The Steroids Era
"The steroids era" refers to a period of time in Major League Baseball when a number of players were believed to have used performance-enhancing drugs, resulting in increased offensive output throughout the game. Unlike other MLB "eras," there is no defined start or end time to "the steroids era," though it is generally considered to have run from the late '80s through the late 2000s.
Though steroids have been banned in MLB since 1991, the league did not implement leaguewide PED testing until 2003. The lack of testing meant it was unlikely players using PEDs would get caught. After years of allegations, a federal investigation into The Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) -- which provided supplements to several prominent major leaguers -- and later Jose Canseco's autobiography "Juiced" revealed how widespread PED use had become in baseball.
During the 1990s, Major League Baseball experienced an increase in offensive output that resulted in some unprecedented home run totals for the power hitters of the decade. While just three players reached the 50-home run mark in any season between 1961 and 1994, many sluggers would start to surpass that number in the mid-90s.
In 1996, Mark McGwire of the Oakland Athletics led the majors with 52 home runs despite missing part of the season. In 1997, both McGwire and the Seattle Mariners' Ken Griffey Jr. threatened the individual record of 61 -- set by Roger Maris in 1961 -- before ending the season with 58 and 56 home runs, respectively.
Midway through the 1997 season, McGwire was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. The move set the stage for a memorable season when he and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs battled for the National League home run title, during a year in which 13 different major leaguers hit at least 40 home runs.
Late in the season, it seemed inevitable that both Sosa and McGwire would break Maris' 37-year-old record, and it was just a matter of who would get there first. In a series in early September against Sosa and the Cubs, McGwire hit his 61st and 62nd home runs of the season to surpass Maris' number. By the final week of the season, Sosa had battled back to draw even with McGwire at 65 home runs. McGwire went on to finish with five home runs in his team's final series to reach 70 for the season. Sosa finished second in the NL in home runs with 66, 26 more than his previous season high. He was named National League MVP.
The home run onslaught captured the attention of the country and helped to reclaim popularity for the league four years after a strike had shortened the 1994 season. In 1998, McGwire and Sosa shared the "Sportsman of the Year" honor from Sports Illustrated.
During the 1998 home run chase, McGwire had admitted to using androstenedione, a substance that was banned by the National Football League and the NCAA. Androstenedione was not illegal at that time in Major League Baseball, however, which had yet to institute a testing program for many substances.
McGwire's record stood for only three years, as Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants hit 73 home runs to top the majors in 2001. Bonds notched 73 homers despite failing to reach the 50-home run plateau in any prior season. He also hit his 500th career home run that season, and reached the 600 HR mark just a season later.
The home run heroics of the 1998 and 2001 seasons were called into question as McGwire, Sosa and Bonds were among a group of major leaguers linked to the use of PEDs in the following years.
The 500 home run club remains one of baseball's most prestigious groups, though the increased offensive totals of the 1990s and 2000s have taken some luster off membership. In 1996, Eddie Murray became the 15th member of the 500 home run club, and the first since Mike Schmidt in 1987. But it wouldn't be long until Murray had company. Between 1998 and 2009, 10 more players reached 500 career home runs, easily the largest increase in membership in baseball history. Of the 10 players, six -- Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, Manny Ramirez, Rafael Palmeiro and Gary Sheffield -- have been linked to PEDs.
In 2003, federal agents targeted The Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), a nutritional supplement firm in Burlingame, Calif., suspected of distributing undetectable steroids to athletes. The case was turned over to a grand jury, which subpoenaed Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and dozens of other alleged BALCO customers. Bonds testified that he took substances described to him as linseed oil and rubbing balm by his personal trainer, Greg Anderson, who was among the individuals indicted in the case.
In his grand jury testimony, Giambi admitted using steroids and human growth hormone (HGH) provided by BALCO during the 2002 and 2003 seasons. But since neither Giambi nor Bonds had tested positive by the league -- and since the players' testimonies were not reported publicly until a year or more after their grand jury appearances -- no punitive action was taken by Major League Baseball.
