No less a medical authority than Jose Canseco has suggested that at some point in the future, performance enhancing drugs will be considered just another modern advancement. More recently, New York Magazine’s John Heilemann asked, “should steroids be banned at all?”
In an essay last year in Wired, the science writer Steven Johnson (above) predicted the coming proliferation of œelective-enhancement surgical techniques. A football player might have muscle cells removed from his legs, reengineered to be stronger, then reinserted, allowing œa quarterback with the wisdom of a 35-year-old to run like he™s 20. A weight lifter might benefit from stem-cell replacement that makes his shoulders more powerful. Or a cyclist might have his heart tweaked (to œincrease stroke volume) or digestive system rerouted (to œoptimize energy absorption). Johnson points out that primitive versions of such techniques are already having an impact: According to one study of more than a dozen baseball players who have undergone laser eye surgery, the players are œlikely to see substantial improvements in batting average and power.
As Johnson suggests, the rise of elective-enhancement surgery will make a mockery of the steroids ban. Why should it be illegal to take a pill that helps change your body™s structure but okay to achieve the same effect by going under the knife? Or is baseball going to outlaw such operations, too?
Elective surgery will also pose knotty problems for another of the arguments deployed in defense of bans on doping: that in a sport such as baseball, where history matters”where, indeed, records are revered as sacred”letting players juice would make it impossible to compare performances over time. This is why Bonds, as he approaches Hank Aaron™s home-run record, has ginned up so much consternation. But is it really possible that if a player known to have had laser eye surgery were to surpass, say, Joe DiMaggio™s 56-game hitting streak, that baseball would contemplate placing an asterisk next to his name in the record books (as some are suggesting should be Bonds™s fate if he surpasses Aaron)? If not, why not?
The truth is that all the talk in baseball about the sacredness of its records is little more than another tactic in the long-running campaign waged by its overseers to mystify the game. To treat baseball as if it were something more hallowed than mere entertainment. But although baseball is the greatest game (or so it says here), it™s no more than that”and a game which, at the major-league level, is paid for by its fans. It™s hard to quibble, therefore, with the conclusion of a recent essay published by the American Enterprise Institute: œIf fans like spectacular plays made possible by performance-enhancing drugs more than the loss of historical comparisons and the risks borne by the players, [then] allowing enhancements makes sense.
Baseball purists might say that™s a big œif, but here again, I have my doubts. Back in San Francisco, watching Bonds hit many of his 73 home runs in 2001, I was surrounded by savvy, hard-core fans”virtually none of whom harbored serious doubts that he was juiced to the gills. Did it diminish their enjoyment of his feats? Not that I could tell. Instead the scene brought to mind a New Yorker cartoon of a couple of years ago: A guy sitting in a bar remarks to the bartender, œI™m probably in the minority, but I would™ve loved to see Mantle on steroids.