Published on February 6th, 2013 | by Nick Bragg0
PED’s Are a Part of Baseball History, Whether You Like it or Not
Spring training for Major League Baseball is rapidly approaching, and like every year in recent memory, a new performance enhancing drug scandal is buzzing. Yet again Alex Rodriguez makes the news, this time for being allegedly prescribed PED’s from a Miami anti-aging clinic. This story makes me wonder, what has come of America’s favorite pastime? Not so long ago, the entire world was enamored with big bruisers like Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds crushing monster home runs and utterly dominating the sport. Did anybody wonder why these guys were shattering records, or were we all just mesmerized by the long ball?
As we know now, PED’s were the obvious culprit, but does that mean that these player’ stats and careers should be struck from the record book? Should these tarnished super-human athletes be forever banned from Cooperstown? These aren’t easy questions to answer, and we will never agree, but while considering these questions, it’s important to remember who these players were and what they meant to us as kids.
I grew up playing backyard baseball as many kids do. We would use sweatshirts, paper plates, or anything else we could find to improvise bases, drag our heels in the dirt to draw the base-lines, and vote on which trees would count as the foul poles. Once those minor things were out of the way, we’d get down to the important stuff: Who you would get to be. This is where the real arguments started…
“I’m Ken Griffey Jr.!” One kid would shout.
“I’m A-Rod!” Another kid chimes in.
“Awww… Come on Timmy! You always get to be A-Rod,” someone would inevitably complain.
“It’s my yard, so I get to be A-Rod. You can be Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire.”
“Fine, I’ll be Bonds.”
After it was all said and done, we’d have an all-star lineup picked out and we were finally ready to play ball. We’d play for hours, and one-by-one as we were called home, our numbers would dwindle, until the game inevitably turned into a home-run derby contest.
We idolized the great baseball players of our generation, from hitters like Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire, Cal Ripken Jr., and Frank Thomas, to pitchers like Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. We collected their baseball cards, watched them play on TV and went to live games as often as we could talk our parents into taking us.
Then, in 1998, while Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in the midst of a race to break the single season homerun record, held by Roger Maris since 1961, a jar of androstenedione was found in Mark McGwire’s locker. McGwire admitted to using steroids and went on to break the existing record of 61 home runs by crushing 70 bombs that season. Androstenedione, or Andro for short, is classified as a steroid precursor and was not banned in Major League Baseball at the time.
By the end of 2003, MLB had surveyed and tested all players currently on every team’s 40-man-roster and found that 5-to-7 percent of 1,438 players tested popped positive for PED’s. That alarming number prompted MLB to create mandatory testing and punishment for PED use for the first time in baseball history. Soon afterward, BALCO and numerous other controversies and drug tests revealed that many of my favorite players were using, or suspected of using a myriad of PED’s.
A little over a decade after steroid use in Major League Baseball was exposed, some of the largest targets from the “Steroid Era” are once again being put on public display as they reach eligibility to be included on the Hall of Fame ballot. Some of the greatest players of my generation have been tied to PED’s, and for that reason, may never be enshrined in the hall.
In their first year on the Hall of Fame ballot, Barry Bonds, arguably the best hitter of all-time, and Roger Clemens, one of the best pitchers to have ever played the game, only managed to garner 36.2 and 37.6 percent of the votes respectively, falling short of the 75 percent vote required for induction.
The shadow of the Steroid Era use has even gone so far as to damage candidacy for players that were suspected, but never openly accused of using PED’s, such as Jeff Bagwell, who in his third year on the ballot, only managed to receive 59.6 percent of the votes and Mike Piazza, who received 57.8 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot. Why is it that only now that the general public is aware of PED use in baseball, and that the Baseball Writers Association factor whether players used PED’s or not into their Hall of Fame votes?
The fact of the matter is that performance enhancing drug use, whether it was cocaine, amphetamines, or steroids, have always, and will in all likelihood always exist in baseball. According to former major league pitcher Tom House, PED’s were widely used in baseball in the 1960s and 1970s. House said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in 2005, “We didn’t get beat, we got out-milligrammed, and when you found out what they were taking, you started taking them.”
Since PED’s were not banned and testing didn’t exist in baseball until 2003, there’s no way to tell who did and who didn’t cheat before then. Since many players in the Hall of Fame likely cheated to boost their stats and career longevity, it seems unfair to punish players from the “Steroid Era,” many of whom have never been found guilty of using PED’s before or after the ban. Therein lies the rub… How can these “Steroid Era” players be celebrated without setting the precedent that drug use in sports is acceptable?
The sport of baseball has a long and rich history, and each historical period is remembered and embodied through its memorable moments and iconic players. When you remember the past greats, whether you think of Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, and Ty Cobb, or Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Roger Clemens, they’re all a part of baseball’s legacy. And after all, isn’t the Hall of Fame about remembering the greatest players from each generation for their on-the-field statistics and contributions to America’s favorite pastime? As for the kid in me, he votes for Bonds and Clemens every day of the week.
Photo by Terence S. Jones