Imagine if you had invested your whole life playing baseball since the age of six. You didn't study all that much in high school because you were told by coaches and pro scouts that were good enough to get drafted, wouldn't have to go to college, and had a real chance of playing Major League Baseball with all the benefits of that especially making millions of dollars. If you made it to the Bigs and made all that money, you would be set for life. You could have a wife, kids, a relaxing life of retirement without having to work all that hard.
But you're discovering your first few years in the Major Leagues that you're mediocre at best or maybe below average. You've seen what happens to players who perform at the level you are. They hear from their team's general manager the worst three letters in baseball: DFA. This stands for "designated for assignment." Translation: You're being sent back to the Minor Leagues because you're not cutting it at the Big League level. When this happens, you've noticed that guys rarely make it back to the Big Show. DFA usually means you're done with your dreams of playing Major League Baseball.
You've also noticed that one of the biggest reasons guys get sent down is they're not hitting enough home runs. The guys who remain in the pros tend to be home run hitters. If you can't hit the ball out of the ballpark, your stock as a baseball player is diminished considerably. To make the millions of dollars you need for lifetime security and happiness ever after when you hang up your spikes, you need to hit home runs. Not every major league has to, especially if they have great speed, or an exceptional glove or a .300 batting average. But most do.
So what do you do? Well, one thing leaps to mind: take steroids. You've heard about guys taking them and boosting their home run totals and making millions of dollars by demonstrating more pop in their bats. You've heard steroids can be dangerous to your heart and have actually killed at least one baseball player. But those millions of dollars are so enticing.
In the wake of yesterday's news that Major League Baseball may suspend up to 20 major leaguers for steroid use including stars Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, I've been wondering again what makes these guys take such big risks with their health and getting suspended and being labeled as cheaters.
I have a theory that I believe applies to many of them. They don't want to have to start their lives over again by going back to college, being at the bottom of the socioeconomic totem pole, and work their way up in some other field. They've invested so much of their time and lives becoming good baseball players that they just don't want to waste that without capitalizing financially. If they got sent to the minor leagues and their careers fizzled, there may be a few handsome-paying jobs for them such as becoming and ESPN baseball analyst or a baseball coach. But there just a few of these.
Now what can they do? They don't have any other skills because they haven't developed any. As a result, the few options available to them would include blue collar jobs. But after living at the cushy standards and riches of major league players, the thought of hard manual labor must scare many of these guys. After playing a game all their lives, carrying bricks or emptying trash or washing dishes probably doesn't sound appealing to them.
If they go back to college, they have this reality to face: In many cases they weren't particularly good students in high school because they focused on fine-tuning their baseball skills. Many probably figured they would somehow make it to the big leagues so it wasn't necessary to be a good student. School was not going to be their ticket. With pedestrian high school academic records, the quality of colleges they could gain admission to would be mediocre at best. If they attended, they would have to pay roughly $40,000-50,000 a year and work hard starting with English Composition 101 and all the other entry-level courses. If they get through all four years of college, then they would have to hustle for entry level jobs competing with younger kids who probably are willing to work for low wages. This can't sound appealing to most of these guys who are in their mid-twenties and early thirties.
They feel trapped and desperate. They see a tough life ahead beyond baseball. They don't know what to do. So some of them choose the steroid route. You can almost understand why.
Except that it's cheating and destroys the integrity of the sport for everyone involved.