An open letter to Bud Selig

Published in the April 2004 issue of BioMechanics

By Jordana Bieze

Dear commissioner,

I know you don't want to talk about steroids right now, and I can't say I blame you. You thought your biggest headache going into spring training was the grief you knew you would get over the A-Rod deal. Instead, the federal investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative has fans and media types all over the country talking about nothing except steroids and other performance-enhancing substances, which major leaguers might have taken them, and what Major League Baseball is going to do about it. That really has to put a damper on your spring.

It's true that no players were targeted in the BALCO investigation. And it's possible that, as you've promised the players' association, all league steroid testing results will remain anonymous. But let's face it: this isn't going to go away.

Luckily for you, I have an idea that will allow you to take control of the situation and make a contribution to medical science at the same time.

Establish a policy whereby players are publicly punished the second time they fail a steroids test. This would be much tougher than the current five-strikes-and-you're-out policy, which would make the public happy, but it would still be more lenient than the National Football League's one-strike policy, which would make the players union happy.

The most important part of this proposed new policy, however, is that it will require first-time offenders to submit to biomechanical and physiological tests, so that researchers can finally determine the effect of steroids on an elite athlete's performance. Because really, that's what all the furor is about.

Fans don't care whether taking steroids gives an athlete a bigger head or a more violent personality or makes him more likely to die of cancer at a young age. Fans care whether taking steroids gives a player the ability to hit 73 home runs in a season.

And right now, we don't know. Most of the steroid research to date has involved chronically ill patients, not elite athletes. We know that steroids have the ability to enhance muscle development, but we don't know to what extent. We don't know what the effects of steroid-enhanced strength training might be on proprioception, balance, or reflexes-all factors as critical to hitting a baseball as the size of one's muscles.

To really answer these questions, a medical researcher would want to recruit a group of physically similar professional baseball players, randomize half of them to receive steroids for several weeks or months, and compare the performances of the two groups. We all know that would be unethical. But it wouldn't be unethical to study players who had been taking steroids on their own. It could be done anonymously. And it just might answer some key questions.

For you, Bud, it's a win-win situation. Just implementing this plan makes it look like you're taking action. And if the study proves that steroids give a player an unfair advantage, then you'll have leverage with the players association. If not, it will become a nonissue, and fans will go back to complaining about how unfair it is that the Yankees got A-Rod.

Just think how nice that would be. Copyright 2008 Jordana Foster – 24 Kirkland Dr, Stow, MA – Email: – Fax: (815) 346-5239