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Drugs and Baseball

Naveen Sunkavally

There are few feelings better than watching Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals belt out a homer with the bases juiced at a strategic point in a game. Two days ago, I had the fortunate opportunity to watch McGwire do exactly that, giving his team an 87 victory over the Atlanta Braves, the National League team with the best record.

Unfortunately, as McGwire quietly keeps belting 500 ft. homers out the park day after day, another question has surfaced: how much of McGwire's prowess is attributable to androstenedione, the drug discovered by a nosy Associated Press reporter named Steve Wilstein near McGwire's locker area? And if McGwire gets his 62nd homer and battles out Sammy Sosa for the most homers ever in a season, should McGwire's name appear with an asterisk in the record books? How do we evaluate Mark McGwire as a person for making the choice to use androstenedione?

That "andro," as it is popularly called, enhances performance is undebatable. (Otherwise, why would McGwire take it in the first place?) Though not a true steriod, andro has about the same effects on people as anabolic steroids - it increases testosterone levels and gives people extra energy. It also has negative effects: though not fully researched fully, there is also the possibility that andro, like other anabolic steroids, may cause heart damage, liver and kidney failure, increased aggression, and general atrophy.

But andro is not illegal in baseball, and that is why I believe McGwire's name should not go down in baseball's record books with an asterisk. Despite its illegality in the National Football League and on the ATP tennis tour, andro is still not illegal in baseball. All players are given the chance to use the drug and belt out as many home runs as possible, and McGwire should not be penalized for his decision to use andro.

Furthermore, it's always a tricky game to account for advances in health and medicine over periods of time. Are we going to say that athletes now have an unfair advantage over their predecessors because of their knowledge of proper diets, exercise, and nutrition that wasn't available fifty years ago? Because athletes a hundred years ago did not know the dangers in smoking and drinking, are we to say that athletes now should have asterisks next to their names because they know of risks previously unknown?

Certainly not. Because andro was not available fifty years ago, Mark McGwire should not be punished with an asterisk next to his name. It is a performance-enhancing drug, but as long as andro remains legal in baseball, andro is equivalent to other legal things that have increased athletic performance over the years, such as grater knowledge of exercise, nutrition, etc.

However, there's little question that Mark McGwire as a person takes a hit because of his use of andro. Previously, Mark McGwire was seen as something of a hero, one mighty giant who rescued baseball from the throes of financial infighting that plagued the sport. McGwire can no longer serve as a role model for Little Leaguers across the country. As talented as McGwire may be, no Little Leaguer can aspire to follow McGwire's example.

Though androstenedione is legal in baseball, one can not avoid the fact that two other major sports figures, Michelle Smith, a swimmer from Ireland, and Ben Johnson have been penalized because of similar offenses. And, now that baseball is investigating the drug, what will happen if baseball deems andro illegal after McGwire breaks the home run record?

If you ask me, it would be a lot more convenient if Sammy Sosa breaks the home run record. Sosa only uses creatine, a drug used universally used in all sports and illegal in none. Though it would be thrilling to see McGwire get the record first and pump out 500 ft. homers, for the record books and for the sake of good role models, it would be far more convenient for Sosa to get the home run record.