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Three Out of Three Doctors Agree



By Howard Megdal ~ January 26th, 2011. Filed under: Howard Megdal, New York Mets.

The writer Murray Chass, in his January 23 blog entry, re-visited his oft-cited idea that he knows Mike Piazza took steroids, since he saw “back acne” on Piazza while interviewing him in the New York Mets’ clubhouse during the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Chass wrote:

“Attention, Mike Piazza fans and other cynics: A report in The New York Times on Saturday about the Barry Bonds perjury case said that prosecutors said that Bonds’ former girlfriend, Kimberly Bell, “would testify to seeing physical changes in Bonds that are indicative of steroid use, including acne on his back and shoulders…”

If acne is good enough for Federal prosecutors, it’s good enough for me no matter how much Piazza and his supporters scream and whine at my mention of Piazza and the acne that covered his back until it miraculously disappeared when baseball began testing for steroids in 2003 and 2004.

No one has accused Piazza of perjury, but he better be careful with what he says if he ever has to testify under oath.”

In order to shed some light on the strength of the steroids-back acne connection, I spoke to several dermatologists who specialize in acne treatment. The short answer is: the connection between the two is extraordinarily tenuous.

Dr. Jennifer Goldwasser of Central Westchester Dermatology said that she treats patients with back acne nearly every day.

“It’s a very common thing in my practice,” Goldwasser said in a telephone interview. She added that among those with back acne, “a very small percentage” are steroid users.

Dr. Eric Schweiger, a Manhattan dermatologist, seconded Goldwasser’s experience.

“I see a broad cross section of the population,” Schweiger said in a telephone interview. “Lots of adult females, adult males, adolescents, many of whom have back acne.” When asked how many of the adolescents he saw were on steroids, Schweiger laughed and said, “Not many.”

But would Piazza, a man in his 20s and 30s during his playing career, be as susceptible to back acne as a teenager? According to these dermatologists, he is a prime candidate for the symptoms Chass described without steroid use.

“One of the major causes of [back acne] is if someone sweats a lot, wears heavy equipment, wears, as Piazza did, heavy uniforms,” Dr. Ira Davis, a Staten Island dermatologist, said in a telephone interview.

Dr. Schweiger pointed out that between 10 and 20 percent of men in Piazza’s age group suffer from the problem, and athletes are more likely that the general population to have the back acne issue. “More activity leads to the clogging of their pores,” Dr. Schweiger pointed out.

And as Dr. Goldwasser pointed out, what Chass saw may not have even been back acne.

“We don’t even know if that’s what he had,” Goldwasser said. “Folliculitis, rosacea, they’d present in a similar way. We don”t have an official medical diagnosis, and we’d by no means draw the conclusion that he even had back acne so quickly.” Goldwasser said that both folliculitis, an infection of the skin follicles, and rosacea, a chronic skin condition, usually have no connection to steroid use.

And while the presentation of back acne isn’t necessarily a definitive link to steroid use, Dr. Schweiger, who has treated patients who use steroids, pointed out that the reverse is also non-correlative: steroid use often doesn’t lead to back acne.

“Even among my patients who are on steroids, 50 percent of them don’t suffer from back acne,” Dr. Schweiger said.

All the dermatologists agreed on one thing: a lay person viewing Piazza’s back in a clubhouse setting isn’t a reasonable standard for diagnosing back acne, let alone asserting a connection between that problem and steroid use.

“I would say that conclusion is not fair,” Dr. Schweiger said.

“I would say no,” Dr. Davis said.

And Dr. Goldwasser, after a long pause, described Chass’s conclusion as “presumptuous. That’s the word I would use.” When asked if that was a polite word for the word she would use, Goldwasser laughed and said, “You could say that.

“Who is this person even making the diagnosis?” Goldwasser added. “Certainly not a doctor.”

And while Goldwasser is not, as Chass is, a Hall of Fame voter, she did not hesitate when asked if the evidence Chass cited would keep her from voting Piazza into Cooperstown.

“No, it wouldn’t prevent me from voting for him at all,” Goldwasser said. “Because everyone is innocent until proven guilty.”

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Howard Megdal is the Editor-in-Chief of The Perpetual Post. He covers baseball, basketball and soccer for Capital New York, MLBTradeRumors.com, New York Baseball Digest and has written for ESPN.com as well as numerous other publications. He is the Poet Laureate for SBNation New York. His book about Jewish baseball players, “The Baseball Talmud,” is available for purchase on Amazon.com and wherever books are sold. His next book, "Taking The Field", is available for pre-order on Amazon.com and will publish in May 2011.

