The Injury Toll Steroid use may explain a sharp rise in the time players spend on the disabled list

June 02, 2002

As more baseball players have built overmuscled bodies using the
advanced biochemistry of steroids and other drugs, they have been
suffering severe--and costly--injuries in ever greater numbers.
"We're seeing more and more injuries you used to associate with a
violent contact sport like football," says Seattle Mariners
manager Lou Piniella, referring to tears of muscles, ligaments
and tendons.

Noted sports orthopedist James Andrews, of Birmingham, says he
"seldom used to see these muscle-tendon injuries" in baseball.
"It was always the sport for the agile athlete with the small
frame," he says. "Over the last 10 years, that's changed. You'd
have to attribute that--the bulking up and the increased
injuries--to steroids and supplements."

According to figures obtained from Major League Baseball, big
league players made 467 trips to the disabled list last season,
or about 18 per week. Those players stayed on the DL for an
average of 59 days, which was 10 days longer than the average
stay in 1997--a 20% increase.

Major league teams last year doled out $317 million--or 16% of the
game's total payroll--to players physically unable to play. That
cost for DL players was a 130% increase from only four years
earlier.

"I see so many body changes--one season they're average, the next
season they're massive--that [steroid use] is obvious," Andrews
says. "More athletes are carrying more muscle than their frames
can support, and therefore the trauma is greater. You wouldn't
believe the Achilles tendon ruptures, the quadriceps ruptures,
the hamstring tears, the massive rotator cuff tears, the tearing
of the biceps muscles at the elbow joints. There's just too much
mass for the body to handle. And more and more of these injuries
are career-threatening.

"The dangers of these drugs--and even the supplements--aren't fully
known yet," Andrews continues. "But from an anecdotal
perspective, I'm seeing four to five times as many of these
injuries as I did just 10 years ago--and I'm seeing them in
younger and younger athletes. If the pros are doing it, the
college kids aren't far behind, and the high schools and junior
highs are right behind them. I try to counsel some of them, but
it is a secret box that they find themselves in, and they don't
want to talk to me about it."

San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers says suspected
steroid use and the economic fallout of related injuries have
become important factors in how general managers evaluate
players. "It matters when you're doing contracts or when you're
looking to acquire a player from another team," he says. "It's a
factor whether you're going to open discussions on a long-term
contract or go year-to-year. It's become a key issue because a
lot of small-market clubs can't continue to insure players. The
cost of insurance has gone so high that it's more and more
difficult to insure these contracts." According to Pro Financial
Services president Brian Burns, who specializes in such policies,
the cost of player salary insurance has risen more than 200%
since 2000.

--T.V.

COLOR PHOTO: BEVERLY TAYLOR/BIRMINGHAM NEWS/AP Medical alertAndrews has seen a more than fourfold increase in severe muscle and tendon tears.

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