New MLB Home Run Records Raise Suspicions
Major League Baseball fans and experts have been in for an exciting, but strange year. For two months in a row, MLB players have set several home run records. In the month of June, players hit 1,142 home runs, the highest number in a month for the history of baseball. As a matter of fact, five of the six highest home run records have occurred in the past three years. (NBC Sports).
How are baseball players improving so quickly? Many studies attribute the recent success of players to MLB’s use of “juiced baseballs.” Baseballs have been more streamlined, with smoother leather, stronger lacing, and better shape and core placement, allowing baseballs to reach greater distances. (NBC Sports). Additionally, nutrition and fitness advancements have helped athletes achieve stronger physique through better training programs. These programs are also more precise and effective in the muscle groups they target, and how they train hand-eye coordination. Along with gameplay initiatives in 2015, it is no wonder that baseball players are literally hitting new heights.
Or so is the narrative purported by fans and experts alike. No one wants to look deeper or question their favorite players and teams. However, since the 90s, baseball has had a tumultuous relationship with steroid and drug use. MLB celebrities such as Jose Canseco, Ken Caminiti, and Alex Rodriguez are just a few names implicated in Major League doping scandals. The problem is prevalent even on the collegiate level, where there is less regulation and funding for drug testing. The league has continually tightened its steroid policy, implementing regular in-season testing and harsher penalties for positive tests (USAToday). Despite these precautions, doping problems continue to plague the league.
In 2013, an investigation of the Biogenesis, an anti-aging clinic in Florida, revealed that the clinic had been supplying performance-enhancing hormones and steroids in the form of creams and lozenges to Major League players (Miaminewtimes). Despite suspensions of 13 players including Rodriguez, none of the players failed the standard drug test. More than 10 years earlier, the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) was involved in a similar scandal, supplying players like Barry Bonds with similar drugs and testosterone creams that were difficult to detect in a drug test (SFGate).
Victor Conte, the founder of BALCO and the instigator of the 2002 scandal, recently spoke about the recent surge in home run records. An expert on performance-enhancing substances himself, Conte believes that drug use is as rampant as ever, but drug developers are finding more ways to circumvent tests. Steroids are becoming faster-acting and more difficult to discover, while others are “simply undetectable” with current testing methods (France24).
Despite having one of the most stringent anti-drug spot policies in America, it is difficult for the Major League to control and eliminate performance-enhancing drugs entirely from its system. Even in 2019, there have been a number of suspensions, including Oakland Athletics pitcher Frankie Montas. The history of doping, the competitiveness of the sport, and pharmaceutical advancements make it easy to suspect there is more to the surge in home runs than just juiced baseballs or more effective and precise training. According to Conte, "Guys can't take the large dosages they used to, but they've figured out how to circumvent the system rather easily, and are flying under the radar. That's why you have so many guys (on pace for) 40 homers, but nobody is hitting 80."
Written by Jennifer Xie, Edited by Ramsay Bader & Alexander Fleiss