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18 Responses to Three Out of Three Doctors Agree

  1. Benny

    Howard:

    1) The best thing would be to talk to Murray Chass at his website. He does answer his email. 2) I will tell you that Mike Piazza would have sued Murray Chass by now after all the information that Mr.Chass has written about Mike Piazza. I am as big Met fan as there is but I will tell you 1) Mike Piazza has a book coming out and the fact that he has not denied it by now tells me that there is some fact in Murray Chass’s statement and 2) Already one writer has pulled out of co writing Mr. Piazza’s autobiography.

  2. Howard Megdal

    Hi Benny,

    Two points- one, Piazza has denied it.

    http://www.nypost.com/p/sports/mets/item_u4oMMRg6iIUvZVFheagGlO

    But this isn’t a question of whether Piazza took steroids or not. It is whether back acne, in any way, constitutes proof. Because beyond that observation, we have Piazza’s on-record denials and Chass’s claims of unnamed sportswriters saying otherwise.

  3. Steve

    Howard, you and others have completely missed the point Chass is making – and has made several times. It’s not simply that Piazza had back acne that caused Chass to be suspicious. It’s that he had it for several seasons when there was no steroid testing and then it miraculously disappeared the first year tey started testing. It was the disappearance of the acne at such a convenient time that made Chass suspicious.

    I encourage you to ask your doctors about that and see what they say.

  4. sj10689

    The acne argument alone would NEVER hold up in Federal court in a steroids case, as Chass is trying to suggest. Everyone should know that the evidence he uses to base this on is hearsay! Chass says “If acne is good enough for Federal prosecutors, it’s good enough for me no matter how much Piazza and his supporters scream and whine at my mention of Piazza…” – he basically took a microscopic example of Barry Bonds’ case with regards to his acne, and then magnifies it several times over, and uses that as the basis of his argument for steroid use. Despite his mentioning that Piazza’s back acne “miraculously” disappeared when MLB started drug testing for steroids and PEDs, his facts were pretty vague – he never mentions when and/or how often he saw Piazza’s back acne. And even then, is it not possible that Piazza simply decided to visit a dermatologist for treatment? In sum, all of Chass’ claims can be discredited because of the total lack of substantial evidence.

    My point is this: If you can’t prove your case anywhere beyond a reasonable doubt, you have no case. Chass’ argument definitely qualifies. Some could argue that this is merely a speculative argument that only stirs up suspicion as its purpose, but keep in mind that such claims and allegations are very serious and are not to be taken lightly! And lastly, this conjectural argument has been discredited by dermatologists – not every steroid user, avid or not, develops problems with acne. In fact, most people with back acne are predisposed to this condition, to varying degrees, due to genetics.

    With such flimsy evidence and serious accusations based almost entirely on stereotypical logic by someone who is not a licensed medical professional, nor is even known for a medical background, Chass should have kept these mere opinions, presented as fact, to himself. To openly present this dreck to the mass media on public domain, given his credentials, shows either a lack of character, or a lack of common sense. Being that this is coming from a hall of fame writer, this is nothing short of shameful.

  5. rob c

    nice piece howard. it’s always good when sound, rational — and most of all unbiased — minds can think critically about an issue like this instead of resorting to conclusion-jumping witch hunts as chass has been so prone.

    it’s pretty clear at this point that chass has (pathetically) hooked himself as THE name affiliated with this issue in the hopes of recovering some credibility on the off chance that he somehow ends up being right. it’s a pretty poor way to cover news and an even worse way to treat a fellow person.

  6. Joe A.

    The worst part of this is that if it turns out Piazza did use steroids, Chass is going to think that makes him right. The fact is, whether Piazza did or did not use steroids, Chass was incredibily unethical and unprofesional to make such an accusation without a shred of proof.

  7. Ron Davis

    So you can find doctors all you want they are human they could be wrong is that possible. I do not want to hear of this because we do not know your innocent till proven guilty.

  8. KK

    Reggie Jefferson on the record saying Piazza used. Oh, that’s just one guy so blow it off? He is the text book case on circumstantial evidence and their is a witness on the record. Does that help? Geez, I loved him but I have little doubt he used and would not under any circumstances vote him into the HoF. As someone said above Chase observed the absence after the new rule. Curious indeed.

  9. So he lied to Congress. So what?

    Is this really the best you can do for content in January? Isn’t the now-almost-a-decade-old story a bit of a “been there, done that” at this point? C’mon. You do this for a living. How ’bout something requiring real effort, you know, actually baseball related?

  10. metsfan73

    Outstanding article and research. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  11. Stu B

    Why does it matter anymore whether or not Piazza used? There were no rules against it when he played, and there’s no way to prove it one way or the other? It’s like all the JFK assassination conspiracy stuff – it just doesn’t matter…

  12. Curtis

    Speaking as a non-steroid user who also has back acne, I can’t see that it’s indicative of anything. In my case it gets worse in the summer (sweating) and better in the winter. In Piazza’s case I would expect it to be best during spring training, after he’s had all winter to ‘heal’, and worst in September/October after a full season of sweating and chaffing under the equipment. My condition has improved with age, though never cleared up entirely, so age and its consequent change in hormonal levels could’ve helped Piazza, too.

