Baseball’s 1st Performance Enhancing Chemical

 

There’s a difference between mind-altering and performance enhancing chemicals in baseball. Alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine have been around forever – or for what passes for the beginning of forever in most professional baseball circles, the 1876 start of the National League. These for-sure items, and a little stray loco weed thrown in to boot, may have altered some outlooks for quite a few players from the dawn of the baseball clock, but none ever proved to be “enhancers” of improved results on the field in the long run.

As we’ve sadly learned in recent years, a few true performance-enhancing drugs, hormonal producers like HGH and others, have slipped into use to produce stronger and faster healing athletes over the past two decades, apparently, that have literally made a major mockery of the record books, especially on the power-hitting side of the ledger. Now, while we are still in the legal-cultural side of trying to figure out what to do with the players and records involved, I thought it might be a little dark-sided fun this morning to take a look at where this problem began in the narrative of baseball fiction.

It started in the 1949 movie, “It Happens Every Spring,” starring British-born actor Ray Milland as the second most unathletic actor to ever take on the role of a baseball player in a film. (The worst miscasting came later, in 1957, when some other doe-doe Hollywood studio stupidly starred Anthony Perkins as Jimmy Pearsall in the movie, “Fear Strikes Out.” No one before, since, or probably forevermore will ever do a worse job than Perkins, but Milland gave Tony a pretty good run.)

The movie just played again this morning on cable. So, with the help of the DVR, I was able to capture these critical stills from the show itself. The one in the top here is the alleged quote from Einstein on the way scientific breakthroughs change our view of things. Interesting idea, but that is hardly what happened in the movie, “IHES.”

What happened is that a college professor, then a major league baseball team, and finally a major league team owner and a complicit university  were all able to parlay an unethical performance-enhancing substance into a revitalized college teaching and research career, a major league pennant, and an endowment subsidy for scientific research at the professor’s university, thanks to the gratitude of the team owner who bathed in the windfall of secret scientific breakthrough.

Here’s how it happened:

 

Simply soak a small sponge rag in the wood-reppelant fluid and place the wet rag in the glove behind the hole. A little contact between the ball and the liquid mix made the next pitch impossible to hit. The ball would literally jump over a swinging bat to avoid getting hit on its way to the catcher's glove. In the movie, nobody ever checked the glove.

 

In the movie, a chemistry professor’s months of experimentation is destroyed when a home run from a student baseball game crashes through the window of his laboratory and destroys his material in their beakers. While cleaning up the mess, the professor learns that he accidentally has discovered a wood repellant substance. While rolling the baseball that caused the damage down the surface of the research table, he sees that the ball simply guides itself around anything made of wood.

Professor Milland cannot make more of the substance that causes this wood repellant behavior because it is all a result of the accident and the confluence of chemicals that randomly came together. As a baseball fan, however, Milland immediately recognizes how he could use the stuff he is able to collect in a few bottles to help his favorite St. Louis club win the pennant.

 

"Mike Kelly" threw a ball with more hops than Barnum's fleas.

 

Milland takes an immediate secret sabbatical from his college post and journeys to St. Louis. He manages to get through all resistance from the club owner and manager by striking out the entire St. Louis club in practice. Signed to a pitching contract as “Mike Kelly,” Milland then pitches St. Louis to a pennant that is won on the last day of the season with his own bare-hand catch of a line drive up the middle. Kelly had pitched this last game on his own because his catcher-roommate and the manager had used up his special baseball concoction the night before, thinkng it was hair tonic.

Milland had told his roommate that these mystery bottles contained hair tonic to head off curiosity about the secret substance. It was the only time in the movie that Milland suffers a penalty for lies or deceptions, but the setback proves temporary. Forced to win a game on his own, Milland succeeds, but suffers a career-ending injury from the last-out catch. The St. Louis owner then learns of Milland’s college background and decides to build a new science building for the university – under the condition that Milland is forgiven for his deception and made chairman of the science department. Milland also gets the girl, who also happens to be the daughter of the college president.

The movie doesn’t cover how St. Louis fared in the World Series without Ray Milland/Mike Kelly, but we are left to presume they also won that one too, even without performance-enhancing assistance.

So, what’s the harm here, anyway? St. Louis got another pennant. The St. Louis club owner and fans were made happy. And major league baseball and all the other fans never even knew what hit them. It just goes to show you what’s possible when you secretly have the only pitcher in baseball who can use a little liquid stuff to make any baseball totally unhittable.

 

 

 

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4 Responses to “Baseball’s 1st Performance Enhancing Chemical”

  1. Mark Wernick Says:

    Say Bill, how about that movie with the 12 year-old kid who throws with the velocity of an rpg after his broken arm is re-set and heals. I guess, technically, that isn’t using PEDs, is it? Someday someone will have a prosthetic arm that lets them sling a ball 150 mph, and we’ll have an issue like those runners with the amazingly springy artificial legs that enables them to run faster than people with regular human legs.

    Leveling the field of competition in optimally fair ways is an ongoing challenge.

    Happy New Year!

    Mark

  2. Gary Says:

    What about amphetamines as a PED? Even today MLB is granting waivers for their use under the guise of treating ADHD.

  3. Mark Wernick Says:

    Gary:

    Those players with waivers, like Adam LaRoche (who has publicly acknowledged his ADHD), have letters from their doctors attesting to their diagnoses. Having taken Adderall at one time myself, I can acknowledge that they can confer an energy boost, but I’m confident they didn’t increase my bulk or fast-twitch muscle fiber, probably similar to how greenies work. I think if you could look at the stats of those players on ADHD stimulants, it likely would not show a dramatic boost in their performance numbers.

    Mark

  4. Gary Says:

    Mark,

    There is evidence that amphetamines are a performance booster.

    As far as getting a letter from a doc, well it’s pretty easy for a ballplayer to doc shop.

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