After finally acknowledging and attempting to control steroid use (abuse!), Major League Baseball appeared to be moving in the right direction with regards to performance enhancing substances. Known cheats Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were forced out of the game while a number of suspected players "on the juice" (Sammy Sosa, Mark McGuire, Brady Anderson, Jose Canseco, etc.) have retired.
On a broader scale, this trend can be seen empirically by examining home run production. After reaching a peak of 2.34 home runs per game in 2000, there were only 2.01 home runs per game in 2008, the lowest total since 1993, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Additionally, the "small ball" Tampa Bay Rays made a captivating run to the World Series relying as much on stolen bases (they led the majors with 140) as on the long ball. Indeed, it appeared baseball had turned a new page.
However, looks can be deceiving. A recent article by Michael McCann on SI.com highlighted another "legal" PED, ADHD medication. It appears more professional baseball players, up from 103 last year to 106 this year, have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Seem odd?
The issue whether of ADHD is under or overdiagnosed in children is certainly a hot topic but not one to be discussed here. More importantly though it should be noted that the drugs prescribed for treatment of this disorder are essentially stimulants. By convincing a doctor to diagnose them with ADHD, professional baseball players can be granted a TUE (therapeutic use expemption) which allows them to use drugs which are essentially legal versions of banned amphetamines and cocaine. Do these enhance performance? Absolutely! When your job is to try to focus on a little white ball, decide whether or not to try to hit it (within a couple of seconds) and if so when and where... then yeah, the ability to focus is paramount!
So the question becomes, do all of these players really have this disorder, or are they simply convincing some doctor (who conincidentally also happens to be a big fan of the team!) to make a questionable diagnoses. More importantly, should there even be a TUE for these drugs in Major League Baseball? The idea behind most pharmaceutical drugs is to make people who are disabled "normal" or on par with the rest of society. However, playing baseball on the professional level is not normal. In fact, it is quite difficult which is why the relatively few people who do posses the appropriate skills to be competitive are compensated very well for those skills. By allowing a select subset to have an unfair competitive advantage, baseball is compromising the competitiveness of the game and undermining the good it achieved with the steroid testing.
Additionally, many of these drugs contain serious side effects, the worst of which include heart attacks and strokes. There is a reason these drugs are tightly controlled prescription medications.
McCann's article suggests Congress may get involved but with everything else they have on their plate right now, something tells me this isnt (and shouldnt be!) very high on their priority list. On the other hand, it is up to baseball to come to the realization that the policy is flawed and needs to be changed. This is likely hopeless as the likeliness of the player's union to bargain away anything is akin to a snowstorm in Kona. With that having been said however, hopefully Mr. McCann's article will at least get the discussion rolling.
ADHD should be taken seriously when it affects a child's ability to learn and interact in school properly. However, it should NOT be used as a lame excuse to enable professional baseball players to take illegal performance enhancing drugs.