When Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were decisively locked out of the Hall of Fame this year, many an outside pundit jeered the baseball writers who were responsible, saying that they were accessories to Baseball’s underground drug culture in the first place.
I doubted that narrative since the writers seemed to be just as blown away as everyone else when the bomb went off and the sport’s innocence was lost forever. But I found this Sports Illustrated article from 1969 that should have blown the lid right off all sports’ covert PED use and initiated outrage from media, decision-makers and fans from that point on; though that obviously wasn’t the case.
The article by Bil Gillbert quickly proceeds into the drug use of the three pitchers made all the more famous in the previous year’s World Series: Micky Lolich and Denny McLain of the Tigers and our very own Bob Gibson.
“A few pills—I take all kinds—and the pain’s gone,” says Dennis McLain of the Detroit Tigers. McLain also takes shots, or at least took a shot of cortisone and Xylocaine (anti-inflammant and painkiller) in his throwing shoulder prior to the sixth game of the 1968 World Series—the only game he won in three tries. In the same Series, which at times seemed to be a matchup between Detroit and St. Louis druggists, Cardinal Bob Gibson was gobbling muscle-relaxing pills, trying chemically to keep his arm loose. The Tigers’ Series hero, Mickey Lolich, was on antibiotics.”
Proceeded thereafter is a testimonial from IC Middleman, the Cardinals’ team surgeon before his death in September of the ’68 season.
“We occasionally use Dexamyl and Dexedrine [amphetamines]…. We also use barbiturates, Seconal, Tuinal, Nembutal…. We also use some anti-depressants, Triavil, Tofranil, Valium…. But I don’t think the use of drugs is as prevalent in the Midwest as it is on the East and West coasts.”
These, while performance-enhancing, are not unlike to the other “light” PEDs we hear about all the time from this era, namely greenies and numbing agents. And while no baseball players were connected to anabolic steroids–the hard stuff–in Gillbert’s piece, its pervasiveness in sports during that time is well chronicled.
“‘Are anabolic steroids [a male hormone derivative that supposedly makes users bigger and stronger than they could otherwise be] widely used by Olympic weight men?’ rhetorically asks Dave Maggard, who finished fifth in the shotput at Mexico and is now the University of California track coach. ‘Let me put it this way. If they had come into the village the day before competition and said we have just found a new test that will catch anyone who has used steroids, you would have had an awful lot of people dropping out of events because of instant muscle pulls.’”
So too are medical professionals’ casual approach to PEDS and the eventual necessity for an athlete to take steroids just to keep up with the pack…
“Dr. H. Kay Dooley, director of the Wood Memorial Clinic in Pomona, Calif., is well known among athletes as one of the few physicians who openly endorse use of anabolic steroids. “I don’t think it is possible for a weight man to compete internationally without using anabolic steroids,” says Dr Dooley. “All the weight men on the Olympic team had to take steroids. Otherwise they would not have been in the running” Dr. Dooley was one of the physicians in charge of medical services at South Lake Tahoe, the 1968 U.S. Olympic high-altitude training camp. “I did not give steroids at Tahoe,” says the California physician, “but I also did not inquire what the boys were doing on their own. I did not want to be forced into a position of having to report them for use of a banned drug. A physician involved in sports must keep the respect and confidence of the athletes with whom he is working.”
… “I don’t pretend to be a researcher or a scientist,” says Dooley. “I’m a practicing physician who is interested in athletes. A lot of physicians are stuffed shirts when it comes to sports. Athletes do want to perform better, that is what it is all about. If I know of something which may improve performance, a training or rehabilitation technique, a drug that is legal and which I don’t believe involves any serious health risk, I see no reason not to make it available to an athlete. I can’t see any ethical difference between giving a drug to improve performance and wrapping an ankle or handing out a salt pill for the same purpose. Athletes hear about these things and they are going to get them one way or another.”
