Confessions Of A “Steroid Era” Career

I played parts of 11 seasons of Major League Baseball from 2000 to 2010… I never used steroids and there is absolutely no reason why you should believe me… As a matter of fact, there is no reason why you should not question any player who played from the mid 1970′s to every one of the current players today… 1970′s you ask? Yup, that is the time when steroids became prominent at local gyms and were used recklessly by body builders and all sorts of other athletes looking to get an edge.  You can actually trace steroid use all the way back to the 1940′s when the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries were looking for ways to enhance the strength of their Olympic weight lifters…

Disturbingly, not long ago I was having dinner with a former long time Major League player that spoke about the steroid use of a prominent Hall of Famer that played the majority of his career in the 70′s and 80′s… Ha! Not like I was shocked but damn… So many members of the Hall of Fame, including this character, have recently spoken out and condemned guys who have had ties to performance enhancing drugs, saying there is no place for “cheaters” in the HOF… I just wonder how many of the other guys in the “Hall” were actually cheaters themselves?

Depends on your definition of cheating… I can guarantee you just about all of them at one point either stole signs, doctored a baseball, used a corked bat or loaded up on some sort of amphetamine… Steroids, because of the adverse health effects, public perception and terrible message it sends to our youth about what it takes to succeed, has alway been looked at differently, and I believe it should be.

I can also make an argument though that steroids actually saved the game… After the 1994 strike many fans had turned their back on baseball… It wasn’t until the famous home run chase of 1998 that MLB once again reclaimed the national spotlight… It seems a bit hypocritical to me that the guys that we marveled at and worshiped because of their ability to hit baseballs to places nobody thought possible, later became ostracized from the very game that they helped put back on the map, and for the most part, became somewhat exiled by society in general… We all had suspicions, yet nobody during that time period acted on them… Not that I condoned their performance enhancing drug use, but lets remember there was no drug testing program in place at the time and in my opinion the 2 guys were simply products of a much bigger problem, an entire Major League drug culture…

I signed out of UCLA in 1998 with the Oakland Athletics and played my first Major League game with them in August of 2000… Years later the “Mitchell Report” came out and I was shocked to read many of my former teammates names tied to PED’s… I was not ignorant to the situation but one way I describe it is that the steroid culture was very much like the cocaine culture… You go to a club, everybody is dancing and having a good time, you just assume everyone has that same good alcohol buzz that you do… Then you notice some dude’s eyes popping out of his head or a chick that won’t stop talking and looks like she is continuously picking her nose… I was not ignorant to the obvious in the “boom shooka boom boom” club and I sure as heck was not ignorant to the obvious in a big league clubhouse… The similarity of the steroids and cocaine continue, not once in my entire playing career was I ever offered steroids and not once in my younger and wilder club-going days was I ever offered “blow”… For me, or at least for the people keeping it from me, these were two very secret societies that kept to themselves and the other people who they knew were involved in the culture…

For a long time I just accepted the “steroid era” for what it was… It did not bother me that much and I didn’t necessarily feel as if I was getting cheated… The main reason is because individually, I did not feel as if I needed to get bigger, stronger or faster… I needed to lay off the 2-2 slider in the dirt… As a matter of fact, if I had chosen the steroid route, I would not have felt as if I was cheating… I would have been doing what a large percentage of other guys around the league had made habitual within  baseball… My decision to not use steroids was by no means a holier-than-thou attitude either.  Actually, it was very selfish… I had no desire to deal with the common side effects; pre-mature balding, back acne (backne as I like to refer to it), and shriveling testicles… I also watched a kid at my high school get so heavy into steroids that soon after graduation, his heart exploded…

Another major deterrent was that as much as I loved baseball, I refused to let the game define me as a person… So many guys put their entire self worth into baseball thus they lived under the guide lines of “whatever it takes.” Even as a kid, I always had many different interests… I figured that I would put my heart and soul into whatever I was doing at the time and then when I was done for whatever reason, I would simply move on and figure out “what’s next?”

