Point Counterpoint: Should the MLB legalize PEDs?

Zach (left) is anti-drugs. Owen (right) is pro-drugs. Illustration by Van Nguyen, The Daily Campus.

Note: Our writers have limited the definition of performance enhancing drugs to any substance that is ingested and/or introduced to the body that has some effect on the physical or mental state of a player and is deemed illegal by the MLB. For this reason, substances which aim to enhance grip, such as Spider Tack or pine tar, will not be discussed in their debate on the legalization of PEDs.   

Zach: It is simple — PED legalization destroys the inherent historical nature of baseball. While the other big four sports have their history, baseball is unique in its storied nature. Franchises play in ballparks that are not just arenas of play, but are historical monuments unto themselves. When you visit Fenway or Wrigley, the history is tangible. Baseball has been chronicled for two and a half centuries, with box scores enabling statistics to live well beyond the lifetimes of those who earned them. While inequality exists in these record books — due to differences in playstyle, equipment and rules in respective eras — baseball has traversed into a more equal era in the 21st century. 

When PEDs were virtually unregulated in the 1990s and early 2000s, countless players’ careers were impacted by the performance gap. Take Todd Helton, the Colorado Rockies’ stalwart first baseman of the early 21st century. Helton was an incredible player, having an OPS of 1.060 from 1999-2007. His best year was 2000, when he hit .372 with 49 HRs with an NL-leading OPS of 1.162. He placed fifth in MVP voting that year, finishing below known PED-users Barry Bonds and Mike Piazza. Helton backed up this performance in 2001 with an OPS of 1.116. He finished 9th in MVP voting, behind five alleged PED-users (Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Luis Gonzalez, Shawn Green and Jeff Bagwell). The lack of an MVP on his resume has prevented Helton from earning a spot in Cooperstown thus far, and that can be directly attributed to the inequality brought by PED usage. 

We will never know how great of a hitter Helton could have been had he used PEDs, and we will never know what he would have accomplished in a clean league. If we allow our present players to performance-enhance freely, the past will be affected as much as the present. No longer will the record books be worshipped, no longer will the halls of Cooperstown be hallowed; we will enter an era that is forgotten. We saw it during Aaron Judge’s chase of Roger Maris’ homerun record this year, the MLB has had a vested interest in suppressing the records set during the steroid era. The Commissioner’s office, as well as the Hall of Fame has shown that they want that time of rampant PED-usage to be forgotten. If PEDs are sanctioned, today’s players will be forgotten just the same. 

Owen: PEDs are not what they used to be. Names such as Bonds, McGwire and Canseco stand out as glaring examples of the MLBs golden age: the steroid era. Yet, I’d argue that more significant recent suspensions represent a different kind of player. Recent examples such as Fernando Tatis prove that players now value quicker recovery times which, in turn, allows them to play more games over sheer mass. The last player to be suspended for Clostebol – the drug Tatis claimed to have no knowledge of consuming – was Dee Gordon, an equally lean middle-infielder who is anything but a power hitter. Other recent examples such as Michael Pineda and Steven Wright serve as further examples of players seeking to recover from injury rather than grow to the size of Bonds et al.  

PEDs would both restore and save the MLB. Legalizing PEDs would allow injured players like Tatis to perform and live up to multi-million dollar contracts over a longer stretch of time. Further, the MLB’s already struggling viewership issue would be resolved. Rather than instituting pitch clocks, time limits for batters stepping into the box and other controversial tactics which are largely disapproved of by old and new fans alike, allowing players to juice would allow fan favorites to play for longer and with more rigor.  

Lastly, PEDs do not make someone an MLB-caliber player. If you or I were to consume a cocktail of HGH, Clostebol and blood thinners, we would not magically transform into top-level prospects. PEDs enhance one’s play, sure; however, they do not make regular people MLB ready. Bonds is still one of the greatest hitters to grace the League, capable of consistently making solid contact against the top .1% of pitchers the world has to offer. He, and others, deserve their spots in the Hall of Fame. Not to mention, there is likely a number of players who own a plaque at Cooperstown that were doping in some form, so let’s give the greats the honor they deserve.  

Zach: In the world of competitive sports, it is strange to vie for anti-competitive behavior.  

