The baseball analyst Bill James, who might be my favorite living writer, takes a look [PDF] at the sport's most contentious issue–the use of performance enhancing drugs–through the prisms of human advancement and shifting societal mores. Excerpt:
One of the characteristics of the steroid era was that we had several dozen players who continued to improve beyond the normal aging time frame, so that many of them had their best seasons past the age of 32. This is historically not normal. In the post-steroid era we are returning to the historic norm in which players hit a wall sometime in their early thirties. But what does this mean?
It means that steroids keep you young. You may not like to hear it stated that way, because steroids are evil, wicked, mean and nasty and youth is a good thing, but...that's what it means. Steroids help the athlete resist the effects of aging.
Well, if steroids help keep you young, what's wrong with that?
What's wrong with that is that steroids may help keep players "young" at some risk to their health, and the use of steroids by athletes may lead non-athletes to risk their health as well. But the fact is that, with time, the use of drugs like steroids will not disappear from our culture. It will, in fact, grow, eventually becoming so common that it might almost be said to be ubiquitous. Everybody wants to stay young. As we move forward in time, more and more people are going to use more and more drugs in an effort to stay young. Many of these drugs are going to be steroids or the descendants
If we look into the future, then, we can reliably foresee a time in which everybody is going to be using steroids or their pharmaceutical descendants. We will learn to control the health risks of these drugs, or we will develop alternatives to them. Once that happens, people will start living to age 200 or 300 or 1,000, and doctors will begin routinely prescribing drugs to help you live to be 200 or 300 or 1,000. If you look into the future 40 or 50 years, I think it is quite likely that every citizen will routinely take anti-aging pills every day.
How, then, are those people of the future—who are taking steroids every day—going to look back on baseball players who used steroids? They're going to look back on them as pioneers. They're going to look back at it and say "So what?"
Also discussed in the essay are sex standards on television and the inevitability (if not advisability) of Dick Allen being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Link via Baseball Primer. I wrote about James (pictured) in a 2003 review of Michael Lewis' Moneyball, and about Dick Allen (also pictured) in a 2005 essay on "Locker-Room Liberty." And Reason has a lengthy archive on steroids, which you can start perusing here.