I generally don’t blame the guys who used performance enhancing drugs prior to 2003 when the drug testing program was finally implemented… They were simply victims of a PED culture that was ultimately fueled by the silence of the players, teams and the media as well…

My first year out of the game, I ran into a borderline HOF caliber player and the issue of steroids came up… He proceeded to tell me that he played his entire career steroid free until he realized his time was coming to an end and he became willing to do anything to hang on… For the final 2 years of his career, he used performance enhancing drugs… He said the main difference that he noticed was how well he could SEE THE BASEBALL! Immediately I thought to myself it was a good thing I didn’t find that out until after I was done playing… Throughout the course of my career there were definitely times that I felt like I would have done ANYTHING to lay off that gosh dang 2-2 slider in the dirt!

As I am now 3 years removed from playing the game and 3 years into a broadcasting career, I hold a much different view… The recent suspensions of 14 players tied to Biogenesis in a lot of ways was the final straw for me… For years, dirty players have been screwing clean players out of opportunities and potential financial prosperities… For whatever reasons the clean players simply have just kept their mouths shut and  continued to be OK with getting cheated… Based on the recent comments of many current major leaguers, times are definitely changing, and I encourage more to speak out… There is no greater influence than that of your own peers!

Concerning is the fact that not one of the players suspended because of their link with biogenesis, with the exception of Ryan Braun, ever tested positive for PED’s… Here we are 10 years after the drug testing program was implemented, and obviously guys are still beating the system… Chemist seem to be a least two steps ahead of the testers… Now, new forms of fast acting testosterone that can leave your system within hours, seem to be the recent drug of choice…

So long as the reward  of multi-million dollar contracts outweighs the risk of a 50 game suspension for a first time offenders, players will continue to try to beat the system…  For the sake of the game, current players need to encourage the players union to make the penalty so severe for 1st time offenders that it actually serves as a real deterrent… My suggestion, a one year suspension for the 1st positive test and you also give the team the option to cancel a player’s contract, figuring that player signed the contract under false pretenses… The players union will never want to agree to this because players contracts are essentially what keeps them in business… The players must remember though, it is the PLAYERS union and ultimately their opinions and voices are what run the entire operation… 2nd offense, lifetime ban… Players must also continue to chastise cheaters, making them feel embarrassed and ashamed for their actions… This is now an opportunity for current big leaguers to stand up for all the clean players, active and former, who have been wrongfully cheated out of opportunities and jobs throughout the course of the past 30 plus years…

 

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19 Responses to Confessions Of A “Steroid Era” Career

  1. Lance says:

    Eric – great viewpoint on this. I think the very key thing you hit on is that steroids and other PEDs aren’t just about bulk – recovery and vision are two vastly overlooked factors. Even guys who aren’t home run hitters or power pitchers could theoretically benefit, and therefore as you say, there is no reason you should not question ANY player in the steroids era. Unfortunately, we are still in that era.

    Best of luck with all your future endeavors.

  2. Dan Daly says:

    Eric

    This is Dan Daly, Jennifer Daly’s Dad. I just wanted to let you know what a great article. It took guts to write this especially mentioning HOF players. Silence has been one of the biggest problems with PED’s. Except for Canseco nobody has ever spoken about. I do remember Ken Caminiti way back when saying 50% of players were on steroids. Big brother got to him quickly and he recanted his story. I still believe if Congress hadn’t gotten involved the problem would still be bigger today. I glad we are on the right track and completely agree with your suggestions of a one year for 1st timers and a lifetime ban for 2nd offense. I especially like voiding the contract. Thanks for the great work Eric. Jennifer is the one who sent me your article.

  3. Aaron AJ Toews says:

    Well said Burnsy…

  4. Kyle says:

    Great read, Eric. Anyone who’s every played the game knows just how important “seeing” the baseball is. When I’m seeing the ball well, it’s much easier to recognize pitches and lay off those that are out of the strike zone. That results in getting into more hitter’s counts – it’s great when you can sit fastball! :) There are always going to be those that cheat – whether it’s baseball or life. Those of us who don’t can always look ourselves in the mirror.

