February 15, 2009

Baseball & PEDs: A 120-Year History

NPR, July 17, 2007:
As the sporting industry exploded in the 1920s, athletic trainers and their charges immediately saw the possibilities of using his [Brown-Sequard's] research. Even the Big Bambino himself, Babe Ruth, injected himself with extract from a sheep's testicles, hoping for increased power at the plate (and in the bedroom). He attempted this only once, and it made him incredibly ill; the Yankees covered the story by telling the press that the Babe just had one of his famous bellyaches. Even though the Yankees tend to celebrate all things Babe Ruth, they have never, to my knowledge, had "Sheep Testicles Day" at the stadium.
This claim comes from page 150 of Dave Zirin's 2007 book, Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports. I don't know his source, but knowing this about Ruth isn't surprising.

***

Performance-enhancing drugs have been a part of baseball for at least 120 years.

Way back in 1889, James "Pud" Galvin -- then 32 years old -- injected himself with a testosterone concoction derived primarily from the testicles of a guinea pig and a dog.

It was known as the Brown-Séquard Elixir and his use was common knowledge. On August 14, 1889, the Washington Post reported:
Galvin was one of the subjects at a test of the Brown-Sequard elixir at a medical college in Pittsburgh on Monday. If there still be doubting Thomases who concede no virtue in the elixir, they are respectfully referred to Galvin's record in yesterday's Boston-Pittsburgh game. It is the best proof yet furnished of the value of the discovery.
According to this blog, after the injections, Galvin pitched a shutout and knocked in three runs with a double and a triple.

Galvin was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1965, 63 years after his death.

On August 23, 1889, less than two weeks after the above Post story, the New York Times reported on the controversy regarding the effectiveness of the elixir. According to Dr. Henry Loomis, "the fluid is potent enough to increase the strength of the human organism, presumably in old men, not by structural change, but by nutritive modification ... a consequent recovery of former power by the tissues may supervene". One patient received "four injections of thirty minims each of the elixir every two days".

Another report:
Professor Brown-Sequard recently read a most remarkable paper before the Biological Society of Paris. The aged professor believes he has discovered the secret of perpetual youth. The source is in young animals, guinea pigs, dogs, etc. — from which, while under the influence of anaesthetics, he abstracts organic matter, reduces it to a pulp in a mortar, dissolves all that is soluble in water, then subjects this solution to further chemical action, and finally injects it under the skin of the arm in doses of 1 c.c. at a time. The professor injected the matter into his own arm, and he reports that on the day after he had taken two injections, he felt completely transformed. He could work better, sleep better, and digest his food more perfectly. His appetite improved, and he gained 14 1bs. in weight. It true, these results may well be called extraordinary.
Roger Abrams's book, The Dark Side of the Diamond; Gambling, Violence, Drugs and Alcoholism in the National Pastime, discusses Galvin's drug use. About a year ago, Abrams wrote:
It did not have much of an impact on his performance as he neared the end of his career, at best a placebo effect. For our purposes it is useful to note that no one said a peep about the event. At a time when cocaine was legal and could be ordered by mail or purchased at your local store, steroid-like injections for ballplayers were just matter-of-fact.
Tom House has said he was one of many players in the 1960s and 70s who took amphetamines, human growth hormone and various steroids.
I pretty much popped everything cold turkey. We were doing steroids they wouldn't give to horses.
House estimated that six or seven pitchers on every staff in were experimenting with steroids in the 70s.

In Ball Four, Jim Bouton wrote:
I've tried a lot of other things through the years -- like butabolidin, which is what they give to horses. And D.M.S.O. -- dimethylsulfoxide. Whitey Ford used that for a while. You rub it on with a plastic glove and as soon as it gets on your arm you can taste it in your mouth. It's not available anymore, though. Word is it can blind you. I've also taken shots -- novocaine, cortisone and xylocaine. Baseball players will take anything. If you had a pill that would guarantee a pitcher 20 wins but might take five years off his life, he'd take it.
Bouton also mentions at one point the players were running low on greenies: "One of our lads is going to have a bunch of greenies mailed to him by some of the guys on the Red Sox."

28 comments:

seawolvesfan said...

great research. hope less people and hopefully nobody will use PEDs. but again im dreaming.

redsock said...

... when cocaine was legal and could be ordered by mail or purchased at your local store ...

Now THAT'S the good old days!

dj1480 said...

I love this blog.

MOCK! said...

dj1480 wrote I love this blog

How can you not?!?!

James said...

Good article, but there are a couple of points that I think need to be made. Dimethylsulfoxide, from what I understand, is kind of like a proto-icyhot. It was used after Capsolin ointment stopped being widely available.

Sandy Koufax used Capsolin ointment, which is basically chili pepper salve and apparently would burn like hell until your arm was numb and the skin started to peel off). I've heard it told that they had to wash Koufax's uniforms separately because the stuff was so strong it would get into other people's uniforms and still be strong enough to burn the players using them. I've heard it said that they gave away some Dodgers uniforms to little leagues and the kids who got Koufax's uniforms couldn't stand the pain. This sounds apocryphal, though.

The stuff Bouton doesn't do much that Icy Hot doesn't, although it's a whole lot safer. I don't know if it can really make people go blind, but it can deliver things that have been dissolved in it, so it's possible that it was used to deliver more powerful substances.

I think when he says butabolidin, he means butazolidin, which is, from what I can tell, an arthritis drug. Bouton is talking about painkillers, more than P.E.D.s in the traditional sense.