Longevity is one of the main determinants of a player’s legacy. Take Hank Aaron and Albert Pujols — two baseball greats (without PED concerns I might add) who are immortalized on the all-time homerun list. Between the two, what were the most homeruns they hit in a single season? The answer — 49 (Pujols, 2006). That is not to say Pujols and Aaron did not have some truly incredible seasons, but the reason they stand among names like Ruth is due to their consistency and longevity. 

In a PED-laden world, that innate talent will not exist. Every player will have that sustained performance, eliminating inherent competition and hurting the historic legacy of past player’s consistency. And think of the injury-plagued players of the past, whose legacies are tarnished. Take Mickey Mantle, an all-time great whose longevity was limited by injuries sustained throughout his career. Or Grady Sizemore, who was well on his way to a historic career in the mid 2000s, before a barrage of injuries destroyed that dream. If we legalize PEDs today, the legacies of these players will become lost to the past. 

Additionally, to say PEDs will restore the game of baseball is a misguided statement. While other major sports are growing at a faster rate, the MLB is still an incredibly popular sport, with 67.5 million fans attending games this regular season. Yes, the game needs change. Pace of play needs to be quickened, celebration and bat-flipping should be endorsed, umpiring requires reform — these improvements will have a tangible impact on the game’s popularity, unlike PEDs. 

There is also a certain sanctity to the equality of baseball that we have not discussed. The ethos of this bat-and-ball sport is that “Sandlot”-esque spirit. Players just need to grab their bat and glove and take their talents to the field. Of course there is more pageantry when one is a professional player, but that ethos still remains. Baseball is a sport that can be played by anyone and everyone. Take the 2017 AL MVP race, the two finalists, José Altuve and Aaron Judge are more than a foot apart in height, yet challenged for the same trophy.  

If PEDs are legalized, this sanctity will be tarnished. Gone are the days where it takes only drive and talent to be an MLB-player, now youngsters will need pharmaceutical connections to go professional. Travel teams will have deep-rooted ties with local health clinics, as coaches will push players to start doping as early as possible. Young players who yearn to stay clean will be lost to the past, as Tony Bosch-esque figures become the new overlords of the baseball world. That is a reality that cannot come to fruition, baseball cannot devolve into a supplement-driven sport. If it does, the ethos of the game will be lost. 

Owen: Enough with romanticizing the past; the MLB – and all major sports leagues for that matter – are going through arguably their most transformative eras yet. Your argument rests upon two maxims: an inherent interest from the League in keeping players clean, and that current players will be lost to history due to increased performance of future PED-using players.  

To begin, the MLB’s so-called “vested interest” in PED-free records is a bold claim. The 1998 Sosa-McGwire home run chase was one of the craziest seasons in MLB history; millions were spent on home run balls, documentaries were made and viewership was through the roof. It’s easy to envision a world in which the MLB exponentially profits from a similar race in the future. Plus, if we are here to discuss home run records, we may also look to the 2019 “juiced ball season,” in which more home runs flew over the fence than ever before: 6,776 to be exact. Theories that the MLB was purposely juicing the balls spread rampant, and regardless of the factuality of these conspiracies, it is certain that the MLB would immensely profit from more home runs and healthier, stronger players.  

All this is without mention that many fans are ready to enter a new era of baseball. Although some newly implemented rules have received criticism such as the ones I mentioned above, the era of bat flips, showboating and flashy celebrations is upon us, and traditionalist fans need to adapt. I struggle to believe that new, young fans would be opposed to their favorite players – like Tatis – having access to substances that allow them to play more often and harder. If implemented, current players would be anything but lost to history; rather, they would be remembered by life-long fans who from a young age watched them rake and shove – or both, if you’re Ohtani.  

Lastly, your Nixonian war-on-drugs approach is severely disheartening. Substances banned by the MLB include drugs that in many ways are utilized by everyday individuals and athletes alike for medicinal needs, such as cannabis. Further, substances such as testosterone and androgens prevent any potential for trans athletes to compete in the MLB – a draconian determent at best. If the MLB were to abide by their current policies, the League would have a greater issue than the breaking of ancient records; the future of the MLB must include an inclusive approach to recruiting and the development of new talent. The legalization of PEDs in any form would allow for a wider breadth of individuals to compete in the MLB, as your orthodox view of the League prevents future progress from ever being made in matters of making baseball an equitable sport.  

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