While none of the players were charged with using PEDs, the BALCO case was one factor in spurring baseball to toughen its stance and institute a drug-testing program.
In 2007, Bonds was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice relating to his statements to the grand jury. He would plead not guilty on five counts, and appeals related to the case delayed the start of the trial until 2011. During the course of the trial, one of the counts was dropped. However, four still went to jury deliberations. The jury was deadlocked on three of the counts, but found Bonds guilty of obstruction of justice. He was sentenced to 30 days house arrest, two years probation and 250 hours community service. The sentence has been stayed pending appeal.
The Mitchell Commission
In March 2006, MLB commissioner Bud Selig asked U.S. Sen. George Mitchell to head a panel to investigate steroids use by major league players. The league announcement indicated the investigation would focus on the period beginning with 2002 (when the collective bargaining agreement was signed), but that Mitchell -- who also served as a director of the Boston Red Sox -- would be free to explore anything or any time that was relevant to understanding the problem of steroids in baseball.
During the next 20 months, Mitchell's team interviewed hundreds of people. But only two active players freely cooperated with the Mitchell investigation -- Frank Thomas of the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Yankees' Jason Giambi, who was told that he would face disciplinary action from MLB if he did not cooperate.
Mitchell warned league owners that a lack of cooperation with his investigation would increase the chances of government involvement in the matter. But Donald Fehr, head of the players' union (MLBPA), believed the investigation raised issues of privacy rights for players. He left it up to individuals whether to talk with the investigators, and most refused to cooperate.
In December 2007, Mitchell released a lengthy report that linked 89 major leaguers -- including Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Ken Caminiti, Jason Giambi, Juan Gonzalez, Mo Vaughn and Miguel Tejada -- with the use of illegal, performance-enhancing drugs. He concluded that the use of these illegal substances posed a serious threat to the integrity of the game and made 20 recommendations to strengthen the MLB drug policy, including an independent overseer, greater education and increased testing.
Though his report was inhibited by limited cooperation and the absence of subpoena power, Mitchell claimed that there was a "collective failure" to recognize the problem early on and criticized both the commissioner's office and the players' union for knowingly tolerating PEDs. The report's findings were based on testimony from former players, league and club representatives and other informants, along with more than 100,000 pages of seized documents.
Mitchell recommended that rather than disciplining the players listed in the report, the league should set up a stronger testing program. Selig praised Mitchell's work, yet noted that he would review each player's case and could be inclined to discipline them.
Selig added that he intended to implement as many of Mitchell's recommendations as possible that did not need to be collectively bargained with the players' union. Fehr maintained that the investigation was not a fair one, but he did report that the union would be willing to explore the possibility of adjusting testing procedures before the agreement expired in 2011.
2003 Survey Testing
While steroids had been part of baseball's banned substance list since 1991, testing for major league players did not begin until 2003, when MLB conducted surveys to help gauge the extent of performance-enhancing drug (PED) use in the game.
The agreement with the league players' union (MLBPA) called for one random test per player per year, with no punishments that first year. If more than 5 percent of players tested positive in 2003, tougher testing would be implemented with penalties ranging from counseling for a first offense, to a max one-year suspension for a fifth violation. If less than 2.5 percent of players tested positive in two consecutive years, testing would be dropped.
In November 2003, the league revealed that 5 to 7 percent of 1,438 tests returned positive results. The tests began during spring training and were conducted anonymously on members of each club's 40-man roster. Subsequently, 240 of the same players were tested again without notice at some point during the 2003 regular season.
With the results announced, MLB commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement that he was pleased to learn that there was not widespread steroids use in baseball. He did add, however, that since the 5 percent threshold had been reached, mandatory testing for steroids use would begin in the spring of 2004.
All major league players would be subject to two tests (without prior notice) during the 2004 season -- an initial test, and a follow-up test five to seven days later.