…And the widespread nature of drugs…
“It is not unusual for an athlete to carry his own little kit with hypodermic syringes. Athletes have learned to inject themselves,” says Harold Connolly, U.S. Olympic hammer thrower. “Some track athletes,” says Russ Hodge, a U.S.decathlon man, “spend $30 or $40 a month on pills, steroids and food supplements.”
…And the wanton willingness on behalf of player and team to have athletes injected…
Another example of the same general phenomenon occurs in the case of the broken-legged hockey player. Midway through the sixth game of the 1964 Stanley Cup finals against Detroit, Bobby Baun, then of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was hit on the leg by the puck and carried from the rink on a stretcher. In the training room he received an injection of Novocain. His leg was taped, he returned to play, and he scored the winning goal in overtime. The next day it was determined Baun had a cracked right fibula. Nonetheless, he was shot with painkiller and willingly, probably eagerly, took his regular turn on the ice the following day.
…To the point of referring to questionable sources in order to get them.
“Quackery. That is the bane of sports medicine,” says Dr Daniel F. Hanley of Bowdoin College, Me., who has been a physician for three U.S. Olympic teams. “We’ve rid ourselves of some of the worst, but there are still too many people handing out get-good-quick pills, touting machines that send out blue sparks and make big muscles or advising athletes to drink superduper seaweed extracts. There is a time and place for certain drugs in sports, but each situation has to be evaluated individually.
Gillbert is well ahead of his time by identifying the scandal nearly 40 years in advance and even more to his credit addresses the naive piety of sports observers in the stands and in the press boxes still to this day.
There are abundant rumors—the wildest of which circulate within rather than outside the sporting world—about strung-out quarterbacks, hopped-up pitchers, slowed-down middleweights, convulsed half-milers and doped-to-death wrestlers. Nevertheless, it is the question of motive and morality that constitutes the crux of the athletic drug problem. Even if none of the gossip could be reduced to provable fact, there remains ample evidence that drug use constitutes a significant dilemma, not so much for individual athletes as for sport in general. One reason is that the use of drugs in sport leads one directly to more serious and complicated questions. Is athletic integrity (and, conversely, corruption) a matter of public interest? Does it matter, as appreciators of sport have so long and piously claimed it does, that games be played in an atmosphere of virtue; even righteousness? If not, what is the social utility of games—why play them at all? Drug usage, even more than speculation about bribery, college recruiting, spit-balls or TV commercials, raises such sticky questions about the fundamentals of sport that one can understand the instinctive reaction of the athletic Establishments: when it comes to drugs, they ignore, dismiss, deny.
“Somebody should speak out on this subject, and speak out strongly,” says Dr. Robert Kerlan, until recently the physician for the Los Angeles Dodgers as well as for a number of individual athletes in all sports. “I’m not a therapeutic nihilist,” says Kerlan “Situations arise where there are valid medical reasons for prescribing drugs for athletes. There are special occupational health problems in some sports. However, the excessive and secretive use of drugs is likely to become a major athletic scandal, one that will shake public confidence in many sports just as the gambling scandal tarnished the reputation of basketball. The essence of sports is matching the natural ability of men. When you start using drugs, money or anything else surreptitiously to gain an unnatural advantage, you have corrupted the purpose of sports as well as the individuals involved in the practice.”
Gillbert finishes by prefacing the still-ongoing war between those who use and those who try to catch them.
Finally, the belief in the existence of the ultimate pill, and the unrelenting search for it, is why many doctors share Dr. Kerlan’s fear that athletic drug practices are leading to a sports scandal of major proportions.
It’s all right there, given top priority by the undisputed biggest sports outlet in the nation at the time. Maybe the writers were to blame for letting their biases shove this SI piece into the attic of the public memory, but the public itself let it slip away too.
When it comes to blame for the continued acceptance of the PED culture in Baseball, no one is innocent save for the people whose predecessors forgot to fill them in.