Steroids and Kids: Trying to Answer the Unanswerable Question
It started with an innocent question, as are all questions which come out of the mouth of an 8-year-old.
Except this question cut at the heart of Major League Baseball â€“ past, present and future.
I was at Miller Park, attending a Brewers-Cardinals game with my wife and two sons. Up to the plate stepped perhaps the best hitter in the game today. At that point, my younger son leaned over to me.
â€œDad,â€ he asked, â€œdid Albert Pujols take steroids?â€
It is amazing how many thoughts can cross your mind in a second. But his question caused a flood of them, which I was able to dissect later.
First, should an 8-year-old really have to be concerned with steroids (what seems to be the catch-all word to use when talking about any performance-enhancing substance)?
At 8, shouldnâ€™t it all be about following your favorite team(s) and player(s), soaking up the game and learning the subtleties, playing Little League and emulating what youâ€™ve seen and controlling the game by playing dice games like APBA or Strat-O-Matic (OK, these days more like playing video games like MLB2K10)?
It used to be that your heroes werenâ€™t torn down until you were older. You found out that players caroused, womanized, drank and/or did drugs (in fact, I can remember the disappointment I felt when I found out Scott McGregor had used drugs).
Hereâ€™s the thing, though â€“ those above-mentioned things hurt, curtailed or just downright ended playersâ€™ careers. Â Sure, some rebounded (Dave Parker) or even made the Hall of Fame (Paul Molitor), but how many players just fell off the table due to too much partying? Likely too many to count.
On the flip side, there are the performance-enhancers, which thanks to Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, ESPN and MLB Network, among other things, my sons â€“ and a score of other kids â€“ are all too aware about. Letâ€™s not include Mark McGwire here as any pre-teen wasnâ€™t even born when a juiced-up McGwire hit 70 home runs. Heck, my kids donâ€™t even really know who McGwire is.
And these PEDs didnâ€™t curtail anyoneâ€™s career â€“ they have extended them. Forget the numbers; would Bonds really have played as long as he did without whatever batch of chemicals he allegedly took?
These players for the most part â€“ other than retired players such as Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro â€“ seem to have been given a free pass.
Andy Pettitte is still on the Yankees and expected to be a part of their postseason rotation while his teammate Alex Rodriguez continues to add to his impressive career totals. Brian Roberts remains a fan (and ownerâ€™s) favorite in Baltimore.
Heck, Manny Ramirez was suspended, remained a fan favorite and was acquired by the White Sox for a playoff push.
A general observation: National pundits seem to think that this whole steroids thing will blow over in a few years and players will make the Hall of Fame based on numbers, despite PED allegations or truths.
The feeling, I guess, is that because of all the PEDs which were used, people will have more or less gotten used to it or accepted it, and these players will be given a free pass.
Iâ€™m not so sure. When the whole A-Rod thing originally came out â€“ and this is an extremely small sample size â€“ a couple of kids at my sonsâ€™ hitting camp were talking about Rodriguez and how they had lost respect for him, thought he was cheating and they didnâ€™t like him any more.
Wasnâ€™t this sort of cynicism supposed to happen later in life? I can only imagine how these kids will feel once they are older. If they have a negative attitude towards the PED users now, why would it suddenly turn positive or apathetic, when, generally speaking, the hero worship comes to an end, or at least lessened?
Iâ€™ve now realized, steroids have changed the way kids think â€“ hopefully in a good way, but then again â€¦
â€œDad, did Albert Pujols take steroids?â€
That kind of question, at least for the foreseeable future, will continued to be asked.
How does one answer it? â€œNo, at least as far as we know.â€
Because really, will we ever know the full truth? For someone who loves baseball and its rich history, that might be the saddest thing of all.
Heller, an Orioles fan, is the author of As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns and has been contributing to Seamheads since June 2009, writing mostly about the Browns. Heâ€™s had numerous newspaper jobs, working as a writer, editor, or web producer for the Cincinnati Post, Bengal Report Magazine, Cincinnati Enquirer, Sportsline.com, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. His work has also appeared in the Washington Post, Philadelphia Daily News, and Detroit Free-Press.