Sports Illustrated ran a cover story about the alarming increase in performance enhancing drug use in both amateur and professional sports, more than 40 years ago in June 1969. Here was writer Bil Gilbert’s assessment of the 1968 World Series during the “untainted” era of MLB. Believe it or not, the titans of old were fueled by more than milk, a moral compass and a love for the game.
“A few pills—I take all kinds—and the pain’s gone,” says Dennis McLain of the Detroit Tigers. McLain also takes shots, or at least took a shot of cortisone and Xylocaine (anti-inflammant and painkiller) in his throwing shoulder prior to the sixth game of the 1968 World Series—the only game he won in three tries. In the same Series, which at times seemed to be a matchup between Detroit and St. Louis druggists, Cardinal Bob Gibson was gobbling muscle-relaxing pills, trying chemically to keep his arm loose. The Tigers’ Series hero, Mickey Lolich, was on antibiotics.
“We occasionally use Dexamyl and Dexedrine [amphetamines]…. We also use barbiturates, Seconal, Tuinal, Nembutal…. We also use some anti-depressants, Triavil, Tofranil, Valium…. But I don’t think the use of drugs is as prevalent in the Midwest as it is on the East and West coasts,” said Dr. I. C. Middleman, who, until his death last September, was team surgeon for the St. Louis baseball Cardinals.
That would be undisputed baseball HOF member Bob Gibson “gobbling” pills to overcome a natural constraint upon his performance and facing players who were doing the same. It’s probable Gibson was issued these pills without a prescription or at least exceeded the recommended dosage which would meet Murray Chass’ “bad guy” criterion for exclusion.
Gibson and others were men of virtue and esteem, though. Sure, they would inhale painkillers and amphetamines with reckless disregard, but if you told them they could rub in a cream, ingest a pill or receive an injection that would (a) keep them healthier (b) enhance their performance (c) earn them tens of millions of dollars and (d) not be tested for in any fashion by MLB, they totally would have turned it down.
Nearly half a century after this article was written, chemical enhancement is more prevalent. Not only have professional sports not eroded, they are more popular and more profitable than they have ever been. The most curious thing checking out that article in 2013 is how emaciated the “athlete” on the cover looks.
[Photo via USA Today Sports]