Here are some excerpts from a column by Dave Kindred in the Washington Post of August 25, 1983, that give a sense of the status of steroids at the time. Kindred scarcely mentions baseball, but the column applies to baseball as much as any other sport:
Steroids are an artificial facsimile of the male hormone testosterone. Because they rapidly build protein and therefore muscle, steroids routinely are prescribed for geriatrics and postoperative patients. Their use by healthy athletes, while not illegal if obtained by prescription, is a corruption of the drug in search of muscular power. This use is against the rules of major track and field organizations on grounds the drug is an artificial stimulant (with dangerous side-effects, including cancer) that distorts fair competition.
Yet estimates run to 90 percent when experts consider how many big-time track athletes use steroids. . . .
It is now incumbent on the U.S. Olympic Committee to establish testing procedures year-around and kick out the violators.
The steroid episodes [at the Pan American Games in summer 1983] brought Dr. Robert Kerr, a Los Angeles physician, into public view.
In 18 years, he estimates he has prescribed steroids for 10,000 athletes from baseball, football, basketball and track. He says 1 million athletes use steroids. By prescribing steroids and monitoring the effects, he says, he saves athletes from the dangers of a “dark alley black market” that sells veterinary-medicine steroids and suspect steroids imported from Europe.
“Abuse is rampant,” Kerr said. So he has no qualms about prescribing drugs that violate athletic rules.
“We’re talking about consenting adults here. They know the risks, they know that we don’t know the long-term effects yet. But if we can provide laboratory monitoring, maybe we can prevent any effects . . . The danger in the current controversy is that these athletes will be mentioned with the NFL cocaine-users and be driven further underground.”
Kerr was asked if sports shouldn’t be a contest of athletes, man against man, instead of a man and his druggist against . . .
“This is not fantasyland,” the doctor said. “People shouldn’t smoke, they shouldn’t drink alcohol, they shouldn’t drive over the 55 mile per hour limit. But they will. Athletes will use steroids. The best I can do is provide some safety. To believe anything else is to believe there’ll be no more wars. It’s not real life.”
Al Oerter won four Olympic gold medals throwing the discus from 1956 to ’68. He says he never took a steroid until “experimenting a couple months in my 1976 comeback.” He is convinced steroids do nothing to enhance performance. “It is a placebo effect. It just causes you to retain water and puff up. It is, almost, an excuse that you use to avoid the hard training necessary to build muscle density.”
“Athletes will do it, anyway,” Oerter said, “because the financial reward is worth the supposed short-term risk. They say a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics is worth a minimum of $50,000 and a maximum of $1.5 million.
“. . . Dr. Kerr may believe he is helping people, but he has to ‘fess up to his own contribution to the problems. Those problems are more pervasive than Dr. Kerr indicates.
“I go into gyms and see kids barely past puberty trying to buy steroids from the gym man. I see 14-year-olds all of a sudden puffing up. They’re lifting weights above the ligaments’ and tendons’ capacity. And why? They’ve been taking it all in. They see a football player 6-feet-7 and 314 pounds knocking down 12 people at once. It’s the kid’s fantasy to get to that size and strength, and they know steroids are supposed to be the way.”