When Tampa Bay Devil Rays outfielder Alex Sanchez became the first major league player to be suspended for failing a steroid test, the news wasn't met with shock.
Try laughter, instead.
Sanchez? A guy with four homers in 1,351 big league at-bats? A 5-foot-10, 160-pound speedster who once swiped 52 bags in a season? That guy's juiced?
"When I heard his name, I thought it was a joke," said Detroit Tigers utility man Brandon Inge, a former teammate of Sanchez's. "You don't need steroids to bunt like he does. Actually, I'd think he'd be taking the opposite of steroids."
Actually, Sanchez is a fine candidate for performance-enhancing drugs. He isn't huge. He isn't a slugger. And he doesn't have to be a steroid user.
That's the biggest fallacy about this whole scandal, that the only users are big-headed, pimple-backed freaks who put on 30 pounds of muscle in the offseason and then hit 40 homers the next year.
When used properly, steroids don't just make you stronger. They can make you faster, more confident. They can make your body feel more resurgent during a grueling 162-game season. They can keep you off the disabled list, keeping your stats healthy, too.
That's what Jose Canseco, the self-proclaimed chemist, says in his recent tell-all book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big.
Canseco, the charter member of the 40-homer/40-stolen base club, says he couldn't have played baseball without the needle and syringe.
"Over the years I have been diagnosed by my doctors with arthritis, scoliosis, degenerative disc disease, you name it. I truly believe I would be in a wheelchair today if steroids hadn't been available to me," Canseco wrote.
The common perception is that using steroids makes you break down, yet Canseco argues his body, and those of other users, would have crumbled years ago if it weren't for the juice.
"The only reason I was able to play baseball for so many years was that steroids and growth hormone allowed me to build the right muscle structure to hold up my frame and to recuperate fast enough after my injuries."
Canseco alleges that some major league trainers have prescribed steroids to players on the disabled list to get them back into lineups quicker. He believes the primary benefit of steroids, more so than improved power, speed or muscle-twitching reflexes, is "the added stamina it gives you all year round."
"On the last day of the season you have the same strength and feel as strong as you did the first day of spring training ..." he wrote. "Players who aren't using steroids inevitably get tired and lose strength from month to month."
What player wouldn't want that edge, that ability to maintain energy throughout the season and parlay that success into future riches? That's a great motivator for using illegal supplements, whether you're a slugger like Canseco or a speedster like Sanchez.
To be fair, Sanchez said he failed the test because he took an over-the-counter dietary supplement that, unbeknownst to him, contained a banned substance. He has accepted the 10-day suspension without an appeal, but vehemently denies using illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
Give him the benefit of the doubt. But also know that a guy with Sanchez's body type could be a steroid user. Conversely, a muscle-bound power hitter might not be.
Consider that last week it was announced that 38 minor leaguers failed steroid tests, including former Orioles Robert Machado and Damian Moss.
Neither Machado nor Moss is an impressive physical specimen. Moss essentially lost his job with the Orioles because he ate his way out of the rotation. Whether they knowingly took steroids or not, it further proves that big guys, small guys and medium-sized guys could be users, often for reasons beyond strength and power.
Hopefully, Sanchez and the others have shown Major League Baseball and its fans that just because you pass the eyeball test doesn't automatically mean you'll pass the steroid test.
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