Steroids Comes to Sports Economics

As I mentioned on Monday, The Baseball Economist is a wonderful book. As you read it you are impressed with the number of surprising topics where JC Bradbury has applied economics. For example, there is the steroids issue.

Apparently we are living in the steroids age in baseball. Home runs have risen dramatically in recent years and long-standing records have fallen or are threatening to fall. Rather than celebrate the achievements of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds, though, people have condemned these players because it is suspected each took performance enhancing drugs.

We wish to believe that when we witness outstanding athletic achievement that this was achieved via the natural abilities the player possesses. Well, at least, that is what we say. Bradbury notes all sorts of actions athletes take that are both not natural, yet widely accepted. For example, there is laser eye surgery. A number of athletes have undergone this procedure to improve their eye sight well beyond what they were endowed with at birth (William Saletan at made this point in 2005 about both baseball players and Tiger Woods). Bradbury also observes that athletes ingest various stimulants, such as caffeine, that can enhance performance. Yet none of these actions cause people to condemn the athlete.

It’s important to emphasize that Bradbury is not adopting a pro-steroids position, but he is certainly questioning the anti-steroids camp. His entire argument (which I have just touched upon), although convincing, does lead one to wonder how someone who is a life-long defender of all that is wonderful about baseball could not come out strongly against steroids (which clearly threatens the very foundations of all that is good in baseball and the world).

After a bit of searching, I came across a potential reason. The intellectual predecessors to The Baseball Economist are books like Predicting Presidential Elections and Other Things and Freakonomics. The former is authored by Ray Fair, an economist at Yale. The latter is co-authored by Steve Levitt, who works at the University of Chicago. How can Bradbury hope to compete with such impressive talent?

Last year, in a brief post at Sabernomics, Bradbury hinted at the reason. It turns out that Bradbury has taken steroids. Yes, Bradbury has taken performance enhancing drugs. The results are clear. The Baseball Economist is a wonderful book. But somehow, once you know that Bradbury was juiced when he wrote it, it seems a bit less. And once you know that Bradbury has used the juice, you can see where he might be coming from on his steroids argument.

Just for the record, the writers of The Wages of Wins have never tested positive for steroids. No, we don’t compete well with the likes of Levitt or Fair. And although that might hurt us in sales, we are not going to try and compete by altering what little talent we were born with.

We hope in revealing Bradbury’s secret that we move one step closer to the day when all of sports economics can be free of the scourge that is steroids. And when that happens, people can have faith that what they read is a reflection of what meager natural abilities the writer’s possess.

By the way, despite Bradbury’s experience with steroids, his explanation for the increase in home runs is likely correct. What is the explanation? You need to order the book (have I mentioned that yet?)

One last note… WordPress indicates that sometime this morning we passed 200,000 page views (since this blog was started in April of 2006). Over the past four months we have averated about 1,000 page views per day. Thanks to everyone for stopping by and making this a part of your day.

– DJ

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