|To what extent did Alex Rodriguez and others who admitted to using PEDs benefit? One writer tried to find out. (US Presswire)|
I have two gripes with those who are hopelessly outraged by the use of performance-enhancing drugs in contemporary baseball: one, those folks tend to ignore the rampant amphetamine use by prior generations of ballplayers, and, two, we really don't know what kind of difference PED use makes on the field of play.
As for that second plaint, a sports writer named Andy Tworischuk has experimented on himself to see whether a certain widely banned PED makes any difference for him. I'll let him set the scene ...
The banned substance in this supplement is 1,3-dimethylamylamine, or DMAA for short. It's a stimulant that, when used in conjunction with caffeine, apparently just turns you into an exercise machine that can run through walls or something. It is apparently similar to ephedra (which is now illegal and it's well documented that it killed a bunch of people, including former Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler). A bunch of Rays prospects were suspended for taking it. DMAA is banned by the US Military because two soliders died after taking it during basic training. It's apparently serious stuff. It also has pregnenolone, a steroid hormone banned by the olympics so I figured that would give me some sort of insight into what taking an illegal steroid would be like.
So I bought a bottle. And I went to my doctor and talked with him about any potential side effects or problems and while he expressed concern he gave me the okay as long as I was careful and got regular checkups so my heart doesn't explode.
To summarize his findings, Mr. Tworischuk, our consenting lab rat, discovers that, yes, this particular substance results not only in quicker recovery times, better stamina, and more substantial gains but also in an uncommon zeal for, you know, working out. Using this (or anything else) won't bestow baseball skills upon someone who lacks them, but it can enable a better level of fitness, attests the writer. It's a single data point, but it's certainly engaging stuff.
My suspicion is that PED use helps, perhaps substantially, but my related suspicion is that we'll never be able to know -- let alone quantify -- the extent to which it helps. On another level, I have little faith in the line that's drawn by, for instance, the World Anti-Doping Association between acceptable substances and banned substances. There's some science behind those decisions, but there's also some hysteria and public-relations incentives in there, too.
More to the point: Does the guy marinating himself in sanctioned concoctions like creatine, whey, BCAA supplements and Red Bull arrive at his outputs more cleanly and honestly (whatever those words mean in this context) than the guy on, say, HGH (the athletic benefits of which are highly dubious)? Does he derive less of an advantage from his protocols than the guy using the Officially Unacceptable stuff? I have no idea, and neither, I suspect, do many of those tasked with making such distinctions.
No one likes a gray area, but that's what all this is to me -- less nuance in some areas, more in others, but still a phenomenon freighted with uncertainty. Here's a thing we don't say enough, about this and so many other firebrand subjects: "I don't know."