I was struck by that same passage in Ball Four, and looked into it a couple years ago. All of this is info from an email I sent to a buddy, and I'm not sure where I got it from (except for the Koufax stuff, which is from A Lefty's Legacy, a so-so biography of Sandy Koufax), but I'm fairly confident it's all true.

Tom House is kind of a weirdo who seems to have it out for Hank Aaron. I find it kind of strange that no one other than House has come out to with this 6+7 pitchers per team, if that were really the case. It seems like if everyone and his (or at least Mark McGuire's) brother can write books about steroids, some middling middle reliever or cash-struck starting pitcher from House's era would try to make a buck off a book.

That said, I have no doubt steroids have been a part of baseball for even longer than Canseco would have you believe.

tim said...

Time to head to the Montreal Ska Kings The Planet Smashers concert!

Damn, I love having amazing shows 0.5 km from my home! (That's 0.3 of a mile!)

PS - that song is awesome because tofino is in B.C....cold-ass water!

L-girl said...

First Tim non-sequitir concert comment of the season!!

redsock said...

I have heard other people say that House is telling tall tales, but I don't recall him saying anything directly about Aaron.

Or is it just that House and Aaron played together, so maybe Hank was not as clean as everyone would like to believe ....

Also, why would any pitcher from that era come forward? They are not being suspected of anything and there is very little to be gained by saying "Oh man, the amount of drugs we did back then, unbelievable".

Though maybe some old coots could adopt the ol' "Now the PEDs is MY day were real drugs, not this weak-ass shit they got today...."

redsock said...

"Pffft! Let's see A-Rod do some of the horse tranquilizers we loaded up on. Fancy pants wouldn't be able to even stand up, let alone swing a bat ... be smearin' his lip gloss all over his fuckin' face."

L-girl said...

Good article, but there are a couple of points that I think need to be made.

I disagree.

... when cocaine was legal and could be ordered by mail or purchased at your local store ...

I usually don't believe in the good old days, but this makes me wonder.

tim said...

Indeed L - pitchers and catchers just reported and I'm already in mid-season non-sequitur form!

L-girl said...

Hey, I've been misinterpreting sarcasm all winter. Density never has an off-season. :)

L-girl said...

In Aaron's autobiography, FWIW, he talks about lots of guys doing greenies (as well as massive binge drinking). He said he tried greenies once but couldn't stand the speedy-ness, that strong coffee was about as far as he could go for an upper.

seawolvesfan said...

"I love this blog." didnt you mean IM IN LOVE WITH THIS BLOG?

andy said...

i am

Benjamin said...

I'm surprised Pud didn't give himself a massive infection with that injection. I doubt they had modern testicle-crushing-and-liquification hygiene back then, and who knows what sort of foreign proteins would have been coming along for the ride.

9casey said...

Benjamin said...
I'm surprised Pud didn't give himself a massive infection with that injection



Well he did die at 42

Benjamin said...

Well he did die at 42

Baseball Reference says 45, a decade after he stopped playing, though his obituary says 47 ("had been ill four months with catarrh of the stomach" -- maybe stomach cancer but who knows). That would be one heck of a lingering infection if related, but since he apparently died poor and probably couldn't afford much treatment, it probably wasn't.

accudart said...

Great stuff! I just picked up some supplies today, our poor dog lucky hasn't a clue about the needles I need to inject him with. I can see my softball career lasting into my 50's now. Still a chance Allan! Hey, the Rocket was on to something....hail hail Roger to the Hall of Fame.

James said...

Testicle crushing and liquidification techniques sure have come a long way.

redsock said...

I just picked up some supplies today, our poor dog lucky hasn't a clue about the needles I need to inject him with. I can see my softball career lasting into my 50's now.

Plus, you'll finally have some semblance of balls.

redsock said...

I always pronounced his nickname Pud, as in, you know, pud. It turns out it refers to him making "pudding" out of batters, so it should rhyme with should and could.

9casey said...

redsock said...
I just picked up some supplies today, our poor dog lucky hasn't a clue about the needles I need to inject him with. I can see my softball career lasting into my 50's now.

Plus, you'll finally have some semblance of balls.




ouch

Benjamin said...

It's possible that Pud had peptic ulcer disease. That'd be poetic.

andy said...

Why is it that stories like this go nowhere but if someone hear Roger was sniffing dog ball powder it would be all over the fucking universe in a matter of minutes.

tim said...

Anyway time for an actual comment on the article - good read, I enjoyed it.

Who knew that "What are balls?" would be the question to the double-jeopardy answer for PEDs in the late 19th century...

James said...

@Andy:

Because very few people even know who Pud Galvin is. And literally no living person ever saw him play.

Even if you were 15 during Babe Ruth's last season, you're 89 now. Few people are going to have any memories of watching him play. It's not exactly front-page news. I mean, do you expect ESPN to run this in the little bottom of the screen ticker?

Today on Around the Horn: Should Pud Galvin's records be stricken from baseball?

Come on, man. Things that happened 3/4 of a century ago aren't likely to be of much interest to most people younger than 3/4 of a century.

andy said...

This story is more valid now then ever. We(society, for Laura) are crucifying Arod now for using. Players have been using for the length of the game's existence. Everyone wants to believe that the old legends of their youth were clean and this just isn't that easy to say definitively now. Stories like this should be as big as the current ones to give perspective.