The drug testing program was administered by a Health Policy and Advisory Committee that included representatives for both the players' association and MLB. Under terms of the drug policy in the 2002 collective bargaining agreement, all anabolic steroids deemed illegal by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration were subject to testing.
According to MLB's policy, any player testing positive would immediately enter a "clinical track" to be treated for steroids use. If a player under treatment then failed another test, was convicted or pled guilty to the sale and or use of a prohibited substance, that player would immediately be moved to the "administrative track" and be subject to discipline.
Depending upon the repeated use of the drug, any player failing to comply to the treatment program could then be suspended from an initial 15 days with a $10,000 fine, to a one year with a $100,000 fine.
After a U.S. Senate committee in 2004 advised Selig that his policy on drugs and steroids was not strong enough, the league and its players' union announced a new policy in January 2005.
The new drug-testing agreement called for year-round testing of banned substances, and suspensions ranging from 10 days for a first offense to the commissioner's discretion for a fifth offense.
According to the changes, a player who tested positive for the first time would be suspended for 10 days and his name would be released to the public. A 30-day suspension without pay would be handed out for a second positive test, with 60 days given for a third offense and a one-year suspension for the fourth.
Alex Sanchez of Tampa Bay was the first player suspended for steroids under the new testing program. In all, 12 major leaguers were suspended in 2005, with each receiving 10-game suspensions.
Early in the 2005 season, Selig proposed even stricter changes to the policy, and in November of that year MLB and the MLBPA agreed on a 50-game ban for a first offense, 100 games for a second offense and a lifetime ban for a player testing positive a third time.
Following recommendations made by U.S. Sen. George Mitchell in his investigative report examining steroids use in Major League Baseball, the league and its players' union again fortified the testing policy in 2008.
Modifications to the league's Joint Drug Agreement included a disbanding of the advisory committee (made up of management and union representatives) that administered the program. It was replaced by an Independent Program Administrator (IPA) responsible for publicly reporting key statistics related to the program and required to maintain records for longer periods than were defined for previous administrators.
The new policy, expected to be in place through 2011, expanded the list of banned substances, added 600 tests per year (bringing the total number to 3,600), and increased the number of offseason tests that could be conducted per year (up to 375). Testing was also expanded to include the top 200 prospects in the amateur draft. Any prospects who tested positive would remain draft eligible, but teams would be notified of those results.
In the new agreement the league vowed to help educate youths and families about the dangers of performance-enhancing substances. The players' union agreed to join in that effort and contribute $200,000 to an antidrug charitable, educational or research organization. In exchange for those provisions, the league agreed not to discipline players implicated by Mitchell's investigation.
The MLB and MLBPA also agreed to keep players' names private until discipline could be imposed and agreed to apprise players of any allegations and evidence against him before any investigatory interview.
2005 Congressional Hearing
Jose Canseco, a teammate of Mark McGwire on two Oakland A's teams that won the World Series, helped shed more light on the issue of steroids in baseball when his book -- "Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big" -- was published in February 2005.
In the autobiography, Canseco admitted experimenting with steroids and other drugs to build muscle and improve his power throughout a major league career in which he won Rookie of the Year and league MVP honors. Canseco also claimed to know a number of major leaguers who had used steroids and other PEDs to enhance their game.
A month after the book's release, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform scheduled hearings on steroids use in Major League Baseball, inviting Canseco and a number of players mentioned in the book, along with other active players, to testify. Upon hearing from MLB that Bud Selig and six of seven players invited would not appear, the committee issued subpoenas to 11 individuals, including Selig, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, Curt Schilling, Frank Thomas, Rafael Palmeiro, and players' union chief Donald Fehr.
Thomas made a statement by videoconference during the hearing, while the other players appeared in person to address the committee and face questioning. While Sosa, Thomas and Palmeiro testified under oath that they had never used illegal performance-enhancing drugs, the retired McGwire told the committee that he could not answer any questions about his past, including those related to his alleged involvement with PEDs.