    To add to the note about steroids bringing people back to baseball in the late 90s. It wasn’t “baseball” that people came back to… it was “MLB” – 2 different things – I wish more people would make this distinction. MLB is Baseball, but Baseball is not MLB . There is so much good clean baseball going on around the world that has nothing to do with MLB. Just look at CheckSwing.com

    And about the Hall Of Fame… the members are only sportwriters’ opinions about who belongs. If your favorite player is not in that club, does it really matter to you? Who cares!

    Also love the part about not letting baseball define you as a person. More athletes should follow this.

    Thanks for sharing your point of view!

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  6. Flavor says:

    my only pause with giving teams an opportunity to cancel a contract is the darker side of a team that wants to cancel a contract because they made a mistake with a big long term deal and they end up influencing a test with a dirty result to get out of the contract. Not sure how this would happen but the way players are tested right now, it looks like there are many *gaps* in security with the samples—the one thing taken away from the Braun thing from 2 years ago is that if a fed Ex guy is allowed to take a sample back to his house and stick it in his basement for a weekend, there ARE many opportunities to alter or mess with the sample. Who knows where else the gaps are?
    The easy way to handle this, of course, is to hand over the testing to the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA). I still don’t know why this hasn’t already happened……
    And in conclusion…….
    #retire22

  7. Pingback: Eric Byrnes and his Say on Hall of Famers using Steroid

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  9. bgoody says:

    I’ve always felt badly for the clean players who were left on the outside of the roster/starter/star bubbles.

  10. Greg says:

    First three names that came to mind were Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, and George Brett.

  11. Dr Len Vinci says:

    Great article, Eric! It really pleases me to see you engaging some of these issues. Wish you would do something similar regarding MLB’s use of “Spit Tobacco”. You are probably saying, “there goes Len again!”…….but think about it……..spit tobacco is a Carcinogen….cancer producing, and yet no one seems to care too much about the kids that look up to their heroes and try to emulate them. I have written letters to MLB, The AZ Diamondbacks, The AZ Republic about this problem, and the only one person that wrote a very nice note back to me was Joe Gargiola. What a super guy he is, and probably the only person that has tried so hard for many years to curb the use of spit tobacco.
    Keep up the great job you are doing , Eric!

  12. Kim says:

    So, give teams the right to cancel contracts, huh? Because teams never sign juicers, knowing they are juicers, right? Oh, wait. They do. Alex Rodriguez, a known juicer, was signed to a big contract by the Yankees. The Arizona Diamondbacks currently are using a relief pitcher who failed drug tests and is facing a 50-game suspension for amphetamines the minute he has a major league deal. They get around it by keeping him on a minor league deal, even though he has pitched for them quite often in the majors this season. Do we honestly believe these are the only two teams who will bring known drug users into their organizations, using any way around it possible? And they’re to be rewarded by not having to pay out the contract if the player turns up dirty later–even though they knew he was a drug user? Wow.

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  15. Brad ledwith says:

    I like your viewpoint but I’m unsure as to why you chose not to name names in your article? Ken Caminitti and Jose Canseco were made to look like bafoons when they first came out with names of offenders. Nick Hundley of the Padres was chastised by the media for making a comment about his teammate being suspended. Lastly, the PGA Tour has a problem with PEDs as well. It’s a little known secret that these guys are taking aderall to help them focus. MLB says that 12% of major leaguers take it.

  16. It’s actually a very helpful bit of info. I’m just delighted that you simply shared this handy information with us. You should remain you current similar to this. Thank you sharing.

  17. Raul Marrero says:

    Hi Eric, I’m Licey’s fan in Dominican Republic, muy best regards to you. We always remember you.

  18. Billy Murray says:

    Steroids are really bad

  19. Goats Tomato says:

    I dont like it when people do steroids. Thanks Eric, great article, you were my favorite player. Go Goats.

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