Nationals Arm Race

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Why is Toradol “ok” but Steroids and HGH “bad?”

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Did Papelbon inadvertantly open up a whole new PED angle? Photo Keith Allison via wikipedia/flickr

The latest salvo in the “Questionable Performance Enhancing Drug” storyline in today’s professional baseball landscape was this interesting statement from Jonathan Papelbon last week;  he and other Boston teammates frequently were injected with the drug Toradol by team doctors when they were feeling “run-down” or overly fatigued in order to get a quick pick-me-up for a game.  Apparently Toradol had the effect of giving players a four hour window of feeling “pretty damn good” and it was used by a portion of the Boston clubhouse.  Its also in use in many other clubhouses (though apparently not in Philadelphia, who told Papelbon his Toradol days were over).

Ok, how is Toradol not a Performance Enhancing Drug?  It certainly seems to qualify based on WADA’s “Three Criteria” for PEDs:

  1. The capacity to enhance performance (clearly, as discussed by Papelbon)
  2. Use can result in negative health consequences (absolutely; Jon Lester suffered some of them and had a serious internal bleeding issue, and now Boston is reportedly reviewing its use of the drug)
  3. Violate the spirit of sports. (opinion based .. but after reading what Toradol can do, how can you NOT argue that its use violates the “spirit of sports?”)

(2/15/13 update: The Red Sox trainer who administered all this Toradol apparently “flouted” state laws by doing so, as reported by Passan, who is all over this case.)

By the way, WADA adds a drug to its banned list if it qualifies for TWO of the above three categories (hence the addition of things like “Deer Antler Spray” despite it having no known side effects, since it clearly seems to violate the spirit clause).

This leads me to my larger question: Why is Toradol, and as a side effect Steriods and HGH “bad” but the use of Cortisone, Toradol considered “ok” in terms of usage?   What do Cortisone shots do?  They enable a player to play through pain that otherwise may keep him out.  Uh … isn’t that the definition of a “performance enhancing” substance??   Our own Ryan Zimmerman clearly benefitted from cortisone shots in 2012; his before/after splits are pretty distinct and obvious.   Cortisone itself also fits the 3 WADA principles; it enhances performance, it has side-effects that many doctors are quite worried about, and I’m sure some would agree it changes the “spirit of the game” in some ways.

If your answer involves something along the lines of “PEDs are banned because they’re illegal” then I’ll counter with this: Steroid’s aren’t illegal; they’re just controlled.  But so is Cortisone; you can’t just inject yourself with the stuff without a doctor’s order.  And so is Toradol; you can’t go into your local supermarket and buy injectable Toradol.   And so is HGH: ask yourself why most elderly persons keep bottles of the stuff on their bed-side table?  Even something like a B-12 shot raises some issues; lots of players get B-12 shots and swear by the natural effect it has, but as with Toradol I’m pretty sure you can’t just get injectable B-12 and administer it yourself.  Even though B-12 is naturally occuring, in order to naturally consume the amounts of B-12 being injected you’d likely have to eat a bushel of clams (or some other high B-12 food) every day.

Honestly I may have the biggest issue with the classification of HGH as a PED, when you think about what HGH is (a naturally occuring growth hormone that is generates solely to help the body heal itself after an injury or illness) and then think about what Cortisone accomplishes for athletes.  So its “ok” to take a Cortisone shot that treats inflammation from an injury/strain so that you can go out and play better … but its NOT ok to take a naturally occuring suppliment to help with the same issue??  The only reason adults don’t heal as fast as kids is precisely because our natural HGH generation slows as we age … and doctors prescribe HGH to help the elderly heal from illnesses and injuries all the time.  Isn’t this inconsistent?

And all the above just talks about various medications.  Lets talk about the in-vogue plasma-replacement treatments that Kobe Bryant popularized and which have now been done by others, including Alex Rodriguez and Bartolo Colon. In this op-ed piece from Jeff Passan from Dec 2011, he discusses the blurry line between PEDs and legitimate surgical procedures.  The article has a very in-depth description of the A-Rod procedure and raises the question as to what defines a Performance Enhancing Drug?   If blood doping is illegal, how is a procedure that filters out platelets and re-injects them to targeted spots legal?  Colon was out of the game in 2010, got the procedure and suddenly is a 116 ERA+ pitcher in 2013; isn’t this concerning?

Passan takes things one step further, comparing the healing effects of HGH with these new treatments that A-Rod and Colon got and makes a very good point; these new-fangled surgical procedures absolutely qualify for WADA’s 3 criteria.  Passan has also asked the same questions I’m asking in a June 2006 article that started about HGH but ended with this same general question.  And he makes very good points about cortisone, HGH, Testosterone and even Tylenol usage.  Its worth a read.