He and former teammate Canseco told the committee in their separate opening statements that their attorneys had advised them not to comment on alleged steroids use. But Canseco went on to answer every question directed at him, noting beforehand that being denied immunity would compromise his answers.
Although other players said they didn't see widespread steroids use in the game, Canseco reported that he did. He also claimed that baseball had turned its back on steroids problems because the resulting power increase helped the sport recover from the work stoppage that cut off the 1994 season.
While Selig stated his belief that the game didn't have a major steroids problem, lawmakers on the committee did not agree with league leadership's past policies on drug testing. Henry Waxman, the top-ranking Democrat on the committee, ended the hearings by telling Selig and Fehr that the league should consider scrapping the program to reassess its influence. He also threatened federal legislation to govern drug testing in baseball.
The hearings did have an affect on the league's policy, as Selig later proposed stricter rules regarding use of illegal substances. And in late 2005 the league and players' union agreed on harsher penalties for offenders.
2008 Congressional Hearing
The Mitchell report included New York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens on its list of major leaguers linked to the potential use of illegal, performance-enhancing drugs. Mitchell's investigation had based some results on statements by Clemens' former trainer, Brian McNamee, who claimed that he had previously injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone (HGH).
Just days after the report was released in December 2007, Clemens -- a multiple Cy Young Award winner -- issued a categorical denial of personal steroids use in a statement through his agent. The following month, Clemens filed a defamation lawsuit against McNamee (which was later dismissed by a federal judge).
Both Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee were invited to appear in February 2008 before a House Oversight Committee. The Committee also invited or sought depositions from Clemens' teammates Andy Pettitte and Chuck Knoblauch, and former N.Y. Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski, who made allegations also noted in the Mitchell report.
Early in the congressional hearing, lawmakers read Clemens a sworn statement by Andy Pettitte that Clemens had told him in 1999 or 2000 that he had used HGH. Responding that Pettitte must have "misremembered" the conversation that occurred years earlier, Clemens went on to testify under oath that he had not used steroids or PEDs during his career.
Throughout the hearing, Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee contradicted each other about whether the pitcher had used any PEDs. McNamee said he injected Clemens more than a dozen times with steroids and HGH between 1998 and 2001, while Clemens said the injections were painkillers.
Committee members questioned the truthfulness of both Clemens and McNamee during the hearing. In the following weeks, Congress requested that the Department of Justice investigate whether or not Clemens lied under oath when he denied using PEDs.
A grand jury convened the following year to hear witness testimony and review evidence on the matter. In August 2010, Clemens was indicted by the grand jury on six counts relating to his deposition to the House Oversight Committee and statements he made during the hearings in February 2008 -- one for obstruction of justice, three for making false statements and two for perjury. Clemens pled not guilty to the charges, and his trial began in July of 2011. However, a mistrial was declared just days into the trial, after prosecutors showed video that was previously ruled to be inadmissable.
Clemens was re-tried in 2012, and was found not guilty on all six counts.
In February 2009, Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees admitted he used steroids from 2001 to 2003 while playing for the Texas Rangers.
His disclosure came days after a Sports Illustrated article reported that he was on a list of 104 players who tested positive for banned substances in 2003, when players were not subject to suspension.
Rodriguez cited an enormous amount of pressure to perform after signing a huge contract with Texas as a major reason to turn to PEDs. He said he was "naive" and "stupid" in making the decision during a time when "baseball was a different culture."
Rodriguez averaged 52 home runs and a .615 slugging percentage during the 2001 and 2003 seasons, numbers which were markedly higher than his average offensive output in his other seasons in the league. He was also named the American League's Most Valuable Player in 2003.
Through August 2010, 27 major league players have received suspensions for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
Among the highest-profile players disciplined was Manny Ramirez of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who was suspended for 50 games under the league's revised drug policy in May 2009. Ramirez's suspension was for using human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) after high levels of testosterone were detected during a spring training drug test.
