A quarter of the way through the 2008 baseball season power numbers are down and a lot of players are struggling.  It’s the lack of steroids and growth hormone, stupid!

Doubles are down.  Triples are down.  If you extrapolate the numbers using the 25 percent of the schedule that’s been played so far, Major League Baseball players will hit about 1000 fewer home runs this season than were hit in 2006.  By the way, chicks don’t dig small ball. If you thought the Mitchell Report would be meaningless and/or that Kirk Radomski was just a lone wolf or thought that the accusations put forth by Brian McNamee, Roger Clemens’ personal trainer, was a tempest in a teapot that had nothing to do with the product on the field, you were wrong, wrong, wrong.

So far the 2008 baseball season has shown that there’s no real need for a drug test to detect human growth hormone (HGH) use when players, personal trainers and strength coaches know that the federal government and law enforcement authorities are paying very close attention to the trafficking of these performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).  Baseball’s labor agreement doesn’t need to be re-written in order to get the players to stop using drugs, as a little vigilance on behalf of the authorities provides a lot of deterrence. Aside from looking at the big picture and the totals involved with this statistical downturn, there are some very real slumps being experienced by some very big name players. 

This season there have been more than a few veteran players with an established track record of success, who have been suddenly cut due to a sudden lack of production, guys in the early-to-mid 30s.  During the heyday of the steroid era – for the past 20 years – this was an age when many power hitters blossomed and put up huge numbers. Off the top of my head I can come up with a list of 20 players who are performing suspiciously below their usual levels of production.  And before anyone jumps up to say, “Hey the season is only 40 games old,” I’ll point out that many of these players started their slides last season.  By the way, Kirk Radomski – who also fancied himself a personal trainer – was busted prior to the 2006 season, so the supply of PEDs was compromised well before the Mitchell Report was released.

During this year’s spring training we really didn’t see that many stories telling us about how so-and-so put on 20 pounds of muscle thanks to their personal trainer, and there wasn’t a lot of bragging about crazy workouts designed by hardcore personal trainers, either.  This scam was run on an unsuspecting baseball public for the better part of 2 decades before people started to catch on that it was the drugs, not the workouts that were creating baseball players that looked like football players. Which brings us to falling production and lack of effectiveness. Does anyone really wonder why Eric Gagne has been pulled as the Brewers’ closer? 

Being that he was caught with his hand in the PED cookie jar, anyone who assigns his failures this season to anything other than his inability to use growth hormone or steroids is a toy short of a Happy Meal.  But steroid and HGH use – actually the lack thereof – needs to at least be considered in response to the lack of production from a whole list of guys. In light of what we’ve learned about PED use by elite athletes, and considering that many of these substances are/were undetectable, the lack of failed drug tests should not prevent us from discussions that certain guys may have complied big numbers while on drugs, and are now struggling while off them. 

The slow starts – that’s being kind – experienced by Ryan Howard, Carlos Delgado, Jim Thome, Andruw Jones, Travis Hafner, David Ortiz and others cannot just be explained away as slumps due to illness, injury or starting the season in Japan– not in this day and age.  Struggling pitchers like Barry Zito, Jason Isringhausen, Matt Morris (cut already) and Joe Borowski should undergo the same scrutiny.  And there are a bunch of other pitchers who have lost velocity and as a result have become very hittable that fall into this same category.  And this discussion doesn’t deal with the high injury rate being experienced this year, which also can be attributed to a lack of PED use.

I’m not pointing an accusatory finger and saying that all or any of these players used PEDs in the past.  But I am saying that based on what we know about this issue that there is the possibility that these players did, based on their performances in a season immediately after the crackdown on PED use and in an era where the major suppliers of these drugs have been taken out of circulation. You see, this suspicion is the price that the players – all players – will have to pay as a result of letting their sport spiral downward into a state of muscle-building drug dependency.

Every slump, every bad season, injury and roster move will now be scrutinized through the prism of drug use, and if the season continues to be this exercise in reduced production and “.500” baseball (only 2 teams are playing at or above .600) the 2008 season will show everyone what baseball is like when the players are off the juice.


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