widespread use of illegal steroids among Major League Baseball players has been
fueled by an “economy of bodily management,” the free agent market and
exploding television revenues, a UT Arlington assistant professor argues in a
newly published research paper.
Rose, a labor and disability historian, says by attacking individual
ballplayers’ morality, commentators have obscured the more salient issue.
is representative of the fact that Americans increasingly live in an age of
biotechnology in which bodily modification for profit has become the norm and,
often, an unstated job requirement,” said Rose, who joined the UT
Arlington Department of History
in 2009 and is director of the University’s Minor in Disability Studies program.
is the co-author of a new article “Bionic Ballplayers: Risk, Profit, and the
Body as Commodity, 1964-2007” published in the journal LABOR: Studies in Working-Class History of
the Americas. Her
co-author is Joshua A. T. Salzmann, assistant professor of history at
Northeastern Illinois University.
researchers found that while the league minimum salary remained at $6,000
between 1954 and 1967, players’ average salaries soared to $16,000 in the
mid-1960s. Teams paid these increasing salaries out of funds newly attained
through television revenue. Between 1964 and 1979, revenues from television
contracts rose from $21 million to $54 million.
this time, players and owners investigated new ways to preserve and,
eventually, enhance players’ bodies.
pair interviewed notable sports figures such as Nolan Ryan and Bob Costas and a
wide array of baseball players, team physicians, trainers, general managers,
agents and union officials with careers dating back to the mid-1960s. The
article focuses on Sandy Koufax, Tommy John, Frank Jobe and José Canseco, who in his own book admitted to using
performance-enhancing drugs during his playing career. In fact, his tell-all
claimed that the large majority of Major League Baseball players used steroids.
by the prospect of riches, players and teams harnessed fitness training,
reconstructive surgery, biomechanical analysis and performance-enhancing drugs
to reduce wear and tear on players’ bodies and, ultimately, radically alter
them for profit,” Rose and Salzmann concluded in the paper. “This interplay
between economic incentives and medicine created what we call bionic
ballplayers: bigger, stronger, and at times, more fragile than their
study suggests that the question raised by steroids is not individual morality,
but rather the morality produced by a political economy of labor that calls for
both services and body parts rendered.
as Rose and Salzmann’s article went to press, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig had
just suspended 13 players for using steroids.
Sarah Rose, labor and disability historian in the College of Liberal Arts
has professional baseball players’ steroid use been characterized as an immoral
illegitimate bodily enhancement, when other medical interventions, such as ‘Tommy
John’ elbow reconstruction surgery, have been celebrated as career-saving
cures?” Rose questioned. “While admittedly different, we show that both bodily
interventions arose out of the same dramatic shifts in the business of baseball
– shifts that drove the medicalization of the game and players’ bodies.”
researchers contend that before the advent of salary arbitration and free
agency, ballplayers were disposable parts in a high-risk work environment. But
buoyed by exploding television revenues, the free agent market drove players’
salaries into the millions, transforming the economics of bodily management.
Wright, dean of the UT Arlington College of Liberal Arts, applauded Rose and
the valuable impact that her research has on culture.
Rose is making important contributions to the way we understand the history of
disability and athletics and the pressure that the sports industry places on
its talent,” Wright said. “She is expanding the expertise of UT Arlington and
adding context that helps us understand our world.”
and Salzmann addressed the steroid controversy surrounding New York Yankees
third baseman Alex Rodriguez last year in an opinion piece published in the Chicago Tribune. It is available at http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-09-25/opinion/ct-perspec-0925-baseball-20130925_1_baseball-players-bodies-contracts.
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