What An Opportunity

Baseball’s Sad, Unfortunate Steroid Era

In Sports on February 12, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Growing up as an American kid, I idolized baseball from the moment I encountered it. Playing Little League Baseball was the greatest joy of my young life. Watching This Week in Baseball then the MLB Game of the Week on Fox was always one of the highlights of my week. And watching the Little League World Series? Well… Williamsport, PA was just heaven on earth. There was nothing I would not have done, and no amount I would not have paid for just one opportunity to step on that diamond at Howard J. Lamade Stadium to play for the LLWS title. Baseball was my passion. I devoured book after book on the sport and its famous figures, from biographies on Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, and Hank Aaron to a book that recounted – in narrative form – every World Series from 1903-1985 in great detail, game by game, run by run. I love the game and the romanticized descriptions I found within the books I so readily consumed. Even though I cannot stand the modern iteration of the New York Yankees, I love and respect their previous generations for their consistent, unrelenting excellence. Baseball is just too grand and too beautiful to be marred by anything so petty as my own dislikes. It is the perfect game, classic and unchanging, standing apart from the ever-changing, cheapening world around it. Or at least that’s what I thought as a kid.

As time has passed, my illusions have been shattered. One summer, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa pounded homer after homer, and I ecstatically went along for the ride. But these seemingly superhuman sluggers of the late 1990’s – my most impressionable age – have since tested positive for and admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. Barry Bonds came next and completely shattered the records that had been so recently set, and I was even further excited by his exploits. He, too, has since admitted to using steroids. When their magical seasons were taking place, I don’t think any of us wanted to believe they were tainted in any way. We wanted the romance of the magical run to continue sweeping us away. But then reality hit, and it hit hard.

What greater honor exists than the Hall of Fame? Middle-of-nowhere Cooperstown, NY is a legendary place because of it. The greatest figures in history are immortalized there. Stellar careers logically lead to the Hall. As such, several candidates should be voted in handily. Well, as it turns out, the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame Class consists of… no one. Well, at least no one who is still alive. Three were elected by the Veterans Committee, all of whom passed away before 1940… meaning none of them had been involved in baseball for about 100 years. On the other hand, iconic baseball figures like Roger Clemens and the aforementioned Barry Bonds were denied admission to the Hall. How could this happen? The BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) pushed back, and indicated that tainted careers would be met with cold denial. At least this year. Writers are a fickle bunch, so who knows how long this resistance will continue. It could end next year, or extend indefinitely. As more athletes continue to be implicated in reports on PED use, such as the Miami New Times report which named stars like Nelson Cruz, Gio Gonzalez, and Alex Rodriguez, the likelihood of the BBWAA permanently souring on steroid users becomes greater and greater.

So Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, the most dominant pitcher and slugger in my era of fanhood, may never be immortalized in the Hall of Fame. But is this right? Isn’t the Hall of Fame a place to recognize excellence? It’s hard to argue with Roger Clemens’s career numbers: 354 wins (9th all-time), 4,672 strikeouts (3rd all-time), 7 Cy Young awards, 11 All-Star appearances. It’s even harder to argue with Barry Bonds’s career numbers: 762 HR (1st all-time), 1,996 RBI (4th all-time), 7-time League MVP, 14 All-Star appearances.

At the end of the day, though, it isn’t just about the numbers; sports still aspires to a certain level of integrity and decorum. Pete Rose is banned from the Hall for breaking the rules, and if the all-time hits leader is banned, then Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and others may indeed face a similar block. I am a firm believer in the innate integrity of sports. True excellence is achieved fairly and cleanly. I think that it is a sad day for baseball when zero living members are inducted, but I think that it is a sadder day when the Hall of Fame is devalued by inducting proven, admitted cheaters.

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  1. While I understand the ethical issues that face the HOF voters of today, I completely disagree with leaving every steroid era player out of Cooperstown. I get that players were taking everything from Anabolic Steroids to Xanax to help them win, but boy was that some of the best baseball in the history of the sport. I say bring back the roids! Let’s get these boys juiced again, because let’s face it… “Chicks dig the long ball!” With that said, great post.

    • Thanks! We’ve discussed this complex issue, and even wondered whether it wouldn’t just be easier to lift the restrictions altogether and let the guys take what they want. But at the end of the day, we decided it’s really about the kids. While adult, professional athletes can do whatever they want to their bodies for the sake of sport, I think there remains an obligation to protect the kids who idolize these athletes from seeing drugs as an acceptable means to become a star. I think that influence is a major part of the PED regulations that still exist in sports.

      • I can understand that standpoint fully. As a father of 3, I do appreciate when other people consider children when making their decisions. With that in mind, I don’t see it as a professional athletes responsibility to raise my kids. If the parents are spending the time to raise their kids, it wouldn’t matter what the athletes were doing. …but that’s a discussion for another time. Great post either way!

  2. […] definitely isn’t the first. You don’t hear much from these guys anymore, but remember Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco and Sammy Sosa? Those guys were hitting home runs left and right in baseball and chasing one of the greatest […]

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