Here’s another question: why is it “ok” to have performance-enhancing surgical procedures (Lasik surgery, Tommy John surgery, or any manner of surgery involving transplanted ligaments or tendons) but it is NOT ok to use drugs that have the same general effect?   If I can take a pill that gives me 20-10 vision, which enables me to see the baseball better and become a better hitter, would that be considered a PED?  I’m pretty sure … but yet people go get laser surgery and can get their eyes fixed to this level of quality any day of the week.  Perhaps this is a ridiculous example but my point stands; whether or not your performance is enhanced by virtue of a bottle or by the knife, aren’t these valid questions?  We’re starting to hear of psychotic parents of teen-aged pitchers actually getting “preventative” Tommy John surgery done, knowing that most pitchers who have the surgery see improvement in certain aspects of their game (since the Ulnar Ligament connector is actually strengthened in this surgery over how it grows naturally).  Is this … ethical?

And then there’s this interesting point, which was proposed on a BS Report podcast done between Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman last week.  If HGH is considered a PED, and HGH’s sole purpose in life is to help people get better after being sick … then why aren’t classes of anti-biotics such as Amoxicillin also considered PEDs?  What is the difference?   Klosterman then made the additional (scary) point that PED usage and testing may all be for naught eventually; Genetic testing and DNA manipulation may get to the point where there can BE no test to find out whether someone’s been genetically manipulated in order to be a superior athlete.  Testing has been trailing the science for years in professional sports … it may eventually be rendered completely moot.  Of course, taken the the ridiculous extreme, do we really want a slew of genetically engineered super-athletes competing for our enjoyment?  Why not just invent a bunch of robots to play these games?

Food for thought.  I know we’ve discussed some of these topics here before but do you worry about the inconsistencies in professional sports PED policies?  I’m not sure I have an easy solution, but I will say that the classifications of drugs seems arbitrary in some cases.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/21/11 edition

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Can't wait for the first Darvish-Pujols matchup when Texas visits Los Angeles. Photo unknown via beatofthebronx.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.

Nationals In General

  • John Sickels does in-depth system reviews, but allows his readers to pipe in about the prospects down on the farm.  Here’s the discussion on the Nats, which (as is apt to happen) devolved into arguments about Bryce Harper.  Still, lots of the usual suspects piped up and offered opinions.  Here’s a link to his preliminary list of Nats prospects.
  • In case you havn’t seen enough scouting reports on our precocious star, here’s another from the blog prospectjunkies.com.  I will say it was refreshing to see this author go out of his way to dispell the whole “Harper is a brat” storyline that most lazy sportswriters pen, without having ever interviewed or even *seen* the guy.
  • I hope this isn’t our starting CF for 2012; Nats sign Mike Cameron to a minor league contract.  I actually don’t mind this deal; yes he’s old and yes his production slipped badly in 2011, but he’s still a high-end defensive player.  Maybe he’s just a cheaper version of Rick Ankiel.  Odds are, as posted elsewhere, that Cameron is a half-season option just holding court until Harper is promoted sometime in June.  Works for me.
  • Hmm.  Reports from Ken Rosenthal that the team is “pushing hard” for Gio Gonzalez, offering Billy Beane a “4 for 1″ deal.  Not sure I like hearing that; while he’s got decent stats two years running, there’s some chinks in that armor.  He lead the league in walks last year and gives them up at nearly a walk every other inning.  His ERA jumps nearly a point when he pitches away from the friendly confines of Oakland’s pitcher-friendly stadium.  He’s not an “Ace.”  What four players are we talking about giving up?  If this is anything like the Mat Latos deal, it probably would be something like Detwiler, Norris, a major league arm and a lower minor league arm.


Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • First Reports on the winning Yu Darvish bid?  $48M.  No, wait, then it was even higher than Dice-K’s bid.  I privately thought he’d eclipse Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s record of $51M (and change) from 2005.   Another nugget from this article; Darvish wants a 5yr/$75M contract.  That’s $120M+ for this guy.  Does anyone still want to argue that he’s worth $120M, when the absolute best FA pitcher purchase in recent years (Cliff Lee) himself got 5yrs/$120M guaranteed from Philadelphia?
  • Who won the Darvish sweepstakes?  First thought to be Toronto, then Texas.  On 12/20 we were confirmed: Texas won with a $51.7M bid.  The AL West is turning into a shootout.
  • Breaking news over the weekend: Cincinnati gets Mat Latos for a package of prospects that includes their uber rising star Yonder Alonso, another 1st rounder in Yasmani Grandal and former ace-pretender Edinson Volquez.  That’s an awful lot for a guy who, while certainly is “good,” isn’t among the elite pitchers of this league.  That seems like more than what Zack Greinke fetched, and he as a Cy Young award to his credit.  It also begs the question; why does San Diego need Alonso?  They already traded for a top-end 1B prospect, Anthony Rizzo.  Alonso was blocked in Cincinnati by Joey Votto and was clearly on the trading block, but San Diego is a curious spot.   Oh I see now: he’s officially listed as a left fielder now.  Except that scouts openly scoff at his abilities to play anywhere but 1b or DH.  The Padres can always put together a competent pitching rotation by virtue of their park; if some of these hitters pan out they could be a very good team, quickly.  Meanwhile Cincinnati gets a good pitcher who hopefully wasn’t under-exposed by pitching in the cavern in San Diego but who most say is a legit front-of-the-rotation ace.  Update: now we’re hearing that Rizzo is in play possibly for Matt Garza.  That’s probably Theo Epstein trying to get his boy back.

