We’ve had a lively discussion going on in the comments section as to whether steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs actually improve baseball players’ performance. The bottom line: studies of major-league statistics are inconclusive.
But I think we’ve been looking at the wrong thing. As this well-sourced Wikipedia article makes clear, steroid use builds muscle and increases “baseline strength” by somewhere between 5 percent and 20 percent. All things being equal, a baseball player would rather be stronger than not.
I’m old enough to remember the stories about Carl Yastrzemski‘s punishing workouts following the 1966 season, which enabled him to up his homer total from 16 to 44 during the Red Sox’ “Impossible Dream” year. And there’s a reason that Jim Rice had 382 career home runs to Jerry Remy‘s seven. Strength matters, and it always has, long before steroids became available.
But now factor in another 5 percent to 20 percent in chemically induced strength. Granted, some will be able to translate that into more home runs or a harder fastball and some won’t. But to argue that Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire et al. would have done just as well without steroids strikes me as silly. We know their enhancements made them stronger. That has to count for something.