Baseball is one of the world’s most boring sports. I’ve never seen a Cricket match, so I can’t say definitively that Baseball is the most boring sport in the world, but it has to be in the top tier of mind numbingly boring sports. Baseball is two hours of crotch grabbing and 10 minutes of action. But there was a brief moment in my adult life that I watched Baseball: the 1998 Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire home run record chase.
Hype had built up over several seasons before 1998 as sluggers like Ken Griffey Jr. and Albert Belle each hit over 50 home runs in a season for the first time since 1990. But it was McGwire who burst onto the national scene and announced a real challenge to Roger Maris’ record of 61 when he hit 58 homers in 1997.
The spring of 1998 Major League Baseball hyped McGwire’s chances of breaking the 37 year old record and the story was so compelling that even people who dislike Baseball, folks like me, tuned in to watch. Baseball was at its lowest ebb in the sport’s history, having suffered a labor dispute that canceled the World Series in 1994. Having a player break the home run record was exactly the kind of shot in the arm that Baseball needed.
McGwire broke Maris’ record and so did Sammy Sosa. It was compelling viewing as each player seemed to match the other hit for hit going down the stretch toward post season. But even the untrained eye could tell that there was something odd about McGwire and Sosa’s bodies. And even then there were rumors that both men “juiced” or took illegal steroids.
It turns out that they did juice. And so did Barry Bonds, who would break the home run record three years later, an event that, again, even I tuned in to see. By that point there were more than just rumors that these players had been breaking the law, it was so plainly obvious that even the Simpsons did a parody, in an episode called “Homer at Bat” they exaggerated the effects of steroid use, which results in unusual growth of the extremities.
Major League Baseball, no matter how you spin this, benefitted from the use of steroids. People came back to watch Baseball because of these freakish acts of superhuman strength and timing. We will never see a human being hit 73 home runs again, unless doping is legalized. Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa took the fall, but at the time steroid use was rampant in Baseball. Everyone knew about it and many players took them.
Arsene Wenger has now made several statements regarding doping in Football over this last week. He has said that he categorically never gave shots to players to help them heal but that he is certain that other teams have and that the playing field is not level. The FA have called for him to clarify his statements and he has done so publicly calling, most recently, for players to be blood tested and for a more robust testing scheme.
Most pundits think that Wenger’s remarks about he playing field being unfair refer to his time in France but I don’t think that’s the case. I think he’s talking about the blood spinning and other scandals which have been public knowledge since 2005.
When he was at Inter Milan, former Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, casually referred to Chelsea’s “Dr. Needles” and how Dr. Needles would get Petr Cech back from a calf strain just in time to face Inter in the second leg of their Champions League tie. Dr. Needles didn’t work his magic and Ross Turnbull featured instead of Cech.
Martin Samuels, writing for the Daily Mail, identified Dr. Needles as Dr. Bryan English. Of course Mourinho knew about Dr. English and his needling, he hired the man.
As it turns out, Dr. Needles’ speciality is blood spinning. Technically, blood spinning is legal. They take some blood from you, spin it up and beef it up with some legal drugs, and then inject it into the injury site which helps the player heal faster.
But Dr. Needles and his blood spinning aren’t the only ones giving performance enhancing drugs. Most recently, Arsenal lost to Dinamo Zagreb in the UEFA Champions League. Three of the Dinamo players were randomly tested and one turned up an initial positive result. But the result against Dinamo can’t be vacated unless two of the three tests come back positive.
This is one of the problems Wenger would like fixed. It’s nearly impossible to find a second doped player if you only test three of the 18. If you know anything about stats, you know that if you have a population of 18 it’s absolutely ridiculous to sample just 3. The confidence interval on that sample is +/- 50%. In other words, if you sample 3 of 18 and you find a player taking PEDs it’s simply luck. You have to sample all 18 players or at least 15 of the 18 players to get a reasonably accurate sample.
And if you think that Dinamo are the only team with players who were doping, think again. Just this year Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes was given a slap on the wrist in Spain for admitting to giving athletes EPO and other illegal substances. In scenes reminiscent of Lance Armstrong’s bags of blood, Dr. Fuentes kept blood from athletes across a broad range of sports: tennis, cycling, and football.
The cyclist who blew the whistle on Dr. Fuentes, Jesus Manzano, has said that he personally saw famous football players going to Dr. Blood‘s clinic. And Fuentes himself offered to name names, though the judge in Spain has refused.
Given all this, it’s no surprise that more football players haven’t been busted for using PEDs. As long as the football authorities refuse to do blood testing, refuse to make all players have a biological passport, and take samples sizes so small that they are tantamount to no sample at all, the drugs cheats will continue to have free reign.
UEFA, FIFA, and the various football associations don’t take PED use seriously because just like Major League Baseball, they have a vested interest in a game that is faster, bigger, stronger, and produces more spectacular plays and results.
Hitting 73 home runs is more marketable.