having three rings under his belt. Things were finally starting to feel just like I’d hoped they would. I was only 23 back then so I thought my body would heal up fast, like I was Wolverine or something, but the rehab just wasn’t going as quickly as I wanted, and spring training was less than two months away.

I called a couple of veteran guys who’d dealt with similar injuries in the past and they were the ones who first put the idea of using that stuff in my head. I will not name any names by the way; this isn’t about them. I was a little hesitant at first, but I looked up to these guys and they gave me story after story of other players they came up with who cheated themselves out of good years and millions of dollars derived from some misguided respect for the purity of the game. And the more I thought about it, the more their logic made sense. Look, I came into this game straight out of high school and quite frankly baseball is the one thing I know I’m great at. Hell I can’t remember ever wanting to do anything else; but even at 23 I was smart enough to realize I couldn’t do this forever. I thank the lord that I’ve been able to get 13 seasons out of this game, and I’m appreciative of every day I’ve been able to be out on that field. Some of you in this very room have been in this game for 30, even 40+ years, and I think it’s great that you’ve been able to make a living for that long following the game you love. That’s not my reality though fellas, those early years were prime time for me.

I came from modest beginnings but I always knew I wanted a certain quality of life for me and for my family. I’m still amazed sometimes at the life I’ve been able to provide for Liz and the kids, not just the cars and the houses and all that stuff, but the experiences they’ve been able to have. Heck my kids have been places before the age of 10 that I only read about in books growing up and they have so many more opportunities than I ever had. They can do whatever the hell they want with their lives and I’m damn proud that I could provide that for them. My parents always told me that they wanted me to have a better life than they had and I always carried that with me when thinking about starting my own family.

I know what most of you in this room are really thinking. “How could he disrespect the game that gave him so much?” Truthfully, I don’t feel like I cheated or disrespected the game at all, in fact quite the opposite. The way I look at it, I did everything I could to give you and the fans my best effort for as long as I could. A lot of you have treated Mac and Sammy like criminals for using PEDs, but you guys are quick to forget how much fun they brought to the game in 1998, and how many of you got some great material out of their race. They revived the game of baseball that had been obsolete since the strike.  THAT’s what baseball is all about gentlemen. The fans pay a good deal of money to see us put on a great show, and that ’98 season was one of the best ever. Don’t act like you didn’t enjoy the hell out of that one, hell, we all did. That was my rookie year and I clearly remember hoping that I could perform at a level throughout my career that got people to love the game the way Mac and Sammy did. And I did, man, I got it done. I made all-star games, won MVPs, and finally helped my boys bring a couple of championships to this long-suffering city. I signed autographs, kissed babies, and was just an all around good ambassador for the game man. I agreed to damn near every interview request you guys asked of me, as much as I could anyway.

What about the guys that didn’t use? Hey hats off to ‘em man. We all have our different philosophies on what it means to be true to the game. I consider Jimbo to be one of my closes friends in the game – I mean I’d go so far as to call him a mentor – and it’d probably eat him up inside to hear me saying all of this. I’m real proud of him for getting to 600 and we all know he’s one of the classiest guys to ever put on a uniform. If he wants to, I’ll sit down with him man to man and answer all the questions he wants to throw at me. At the end of the day though, we all had equal access to this stuff and any player who claims they didn’t know that it was pretty rampant is just a damn liar.

I know there are a lot of people out there who are just gonna flat-out disagree with my view on this, but it is what it is and I’ll reiterate to you all that I have not one regret about this at all. If Bud decides that my career is over and I can’t play another game, I’ll walk away with my head held high and hopefully in time you guys will come to understand, if not agree, with my take on things. Whether you want to believe it or not, I love this game just as much, if not more, than anybody in this room.

That’s all I got so at this point I’ll open it up for questions….”

One Response “For the Love of the Game: In Defense of the Steroid Era” →
  1. I think we’ll see something like this in the next few years, but it might not be from a superstar. I think those folks want to get into the HOF, and realize they won’t if they don’t act like it was a one-time mistake or something… in any case, great writing, really enjoyed this.

    Reply

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