General Baseball News

  • An excellent take at Grantland from Jonah Keri, another favored writer, on Steroid use in baseball, inspired in the post Ryan Braun mania.  As it has turned out, Braun’s case isn’t about Steroids, but he does dispute the notion frequently posted on the internet that “no positive test has ever been appealed successfully.”  In reality, according to both players and well-connected writers, no “leaked” positive test has ever been appealed, and that initial positives have been overturned on more than a few occasions.  Here’s a player who says he successfully appealed a positive test himself.  He also links to very interesting articles on testosterone and false positives, one of which (If i’m reading it correctly) notes that about 1 in 4 positive tests is actually a false positive.  I can’t believe any official test is that inaccurate, so perhaps its either old technology or i’m mis-interpreting the story.  Subsequent reports show that Braun’s test was from medication taken for a “personal issue.”  Sounds like Viagra, doesn’t it?
  • Another takeaway from Keri’s article is another pet peeve of mine; the notion that Matt Kemp was a “more worthy” MVP candidate than Braun but that Braun won the award because “his teammates were better.”  That’s one take on the award, IF you interpret the “MVP” to be given to the “best player” in a particular year.  But that’s not the definition of “Most Valuable Player” that most writers adhere to.  Simply put, how can you be the “Most Valuable player” to your team if your team stinks?  If your team already has a losing record, and the star player wasn’t there, wouldn’t that team just have a WORSE losing record?  To me, that’s the essence of the MVP argument; you simply cannot be the most valuable player on a bad team, unless your season is so historically amazing that it stands out on its own merit.  If we want to “invent” a new award, say the “Cy Young” of hitters (almost an uber “Silver Slugger”) so that we can properly award a guy like Kemp, I’d be for it absolutely.  In fact, it would pretty much end these ridiculous arguments that will only continue to get louder as more and more stat-heads who never actually watch games but just interpret advanced statistical tables on websites as if baseball players were robots playing in a nil-gravity vacuum gain admittance to the BBWAA and start voting on these awards themselves.
  • Yet another excellent Grantland.com article, this time analyzing whether or not the Economics of Moneyball still exist.  After this article published, I saw some criticisms of the statistics used on more stat-heavy blogs like Fangraphs.  Not sure why; the article makes sense to me.
  • I sometimes take issue with Craig Calcaterra‘s stuff on Hardballtalk, but his opinion on ESPN Legal Analyst Lester Munson‘s love affair with the abject failure of the Barry Bonds case is spot on for me.  Bonds was convicted of one really shaky obstruction of justice count after years and MILLIONS of dollars of expenses, and was sentenced to 30 days of home confinement.  The prosecutors who led this monstrosity need to be fired, frankly.
  • Ugh.  Bill Conlan of the Philadelphia Daily News, a hall of fame baseball writer, resigns ahead of child molestation charges being filed.  Interestingly, it is the rival Philly newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, filing the charges.

General News; other

  • I like Grantland, and I like stuff that Chuck Klosterman writes.  Here, he writes about the “Triangle Offense” that we’ve heard so much about from Phil Jackson during his time with the Bulls and Lakers.  My takeaway; the Triangle is dying out because (according to Jackson) the league is dominated by me-first scorers (whether they be slash and burn or 3-point specialists) and because the Triangle is considered really complex.
  • Kobe Bryant‘s wife is leaving him, reportedly because she caught him cheating.  Really??  What, that whole incident in Colorado wasn’t evidence enough?
  • In case you somehow missed the front page of cnnsi.com this week, yet another example of the absolute hypocritical nature of the NCAA is on display once again: a former St. Joseph’s basketball player is being held hostage by an (apparently) petulant basketball coach who refuses to grant his waiver to play for another school.  Coaches can change schools like they’re changing suits, but if a player changes they have to get approvals from their releasing school (a conflict of interest if there ever was one) and approval from the NCAA, AND then have to give up a year of eligibility.  How is this possibly fair?  Coaches can coach for 50 years and don’t lose any eligibility; players can only play for four (five if they red-shirt) but have to give up 25% of that time if a situation isn’t right for them.  Every time I read something about college athletics like this (or the UKentucky/Oliver case, or the Colorado WR/snowboarder case, or the entire player images case) I’m more and more infuriated and hope that the organization has to face congressional review.  More links on the topic: lawsuit threatened.  Possibly “the other side” to the story here.  There’s other interesting links to twitter comments and blog op-ed pieces throughout.  Another opinion here.