    And as sj10689 wrote above, it’s entirely possible that after years of suffering with the condition (whether it was acne, folliculitis or whatever), Piazza broke down and got treatment. Lord knows he could afford it. Did a new girlfriend coincide with the start of testing? Maybe he didn’t want to gross her out.

  13. Adam Solomon

    Steve said:

    “It was the disappearance of the acne at such a convenient time that made Chass suspicious.

    I encourage you to ask your doctors about that and see what they say.”

    Yeah, I’m pretty sure the doctors would say that correlation doesn’t imply causation.

    Think about it: that’s the same sort of incredibly flimsy logic (these two things happened around the same time, they must be related!) that anti-vaccination activists use to link vaccines with autism. That’s led to measles outbreaks among unvaccinated children. Conflating correlation and causation KILLS KIDS.

  14. USMF

    I hate the argument that roids weren’t against the rules of baseball. Lets get the facts right…MLB did have a blanket drug policy that covered ALL illegal drugs.

    The problems were that;

    1. MLB didn’t/couldn’t have a testing policy in place, so you had to do something pretty stupid to get suspended for it.

    2. Most people in baseball, fans and writers knew something was up. But MLB needed the boost after the strike and us fans loved Mac and Sammy and even Bonds and we chose not to believe it. I even remember the press doing stories that the HR totals are up because of new smaller ball parks and the balls being made being wound tighter so they flew farther.

    With the new policy, most players going back to the 70s and before would be in violation. It could be from legal body building supplements or more likely from amphetamine abuse. So I hate it when these old school players take the “high and mighty” stance when comparing different era’s.

    Now that that’s cleared up…

    Mike didn’t have a big change in physique during his career the way Bond, Mac, Sosa, Plamerio and Clemens had. Dose this prove that Mike was clear? NO, the same way that some guy observed what he thought was acne disappear. Remember, when the steroid policy was enforced, Mike was gone from NY and was playing his final two years on the WC.

    BTW, “January 29, 2005, Piazza married Playboy Playmate Alicia Rickter…” Not that that proves anything either.

  15. ChrisNY

    @KK: You are incorrect. Reggie Jefferson is not an eyewitness to any alleged steroids use by Piazza. He merely opined that Piazza took them. Which is no different from you or me opining on the subject. This is why the internet is dangerous. Anyone reading your post might have come away thinking it was factual.

    @sj10689: You are correct. Thanks for pointing out the very obvious. Back acne alone would never be sufficient to bring a prosecution of any sort. If that’s all the prosecutors had on Bonds, the judge would have dismissed the entire case and laughed them out of court. This is a little fact Chass seems to overlook.

    @Megdal: Thanks for interviewing the 3 skin docs. Very informative. It confirms what I’ve heard elsewhere — that back acne is common among athletes who don’t do steroids.

    What’s wrong with Chass? He has a bug up his azz when it comes to Piazza. A vendetta. Maybe Piazza wasn’t nice to him when Chass used to have a real job covering sports instead of the pseudo one he has now. So he’s taking it out on him now. Chass is a bitter old man who is best ignored.

  16. Steve

    Howard, still waiting to see if you have a response to my comments above about you missing Chass’ point. It wasn’t about the back acne, it’s all about the amazing disappearance of the acne at just the same time that MLB started testing for steroids. Yes, even Chass admits it is circumstantial but you can’t ignore it.

  17. Mike Silva

    Steve

    I don’t think Howard ever said with certainty that Piazza didn’t use steroids, but he did point out how ridiculous the claim of Chass, almost with certainty, that he did.

    The point all along I have tried to make, and tried to make with Pearlman on the air, is we just can’t assume based on circumstantial evidence.

    I have light back acne as well. Suffered worse when I was younger. Never took steroids.

    Piazza had his natural physical decline from catching. Outside of that one injury in SF, there never was the kind of steroid injuries that we saw with others. Did he take a supplement? Perhaps. But there were plenty of over the counter stuff at that time which were legal that would be construed as PED’s today. (i.e. Andro).

  18. Howard Megdal

    Steve, with all due respect, I didn’t miss Chass’s point. If, as the many dermatologists I spoke to said, there’s very little correlation between back acne and steroid use, then the appearance/disappearance of back acne ceases to serve as anything approaching useful evidence of Piazza and steroids.

    I have no idea if Piazza took steroids or not. But if it turns out that he did, seeing something that may or may not have been back acne doesn’t come close to proving it. And as Dr. Goldwasser pointed out, Mr. Chass lacks the expertise to even make such a diagnosis.

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