WHAT DIFFERENCE DO STEROIDS MAKE IN ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE? How much difference did steroids make in the performance of baseball players in what may become known as the Steroid Era? The issue is debatable and is debated (you can google “steroids baseball unimportant” and find some of the articles arguing that steroids didn’t make much difference).
Michael Easter had an article on the fivethirtyeight site which adds some information to the dispute. Easter writes about comparisons between power lifters who have used steroids and those who have not. Easter begins with the example of a champion power lifter’s results in 1983 in two powerlifting championships, one of which took place before there was testing for steroids and one which took place four months later—after testing for steroids had been instituted. After the steroid ban, he lifted 11.5% less weight. Easter says there was a “significant drop” for almost every other lifter at the two events. This “experiment” has the advantage that the comparison is between the same athlete at different times so that many variables are held constant. Easter makes other comparisons between averages for tournaments and records where the competitors use or don’t use steroids. Published research suggests steroids make a strength difference of 5 to 20%; competitors think it makes a difference of 7 to 12%.
It is taken for granted that strength is not correlated with skill, so the question of the effect of greater strength on baseball performance remains open. Easter quotes a leading lifting coach: “All other things being equal, the stronger you are, then the quicker you run, the harder you hit, the higher you jump, the faster you throw”—which seems to be the most precision available.