In a statement released by the players' union following the announcement of the suspension, Ramirez said the substance was medication for a personal health issue. Ramirez's agent, Scott Boras, added that the player did not test positive for steroids, but for a drug that was prescribed by a doctor for a medical condition.(HCG is a fertility drug, but it has also been used by athletes between cycles of steroids and has been banned by MLB since 2008.)
In accordance with league policy, Ramirez received a 50-game ban, costing the 36-year-old $7.7 million of his $25 million salary that season. The power-hitting outfielder returned to the Dodgers' lineup in July of 2009.
That same month, The New York Times was among the first publications to report that Ramirez was among the major leaguers who tested positive during the league's 2003 survey testing period.
In 2011, MLB notified Ramirez of an issue under the drug program, and rather than face a 100-game suspension -- which would have been the first of its kind in the majors -- Ramirez chose to retire. He returned in 2012, signing with the Oakland Athletics and serving a reduced 50-game suspension, but was not called up from the minor leagues prior to his release.
Hall of Fame Voting
As players who played during the steroids era retire and become eligible for the Hall of Fame, players linked to steroid use have often fallen short of election. Mark McGwire, who admitted to performance-enhancing drug use, failed to earn even 25 percent of the vote during his first four years on the ballot, and his support fell below 20 percent in the 2011 voting, the first held after his admission. Rafael Palmeiro, who failed a drug test in 2005 after famously denying steroid use in front of Congress, received just over 11 percent of the vote in 2011.
MLB DRUG PROGRAM SUSPENSIONS
|2012||Bartolo Colon||Athletics||50 games|
|2012||Melky Cabrera||Giants||50 games|
|2012||Freddy Galvis||Phillies||50 games|
|2012||Guillermo Mota||Giants||100 games|
|2011||Manny Ramirez||Rays||100 games*|
|2010||Ronny Paulino||Marlins||50 games|
|2010||Edinson Volquez||Reds||50 games|
|2009||Manny Ramirez||Dodgers||50 games|
|2009||Kelvin Pichardo||Giants||50 games|
|2009||Sergio Mitre||Yankees||50 games|
|2009||J.C. Romero||Phillies||50 games|
|2008||Henry Owens||Marlins||50 games|
|2007||Dan Serafini||Rockies||50 games|
|2007||Mike Cameron||Padres||25 games|
|2007||Neifi Perez||Tigers||80 games|
|2007||Neifi Perez||Tigers||25 games|
|2007||Juan Salas||Devil Rays||50 games|
|2006||Guillermo Mota||Mets||50 games|
|2006||Jason Grimsley||Diamondbacks||50 games|
|2006||Yusaku Iriki||Mets||50 games|
|2005||Matt Lawton||Yankees||10 days|
|2005||Felix Heredia||Mets||10 days|
|2005||Carlos Almanzar||Rangers||10 days|
|2005||Mike Morse||Mariners||10 days|
|2005||Ryan Franklin||Mariners||10 days|
|2005||Rafael Palmeiro||Orioles||10 days|
|2005||Rafael Betancourt||Indians||10 days|
|2005||Jamal Strong||Mariners||10 days|
|2005||Agustin Montero||Rangers||10 days|
|2005||Jorge Piedra||Rockies||10 days|
|2005||Alex Sanchez||Devil Rays||10 days|
*Ramirez retired rather than serve the 100-game suspension. Upon his return to baseball in 2012, the suspension was reduced to 50 games.
MLB PLAYERS NAMED IN THE MITCHELL REPORT
The following players were cited under "Alleged Internet Purchases of Performance Enhancing Substances By Players in Major League Baseball" in the report:
The following players were linked through BALCO in the report:
The following players were connected to performance-enhancing drugs, either use or possession, in the report:
MITCHELL REPORT LINKS
• Mitchell delivers his report | Read it (pdf)
• Players: Who's named in the report
• Drugs listed in report