The Yankees used injections of the steroid cortisone to keep Derek Jeter playing through a cascade of ankle injuries, culminating in his crippling on-field fracture in Game One of the American League Championship Series, according to manager Joe Girardi. ESPN New York reports that Girardi smiled and nodded in affirmation when asked if the Yankees team captain had received a cortisone shot in his ailing left ankle. The manager then elaborated on the condition of Jeter's ankle before the fracture occurred:
"I don't think he was playing on a stress fracture, but I think the weakness in his ankle, and the foul tip off his foot, contributed to that,'' Girardi said. "You hear a lot of guys talk about when they sprain one ankle, they usually hurt something else. I think it's inevitable, if you continue to play with something hurt, you're probably going to end up hurting yourself somewhere else.''
The use and abuse of cortisone is usually exempt from the condemnation received by other drugs, such as anabolic steroids and human growth hormone. Curt Schilling, a vocal crusader against "performance enhancing" drugs, turned in the signature performance of his career while relying on a cocktail of cortisone and the painkiller Marcaine.
As with Jeter's treatment, the drugs were not used to promote healing, but to allow the player to continue playing with a damaged body. In fact, cortisone can harm bone and tendons, and there is evidence that it may cause athletes to recover more slowly from injuries. Yet because of its short-term painkilling effects, it's been widely used for decades as a substitute for actual medical treatment.
So USA Today reported last week that the roster of baseball players being shot up with cortisone in this postseason has included Carlos Beltran, Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, and possibly Johnny Cueto. The story included the following tidy summary of the logic and morality surrounding the performance enhancements that come from non-anabolic steroid use:
Cortisone differs from anabolic steroids in that cortisone does not return the body to a non-injured level. It is a medical treatment that relieves or masks pain rather than heal.
That makes it legal but creates other issues.
Got it? Steroids that allow you to play beyond your natural limits and return your body to a non-injured state are bad and illegal. Steroids that allow you to play beyond your natural limits and leave your body torn and fraying are good and legal. Alex Rodriguez is a cheater; Derek Jeter is a gamer. And one of them was face-down in the dirt with a blown-out leg the other night.