- Team Chemistry: The History of Drugs and Alcohol in Major League Baseball by Michael Corzine
Michael Corzine’s Team Chemistry is about more than performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). PEDs, of course, are the pink elephant of baseball fandom. For nearly two decades now, baseball fans, sportswriters, and players have debated the meaning of the game, its self-perpetuated myths, and the legacy of a “tainted era” of steroid use. Further, baseball heritage and commemoration are unsettled as, for instance, players such as Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, and Barry Bonds remain outside the National Baseball Hall of Fame despite overwhelming credentials. The PED debate envelops all discussions of Major [End Page 104] League Baseball’s recent past and threatens to, at times, destabilize the league itself. But this debate did not emerge suddenly in the 2000s. Instead, as displayed by Corzine, the debate over PED use in baseball has a long history that is connected to other drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines, alcohol, tobacco, and more obscure regimens like the Brown-Séquard elixir, a late-nineteenth century testosterone derivative.
Corzine makes a strong case that the distant past of recreational and restorative drug use in professional baseball is directly linked to PED use in the modern era. Beginning as early as the game itself, players used recreational drugs, most often tobacco and alcohol. As patterns of drug use in America changed, so too did the behaviors of baseball players, as marijuana, cocaine, and LSD eventually became part of baseball drug culture. Additionally, largely facilitated by a growing post–World War II pharmaceutical industry, players began using “restorative drugs,” meaning painkillers, sedatives, and amphetamines (the “greenies” of Jim Bouton’s Ball Four infamy). Finally, PEDs emerged, which saw widespread use in professional baseball beginning in the late 1980s. Corzine sees these three types of drug use as culturally linked, meaning that the baseball culture that allowed recreational and restorative drug use eventually led to the “unique mashup of competitive masculinity, negligent paternalism, internal economic strife, and public relations–themed drug policies” that ushered in baseball’s steroid era (148).
The tone-setting first chapter effectively reminds the reader that alcohol is a drug (and a destructive one, at that). From at least the 1880s to the late 1960s, a large subset of baseball players followed the motto “Drink Hard, Play Hard.” The media played the role of enabler, as sportswriters hid “baseball’s endless binge” from the public (21). To Corzine, professional baseball is culpable for its long-standing culture of alcohol abuse, as baseball and booze were paired in an “ill-informed tradition [of] celebrating drunkenness” (13). In contrast, the second chapter moves into discussion of tobacco use, which was highly visible and ever present on Major League Baseball (MLB) diamonds until at least the 1990s. Corzine is not shy in his criticism of the MLB and sports media in their roles, for example, chastising both for denying baseball’s drug problems in the late 1960s.
One cannot discuss drug use in baseball without mentioning Mickey Mantle. Corzine certainly discusses “The All-American Boy” throughout by using Mantle’s clean-cut image and legacy as a framing device. The public generally believed Mantle to represent everything good about American values. However, we now know that Mantle’s life was much more complex and involved plenty of boozing and drug abusing. Many chapters begin with a brief discussion of the more unsavory aspects of Mantle’s life before moving into the broader implications of his and others’ behaviors.
At times, though, the connection between the steroid era and other past drug use seems a bit stretched. Connecting the celebration of alcohol and tobacco use—be it uninformed or outright dishonest—to PEDs is still a bit tenuous outside of setting some groundwork for a “look-the-other-way” or “boys-will-be-boys” culture. For instance, Mantle’s alcohol abuse came to public light in his final years during the mid-1990s, exactly the time...