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No crying in baseball? Maybe it's all the extra testosterone

August 17, 2012|By Dan Turner
  • Outfielder Melky Cabrera of the San Francisco Giants tested positive for testosterone, a substance some believe is commonly abused in Major League Baseball.
Outfielder Melky Cabrera of the San Francisco Giants tested positive for… (Ben Margot / Associated…)

Dodgers fans are still celebrating the 50-game suspension of San Francisco Giants star Melky Cabrera for using a banned substance, which could very well end the Giants' hopes of defeating Los Angeles for the National League West title. But there's no joy in Bay City. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that even the Giants players have turned against Cabrera, casting serious doubt on whether he will ever again appear in an orange-and-black uniform. What's less clear is whether they're mad at him for cheating, or mad at him for cheating so inexpertly.

Cabrera was caught after a test showed evidence he'd been using testosterone. Sports fans can be forgiven for wondering whether that's a big deal because they themselves are frequently encouraged to take the male sex hormone. In recent months, Abbott Laboratories and other drug makers have spent heavily to promote their testosterone treatments, often in the form of TV commercials during sporting contests ("Do you have low T?," the announcer asks, as if pronouncing the actual name of the hormone in question were too shameful). But testosterone is banned by Major League Baseball because it promotes muscle growth and makes frequent weight training easier on the body, rather like anabolic steroids. And like steroids, there are serious risks to taking it.

Testosterone can raise the risk of prostate cancer, cause blood clots and damage the liver; prolonged use can render men infertile and even cause the growth of breast-like tissue. Despite that, some say it has become the performance-enhancing substance of choice in Major League Baseball and other sports leagues because it's so hard for drug testers to detect.

"The only people that get caught are the dumb and the dumber," Victor Conte, founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative that became notorious during the investigation of another alleged Giants doper, Barry Bonds, told a USA Today columnist. Conte believes that as many as half of major league players are using banned substances, mostly synthetic testosterone, which can be rubbed on the hands at night in cream form and is virtually undetectable the next morning. I hope that's an exaggeration -- Conte offers no evidence for his claim -- but its performance advantages combined with its difficulty to detect make it likely that the hormone is more commonly used than most people suspect.

So what to do? Conte suggests that Major League Baseball adopt a more expensive and sophisticated testing method for testosterone. Meanwhile, Dodgers fans can revel in the departure of Cabrera. Until somebody in blue gets similarly T-bagged.


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