The Amphetamines Era


The new biography of Willie Mays sounds interesting, but the notion that “[a]bove all, the story of Willie Mays reminds us of a time when the only performance-enhancing drug was joy” is either naive or dishonest.

Amphetamines have been widely used for decades, dating well back into Mays’ time as a player and even earlier. And why wouldn’t they have been used? Using them without a prescription wasn’t illegal until the 1970s, and there was no baseball rule against using them until even earlier. There’s good reason to believe that uncontrolled amphetamine use is dangerous, so it makes perfect sense to try to create an enforceable ban on their use to prevent a downward spiral that has bad health consequences, but the fact of the matter is that there was no such enforceable ban when Mays played and amphetamines were widely used. They’re drugs and they enhanced performance.

There was no time “before” people tried to get an edge by ingesting useful substances (I drink a lot of coffee while writing blog posts in a rush in the morning) and there never will be. Sports have rules for a reason, and rules that aim to restrict consumption of potentially dangerous drugs seem like a good idea to me. And players shouldn’t break the rules. But the idea that some vast moral transformation occurred circa 1995 to which the great ones of yore were immune is silly.