(Note: I apologize for the fact that the jump-links for the footnotes don’t seem to work. It was my first time trying it out and I, clearly, failed. Hopefully I can fix them soon.)
In 1989, the Oakland Athletics swept the San Francisco Giants in four games to win the World Series. It was a series which, historically, is best remembered for the earthquake which struck just prior to Game 3. It was also a series, though, in which the A’s thoroughly dominated their competition. They not only swept the Giants, but they also outscored them 32-14, and, amazingly, had not trailed at any single point in the series.
That A’s team, led by Tony La Russa, was one which was comprised of an excellent pitching staff – they featured four starters with at least 17 wins (Dave Stewart, Mike Moore, Bob Welch, Storm Davis), the best closer in baseball (Dennis Eckersley), and one of the deepest bullpens in the league. Its offense was led by Rickey Henderson, but also by two young sluggers – 25 year-old first baseman Mark McGwire, who batted only .231 but with 33 home runs and 95 RBI, and by 24 year-old Jose Canseco, who, in only 65 games, slugged 17 home runs. This was a great team. Revisionist history, however, tells us that this may be the most notorious team of the last few generations.
Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco have, of course, admitted to using steroids and performance-enhancing drugs throughout their careers. Canseco even considers himself the sort of patient zero of PED users in Major League Baseball. It’s because of this that many people consider those late-80’s Oakland A’s teams as the epicenter of the modern “steroid era” of baseball. The truth, though, is that the so-called “steroid era” began long, long before McGwire and Canseco wore an Oakland uniform – before they were born, even.
One hundred and twenty-four years ago, in 1889, a pitcher by the name of James Francis “Pud” Galvin went 23-16 for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys of the National League. Pud Galvin was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1965, but he’s best known, in baseball circles, as the first professional baseball player to openly use (what he believed to be) performance-enhancing drugs. Galvin drank what he called his “magic elixir,” which, in actuality, was the Brown-Sequard elixir – a mixture which contains monkey testosterone – which some scientists (in 1889) believed could “increase the strength of the human organism,” while others said that experiments with the elixir were “repugnant to true science.” After further research, it was found that the Brown-Sequard elixir had no positive effects on human recovery or strength.
Usage of the Brown-Sequard elixir was purely experimental, much in the same way that many of the PEDs used today are experimental. Very little is, truly, known about their effects on the human body in recovery, strength, and/or, even, harmful side effects. The point, though, is that one hundred years before the “steroid era” began, professional athletes were experimenting with drugs and cocktails which they had believed – or, at the very least, hoped – would enhance their performance on the field; for over a century, players have been looking for that proverbial “edge.” The steroid era, then – for all intents and purposes – began in 1889, not 1989, as we’ve been led to believe.