Safe to say none of us were really shocked when Mark McGwire admitted using steroids. The court of public opinion had already found him guilty and on Monday Big Mac admitted what we all suspected and knew in our hearts for years. It does, however, give us reason to look at the long term effects on the game cause by PED’s. In my opinion, the impact and destructive nature of Steroids is one that will tarnish our game for years, perhaps decades. Maybe forever.
Historians point to the Black Sox Scandal as the worst thing to ever happen to Baseball. Although it was tragic and unthinkable that gamblers could bribe players to throw the World Series, fixing games was not as rare as we think. Players accepted money from gamblers long before 1919 and continued well after. Some of the greatest players such as Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Smokey Joe Wood had been implicated in fixing games. But it was never proven. What made The Black Sox situation so grand was that involved so many players at one time and was committed in the Holy Land itself, The World Series. But lets be honest. Do any of us see that ever happening again? Players make way too much money to even be tempted.
Collusion in the 1980’s was another black eye for Baseball. When talented free agents do not get offered contracts it is quite obvious that somethin’ aint right. Like the Black Sox Scandal, the effects of collusion were short lived. Steroids, however, is a different ballgame completely.
Ask a hundred fans what they love about the game and you’ll get a hundred different responses. One theme that is constant, however, is the statistic. No game, no sport in the history of man, pays more attention to detail. Everything that happens on the field is recorded, kept track of for all eternity. With the exception of a minor tweak here and there the game has remained unchanged for well over a century. This simple fact is what allows us to compare today’s All-Stars with the greats of yesterday. The numbers signify a level of achievement, of greatness. 200 strikeouts is 200 strikeouts no matter if the pitchers name is Lincecum, Seaver or Hubbell. A 300 hitter means something, be it Horsnby, Rose or Ichiro. A Stolen Base by Rickey Henderson carries the same impact as one by Jose Reyes. But nothing, NOTHING, is more majestic than the Home Run. There is no event that can simultaneously cause a crowd of 50,000 fans to rise to their collective feet in unison as the sound of a batter connecting and seeing an outfielder turn and race back to the wall.
I was only 7 years old when I learned the game. As I read about and studied photographs of Ruth, Mathewson, Gehrig and other larger then life mythical Baseball Gods, I also memorized their stats. At 7 years old if someone asked me, “Who holds the record for most career Home Runs?,” I could proudly cry out, ’Babe Ruth, 714!” Had someone asked me, “Who holds the record for most HR’s in a season?” I could reply confidently, “Roger Maris. 61!” I am a lot older now and I’d like to think I’m wiser. However, ask me that same question today and I’m not sure how to answer.
I find it sad that for many years a dark cloud has been hovering over our game and there’s no end in sight. The old theory was that 500 HR’s meant you were a lock for Cooperstown. Not any more. Hell, 700 HR’s no longer means you’re a lock for Cooperstown.
As we watched it all unfold we knew something was amiss in our game. We turned a blind eye. We tried to pretend it was smaller parks, depleted pitching, weight training. But in our heart we knew something was not right. Players were suddenly doing things on the field that had never been done before. Performing at levels never seen before. It cant all be due to reluctance to pitch inside. But yet, we loved it, didn’t we? It’s not just ‘chicks who dig the long ball.’
Babe Ruth’s unbreakable record of 60 HR’s stood for 34 years, from 1927 to 1961. Roger Maris’ mark of 61 stood from 1961 to 1998. However, after holding that record for 37 years, Maris’ mark of 61 was surpassed 6 times in just 4 years! In the long illustrious history of baseball, the mark of 50 HR’s in a single season has been reached 41 times: 24 of those times, it was reached between 1990 and 2007.
We are a cynical society and we have more doubt in these uncertain times we live then ever before. The negative effect of steroids make us wonder, second guess. It opens up more questions then it answers. The most feared hitter in the game today is Albert Pujols. There have never been any rumors of him doing anything illegal and I am in no way implying that. But the fact that he is putting up such incredible numbers since he first walked onto a field is an attention getter. Is he truly that gifted? Probably. Lets all hope so, but still don’t we all wonder about it? Lets say a ‘clean cut’ guy like our own David Wright rebounds in 2010 and hits 62 Home Runs (Don’t we all wish?) Is that the new record? Will people wonder?
In Mark McGwire’s first 4 years he averaged 38 HR’s, including 49 in his rookie year. But still, 49 to 70 is quite a stretch. Or take someone different for example: This must be proof of Performance Enhancing Drugs. In his first 7 years in the majors this particular player hit 7,10, 9, 7, 10, 18 and 5 HR’s for an average of just over 9 HR’s. Then suddenly he walloped 43 in one season!!! Almost a 500% increase??? It’s gotta be steroids, right? Well, this was back in 1973 and this player is 2nd basemen and former Mets manager, Davey Johnson.
I am not condemning Mark McGwire. Nor am I condoning his actions. He is one of many. It’s easy for us to throw stones but he does at least deserve credit for having the courage to come clean. Even in our personal lives, none of us like to admit when we are wrong. But sometimes we do, to a loved one, friend or family member. But at least we don’t have to go on national TV and confess our sins to Bob Costas. Big Mac at least deserves credit for doing that.
I was 13 when my dad took me to the Hall of Fame for the first time. The memorabilia, the artifacts left a mark on me. Seeing Babe Ruth’s uniform, Ty Cobb’s shoes and Honus Wagner’s glove were something I will never forget. But the highlight for me that day was walking into the actual Hall itself, the hallowed ground where the best of all-time had their names, their stats and their accomplishments displayed on a plaque for us mere mortals to gaze upon. I was thrilled to actually see the plaques of guys I only read about: Cy Young, Nap Lajoie, Christy Mathewson, etc…But the most moving moment for me was looking up at my father as he also relished the moment. I listened to personal stories he shared about players that he actually saw play with his own eyes! Many of the stories were related to his boyhood team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and his idols like Snider, Campanella, Robinson. But now I wonder how this will be played out years from now. Kids not even born yet will go to the Hall of Fame with their fathers or grandfathers and the greatest hitters of an entire generation are nowhere to be found.