According to Mike Piazza, his soon-to-be-released autobiography includes the admission of using Androstenedione.
This will not be the first time that Piazza admitted to using a performance-enhancing drug (PED). As was noted in a popular MetsToday post that sparked heated debate two years ago, Piazza admitted taking Androstenedione in a 2002 New York Times article. Back then, of course, the prohormone was legal to purchase over-the-counter and OK to use according MLB’s lack of a PEDs policy (though, “Andro” was placed on the International Olympic Committee’s list of banned substances in 1997, and it was banned by the NCAA and NFL).
It’s an interesting admission in that it likely will be framed as a reason people can feel comfortable casting votes for Piazza on next year’s Hall of Fame ballot. By “admitting” to using Andro — never mind the admission came over ten years ago — Mike looks like a good guy, one marked by integrity and honesty. Because Androstenedione was a legal supplement that could be purchased at a GNC back then, many people will argue that Piazza “wasn’t doing anything wrong” by taking it. Further, the admission of using this legal-at-the-time PED helps explain the “bacne” witnessed by Murray Chass, the hairy back noticed by Marty Noble, as well as every other bit of “eyeball test evidence” that makes people think Mike Piazza was cheating. Convenient.
Was the use of Androstenedione a form of “cheating”? It’s up for debate. Many will point to the fact that Andro was legal to purchase at the time as support for the case of “no” — however, there are many items that can be purchased at a GNC today that are on MLB’s list of banned substances (just ask J.C. Romero). Then there are those who feel that if MLB didn’t test, then you can’t call it cheating. Yet another argument is that Andro isn’t technically an “anabolic” steroid, and at least one study found that its use didn’t promote muscle growth, therefore it couldn’t have helped Piazza’s performance (to which my reply is, “then why is it banned by OIC, MLB, NFL, NCAA and considered a schedule III controlled substance by U.S. law?”).
Interestingly, there’s even a debate as to whether Androstenedione is a steroid. Clearly, Mike Piazza doesn’t think so, per this quote lifted from The New York Times:
“It shouldn’t be assumed that every big hitter of the generation used steroids,” Piazza says in the book. “I didn’t.”
Is that a lie? Hard to say, since people can’t agree on how to categorize Andro.
Today, Androstenedione is classified as an “anabolic steroid” by the U.S. government, per the “Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004.” However, many medical professionals refer to it as a “steroid hormone,” “designer steroid,” “androgenic steroid,” and/or “steroid precursor.” Probably the most fitting descriptor is “prohormone,” which means it synthetically amplifies the effects of hormones. In other words, Andro is NOT synthetic testosterone, but its intention is to increase hormones in the body that will in turn increase testosterone production.
So is it a steroid or not? Does it matter? Either way, it’s a PED — just like Human Growth Hormone is a PED, even though its technical classification as a “steroid” is debatable. Just for kicks, here is a piece of the wikipedia entry on prohormone:
… prohormones have also been used by bodybuilders, athletes, and nonmedical users of anabolic steroids and other hormones to refer to substances that are expected to convert to active hormones in the body. The intent is to provide the benefits of taking an anabolic steroid without the legal risks, and to achieve the hoped-for benefits or advantages without use of anabolic steroids themselves. Many of these compounds are legal to manufacture, sell, possess and ingest eliminating the legal problems associated with schedule III anabolic steroids.
Before you go off on me for trying to position Mike Piazza as a liar, please understand that my goal here is to help educate people. There’s every reason to believe that Mike Piazza doesn’t consider Andro a steroid. At the same time, there are many people who feel the same way, pulling the blanket of semantics over their heads. The bottom line, to me, is this: there are young athletes who are taking, or considering taking, prohormones such as Andro, perhaps believing the drugs are not as dangerous as “real” steroids such as Dianabol, Winstrol, etc. However, prohormones can and often will result in the same side effects and long-term health problems as anabolic steroids; the risk is similar if not the same.
Maybe Androstenedione was the “hardest” PED that Piazza ever used — we’ll likely never know. Do YOU believe that’s the worst thing he ever took? If you believe Andro was the worst thing Piazza ever took, do you think he was cheating? If the PEDs issue is what kept Piazza from being voted into the Hall of Fame, does this admission help his chances in next year’s ballot? Or does it make his entry even less likely?
Sound off in the comments.
About the Author
Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.