Baseball had undergone major changes in the 1990’s most notably the labor strike that wiped out the World Series and brought revenue sharing and a luxury tax. Baseball had survived and was more exciting than ever, the 50-home run season was back, but the players always seemed to be hurt. Between 1992 and 2001 the number of players on the DL rose from 352 to 465, a 32% increase. Days spent on the DL went from 17920 to 27779. Players were also hurt more severely. Days spent on the DL per injury increased 55% over that span.
According to Jucing the Game, in a 2001 meeting between MLB club physicians and baseball commissioner Bud Selig, “club physicians told Selig that the use of the disabled list was 16 percent higher than in 1998. They told him that the roughly 900 players in the big leagues had used the DL 467 times. They told the commissioner that not only were more players injured in the past, but they remained injured longer, averaging 58 days out of action in 2001, a 20 percent increase over 1998.
“The doctors told Selig that the cost of payments to these injured players more than doubled, from $129 million in 1998 to $317 million in 2001.”
Those doctors attributed the increase to weight training but more specifically, to steroids. Then why were so many players using steroids to recover from injuries? The use of steroids is a balancing act, the idea being to push the muscles as far as they will go without having them break down, to become as strong as possible. Because steroids are illegal and largely unresearched players have few guidelines. For most it was trainers like Greg Anderson, trainers with bodybuilding ties, bodybuilders whose inclination was to push the envelope. For players watching their muscles grow and reaping the rewards, the temptation to use more was sometimes too much.
Causing InjuriesAs mentioned above, the principal reason for baseball injuries associated with steroid use is that the increase of muscle mass or increased speed associated with anabolic steroid use is not accompanied by a proportionate increase in strength of the tendons, ligaments and joints. On its own, gaining significant amounts of weight from steroid use in a short period of time doesn’t allow your body to adapt to such a significant increase in size. These factors increase the risk of injury dramatically.
This pitcher is repeating an explosive movement with every pitch, the hitter with every swing. Injuries will inevitably follow. Effects on younger players are even more severe.
Injuries that were rarely problems before baseball’s steroid era were now almost common: patellar tendonitis, strained rib cages (oblique strains), torn hamstrings, ruptured Achilles tendons, and torn rotator cuffs. These injuries occur when (oversized) muscles rip away from ligaments and joints that can no longer accommodate them.
Numerous strains and pulls ended Ken Caminiti’s career, and it was patellar tendonitis that ended Mark McGwire’s.
Instances of Tommy John surgery, the replacement of the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow, have increased dramatically. The injury itself has been around for a long time, mostly called ‘dead arm’ before the surgery existed. The increased stress on the ligament from steroid use likely accounts for the increase in instances of the surgery. Admitted steroid users Jose Canseco and Jason Grimsley had the surgery, as well as other widely rumored steroid users like Luis Gonzalez, Jay Buhner, and Billy Koch.
Preventing InjuriesHuman Growth Hormone (hGH) is used to help accommodate the increase in muscle mass by players taking steroids. The combination of steroids and hGH allow a player to gain all that muscle mass with the steroids, while simultaneously increasing the size and strength their joints. This, of course, doesn’t last.
Referring to his steroid use, Caminiti said, “I didn't do it to make me a better player. I did it because my body was broke down." After success in 1996, Caminiti spent parts of the next five seasons on the DL. His tendons and ligaments continued to bother him even after he retired.
Paxton Crawford said he used steroids because his “arm always hurt.” Aside from the increase in velocity he was pitching pain-free.
The prevention of injuries through steroids and hGH is short-term. Once your muscles increase to unnatural levels they become precarious.
Healing InjuriesIf used properly and safely, steroids and hGH can be used with few side-effects for years. Cycling on and off properly and compensating your body nutritionally can make your muscles not only larger, but more efficient. Minor and major injuries will heal faster.
Ken Caminiti began using steroids while revering from a shoulder injury in 1996.
Jason Grimsley returned from Tommy John surgery after 9 months. The precedent shows normal recovery time to be 12-18 months for pitchers. Grimsley was likely able to use hGH and/or steroids, to chemically hasten the regrowth of muscle lost due to the atrophy from surgery and to help strengthen the ligament itself.
But there is a limit. When muscles grow that much that quickly they start pulling away from their tendons putting extreme pressure on your ligaments. The risk of a major injury becomes much larger as evidenced above.