In the wake of the Ryan Braun steroid decision, performance-enhancing drugs have been a hot topic of late. Whether you agree or disagree with the decision, we can all agree that the steroid problem goes way beyond the development of tolerance. I sat down with former Major Leaguer Frank Tepedino to discuss the topic.
Tepedino’s career spanned parts of eight seasons from 1967-1975. He played for the New York Yankees, Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves. Though he was never a Met, I felt like what he had to say was relevant for our site.
During that time, performance-enhancing drugs were not part of the game. Talent and hard work alone were the sole determinants of a player’s success on the field. However, as steroids became popular in the game around the mid-1990s, the level playing field changed greatly.
Super-human athletes were taking the game by storm, which certainly put fans in the seats, but also compromised the integrity of the game. Tepedino addressed the issue of whether he would have used steroids if they were available.
“You can’t answer that question until you’re in that situation and you look at right and wrong,” he said. “Where is the wrong of it? Is it because it gives you an advantage over another athlete? But what if that other athlete is doing it, and nothing is being done about it?”
Tepedino gave an example for this year’s MLB B.A.T. Dinner in New York City. Former Minnesota Twins outfielder asked former Yankees third baseman Mike Pagliarulo is the latter would have ever used steroids? But Gladden told Pagliarulo not to answer the question immediately, but instead deeply think about it before giving an answer.
Pagliarulo thought hard, but he couldn’t come up with a firm answer. Tepedino agreed that it is such a tough decision based on all the extra factors.
“Here you are not using them,” Tepedino said. “But the guy on the mound is using them. The catcher is using. The guys in the minors are using. The guy in the minors is going to take your job. The guy on the mound has an advantage over you.”
When weighing these factors, it’s a lot easier to see why many players turned to steroids, especially veterans later in their careers. Put yourself in their shoes for an instant: You have to support a family and kids, but your talent is diminishing. In order to continue playing and earning a paycheck, you need that extra edge so you take steroids. It’s really a tough call.
“Realistically by not doing it, you’re basically saying that’s the end of my career, because someone is going to take my job,” Tepedino said. “And that guy that has an advantage over me is going to get me out. You can’t just say, ‘No I’m not going to use them or yes I’m going to use them.’ You don’t know until you’re in that situation. That’s human nature.”
Many former players, like Tepedino, claim that based on their morals, they would not use steroids if given the choice. He said players like Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth were all clean and still excelled at the game.
The thing with those players is that nobody else was using steroids at that time, so a player’s own ability determined performance. Without steroids, only the top-tier of players shined. But once steroids were introduced, normally average players began putting up monster numbers and performed better than players with more talent but who chose not to use.
And then of course there’s the money factor. The players who perform the best get the most money. Simple right? But not when steroids are involved.
“They’re making two million [dollars] a year, and you’re home carrying a lunch bucket working in a factory in the offseason because of your morals,” said Tepedino.
Tepedino said that though he may have struggled with the decision he ultimately would have chosen not to use steroids.
“You might not have a good as career as someone else, but you can go to sleep at night and say ‘I did the right thing,’” he concluded.
So before we chastise a player for using steroids because they are illegal in the game, put yourself firmly in their shoes. Hopefully, many of you would choose not to use, but based on the extra factors, it’s a tougher decision when you’re actually faced with it.
So would you use steroids if everyone else was using and your job and family livelihood depended on it?