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Interviewed Art De Vany for EconTalk yesterday. It should be released this Monday. He argues that there is no observable impact of steroids on home run totals. His basic argument is that Sosa, McGwire and Bonds are simply exceptionally good at hitting home runs. [UPDATE: I should have made it clear that he finds no compelling statisitcial evidence that steroids affect HR performance. He doesn’t deny that S, M, and B hit a lot of HRs. His explanation is that they’re outliers.] [UPDATE 2: The steroids discussion is the first 2o minutes or so of the podcast. The remaining time is devoted to evolutionary fitness–Art’s views on diet and exercise.]

I wonder what role ego and competition played in their success. Sosa vs. McGwire urged each other on. Bonds watched from a distance and took steroids to prove he was the better player. But what if it was the desire that pushed him to success, not the drug? I am usually skeptical of arguments about “trying harder.” You presume that world-class athletes are always trying very hard. But maybe there is something to the head-to-head competition. Look at Maris and Mantle. Surely, pride and ego made some difference there.

I’ve been thinking about this after watching Larry Bird talk about how his competitive drive disappeared when Magic retired. I’m sure his aching back had something to do with it, too. But maybe Bird and Magic really did push each other to achieve more than they otherwise would have.

This story ($) in today’s WSJ moved me greatly. It’s about a statewide high school  hockey championship game in NJ that was canceled 20 years ago because of a measles outbreak. Finally, they’re going to play the game. For charity. But I have a feeling that they’ll all be trying pretty hard. Forty year old men have been getting up early to get on the ice once again and to get in shape. I’d like to see that game. The whole thing is a beautiful example of what people can accomplish together.