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The Steroids Morality Play

- Abstract

On May 7, Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games for using a banned substance linked to illegal drugs. Long considered one of the greatest right-handed batters in baseball, Ramirez was the first major star to be caught since Major League Baseball’s more stringent policies were imposed earlier in the decade. This was yet another blow to a sport that was still reeling from revelations earlier in the year about Alex Rodriguez, the perennial All-Star third-baseman of the New York Yankees. When Rodriguez admitted that he had used so-called performance-enhancing drugs, following the revelation that he had failed a 2003 test, it was one more opportunity to bemoan baseball’s loss of innocence.

The opprobrium to which those who have been implicated in this scandal have been subjected is entirely deserved. However, there is a difference between a player’s intent to cheat and the success of his methods in pursuit of that goal. Baseball players who utilized artificial substances in an effort to improve their results on the field certainly intended to break the game’s rules and obtain an advantage beyond that which biology had granted them. But they almost certainly did not succeed to any great extent. These artificial substances have indeed become known as “performance-enhancing drugs,” or “PEDs,” but this is a misnomer. As applied to baseball, they seem at best to be VMPEDs, or “Very Mildly Performance-Enhancing Drugs,” and therein lies the complexity of interpreting baseball’s steroids era: the dishonesty of the players, their sin of omission, was almost certainly greater than the sin of taking the drugs themselves.

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