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A Tilted Narrative

UT Arlington prof blames MLB and modern medicine for steroid scandal

Nelson Cruz
Nelson Cruz began a 50-game suspension in August. Photo by Keith Allison
Alex Rodriguez
A-Rod might be guilty of steroid use, but a UT Arlington professor believes the league and teams are let off the hook for their roles.  Photo by Keith Allison
Jon Daniels
Professor Sarah Rose thinks baseball coaches and managers have created a culture conducive to steroids. Photo courtesy of Texas Rangers
Nelson Cruz
Alex Rodriguez
Jon Daniels

University of Texas at Arlington professor published a column in the Chicago Tribune this week espousing a narrative that Major League Baseball sets up players to use performance-enhancing drugs or risk losing their livelihoods.

In a column titled “Our nation of bionic workers,” UT Arlington history professor Sarah Rose and co-author Northern Illinois University history professor Joshua Salzmann argue that players such as Alex Rodriguez are perceived as “a greedy fraud” for using PEDs when in reality it is the business of baseball that drives players to use steroids and human growth hormone.

And while Alex Rodriguez is persona non grata in North Texas, Rose and Salzmann explore the context of what might drive today’s players to seek out methods of improvement, legally or illegally. 

 Sarah Rose and co-author Joshua Salzmann compare Alex Rodriguez’s steroid use to that of a bulimic model or Adderall-using truck driver.

Their view of history is that before salary arbitration and free agency, teams were less vested financially in an individual player and so their physical health was less of a priority. But with multi-year contracts and significant salary increases in the 1970s came the owners' realization that these were investments that had to be handled by the best in sports health.

Invented in 1974, Dr. Frank Jobe's "Tommy John surgery" repaired pitchers’ arms to a degree previously thought unimaginable. Dramatic treatments led to teams offering multiyear contracts to recovering players.

As players learned about better nutrition and exercise, new benchmarks emerged and players tried to rise to the top. Less conventional methods soon followed.

“Ballplayers, in turn, were forced to make a terrible choice,” the pair writes. “They could refashion their bodies according to a ‘steroid aesthetic’ and, thereby, generate the blazing fastballs and towering home runs necessary to preserve their jobs. Or they could protect their bodies by not taking performance-enhancing drugs and risk losing their livelihoods.”

Rose and Salzmann argue that increased MLB profits after the ’94 strike furthered the steroid situation, as rates of steroid-induced tendon and ligament tears doubled between 1992 and 2001.

They eventually compare Rodriguez’s steroid use to that of a bulimic model or Adderall-using truck driver, stating that body modification for money has “become the norm, and often, an unstated job requirement.”

To them, it seems unfair to blame the player for keeping up with the money that the league and teams generate. 

But the Texas Rangers don't see it that way. Slugger Nelson Cruz accepted a 50 game suspension in August for his link to the Biogenesis Clinic. The Rangers have been floundering without him and are currently chasing a wild card spot. In an interview with USA Today, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels put the blame solely on Cruz. 

"We'd be in better shape if he wasn't suspended," Daniels said. "It's a choice Nelson made."

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