The History of Steroids in Baseball

With the Hall of Fame voting set to be released next week and such alleged steroids cheats as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa on the ballot for the first time, it is a good time to take a look at the history of steroids and PEDs in baseball; more pointedly, when they became against the rules, and whether such players should be banned from the Hall.

steroidsIn 1991, then-commissioner Fay Vincent issued a landmark memo to team owners, outlining the league’s rules regarding illegal drugs. It did not specifically target steroids as Vincent did not consider them to be a widespread problem in baseball.

Vincent wrote:

There is no place for illegal drugs in baseball. Their use by players and others in baseball can neither be condoned nor tolerated. Baseball players and personnel cannot be permitted to give even the slightest suggestion that illegal drug use is either acceptable or safe. It is the responsibility of all baseball players and personnel to see to it that the use of illegal drugs does not occur, and if it does, to put a stop to it.

The provisions included:

The possession, sale, or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance by major league players and personnel is strictly prohibited… This prohibition applies to all illegal drugs and controlled substances, including steroids or prescription drugs for which the individual in possession of the drug does not have a prescription.

Now, you could make the argument that steroids became against MLB rules right then and there, and that anyone caught using steroids afterwards was in violation of the rules. However, the line “does not have a prescription” is a possible loophole. How difficult would it have been for a player to get a prescription from a doctor for steroids back then? Probably not very hard at all, thus the player would not have broken any rules.

The memo still seems to basically outlaw steroids. However, on MLB’s own website, a timeline of the league’s drug policy said that in 1998, “Using steroids, precursors or performance-enhancing drugs is not illegal at that point in Major League Baseball.” So obviously the league did not consider Vincent’s memo to be a ban on PEDs, so anyone using them was not violating any rules.

In 2003, under the new collective bargaining agreement, MLB conducted “survey testing” of players for PEDs. This was the test that was supposed to be anonymous that would trigger widespread testing if 5% came back positive. Well, 5%-7% were positive for steroids, so drug testing became mandatory starting in 2004. It was at this point that PEDs became truly against the rules of baseball. Anyone who tested positive would be deemed an official steroids user, with all of the punishment and shame that went along with it.

So what does this all mean? Well, it means that anyone who used steroids before 2004 was not breaking any of the rules of baseball, and in my opinion is not deserving of any punishment, including omission from the Hall of Fame.

Even though he admitted to PED use, Mark McGwire retired after the 2001 season and thus could not have broken any rules.

Bonds, Clemens and Sosa all played in 2004 and beyond. Whatever they did before that was within baseball’s rules, and they were subject to testing afterwards and they did not fail those tests. They may have been using HGH, for which baseball did not test, but without proof, it is not fair to punish them.

MLB, the Hall of Fame and the baseball writers should get together and come up with a policy regarding these players. I think that policy should be that players who violated baseball’s PED rules should be banned from the Hall of Fame. The requirement should be a failed drug test. And since baseball did not test before 2004 (the 2003 testing should not count because it was supposed to be anonymous), anyone who used steroids before 2004 should not be punished. Right now Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez are the only Hall-worthy players who have tested positive and should be banned.

It’s not that I’m condoning steroid use. It’s just that players were operating under baseball’s own rules. The league knew PED use was rampant and could have put a stop to it but it chose to do nothing because all of those long home runs meant big money for the owners. The players took the lead from their bosses and acted accordingly. Now you want to punish them? That’s not fair at all.


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