“America’s favorite pastime” has a long running history of either tolerating or severely condemning and punishing substance abuse. Frequently, the manner in which the substance abuse was perceived and dealt with by both league officials as well as the American public has been inconsistent and been “shaped” by mass media sources as opposed to concern for the health and ultimate well-being of the athlete involved. Frequently, the issue has either been ignored or drawn massive exposure with resultant consequences depending by and large on how it would affect the image of Major League Baseball (MLB).
MLB and alcohol abuse
Some of the most iconic characters in the history of professional baseball had an issue with alcohol abuse. George Herman “Babe” Ruth was one of the all-time great pitchers and hitters in baseball history. He was also an infamous and notorious heavy drinker and womanizer. As they were considered “normal” or “socially acceptable” practices of the time, not much was made of it in the media at that time.
Mickey Mantle was arguably the greatest switch hitter of all time. His ability to hit for both average as well as for setting distance records with home runs is legendary. Much like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle was an alcoholic who managed to climb to the pinnacle of baseball despite his alcohol abuse.
Amphetamines and cocaine and MLB
The use of amphetamines and cocaine is considered “old school” by many associated with professional baseball. Many people would argue that it was the 1985 Pittsburgh drug trials that brought the use of pharmaceuticals in MLB to light, and served as the precursor or progenitor for the evolution of MLB’s current drug policy. Many MLB stars were associated with drugs via the trials including Willie Mays, Willie Stargell, Vida Blue, Keith Hernandez, and Lonnie Smith to name a few. Even former commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig said he first heard about “greenies” back in the old Milwaukee Braves clubhouses back in the 1950’s.
Performance enhancing drugs
Once again, the uses of performance enhancing drugs like steroids and hormones can be traced back into the annals of professional baseball history. Babe Ruth tried to inject himself with an extract derived from ground sheep testicles (ostensibly for the benefits of taking a testosterone supplement) back in 1925. Mickey Mantle was purported to have missed a number of games in the 1961 season due to a leg infection that he got as a consequence of being injected with a combination of steroids and amphetamines.
Performance enhancing drugs have continued to evolve and now include things like human growth hormone and anti-aging drugs. As testing for these substances is developed, chemists and bio-chemists develop newer substances that are undetectable at that time, effectively staying one step ahead of MLB’s drug testing policy.