Thursday, June 18, 2009

Steroids in baseball? Man, that's old news!

Everyone remembers where they were when Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris's single season home run record in 1998. That summer, Big Mac and Slammin Sammy Sosa brought the fans back to baseball in droves and made the sport relevant again. Very timely for a sport that had lost a significant portion of it's fan base when a labor dispute led to the cancellation of the 1996 World Series. That's right, a CANCELED World Series! Baseball had long been known as "The National Pastime", but many feel the NFL has stripped them of that title. The NFL has brilliantly marketed their product and through that, gave their players the same type of iconic status that baseball had given to Aaron, Ruth, and Mays. There was a changing of the guard. How could baseball keep up? More importantly, how could owners continue to make money? The answer was as simple as a universal truth: "Chicks dig the long ball".

The strike in 1996 was the catalyst for MLB owners to turn a blind eye to some obvious cheating. MLB's inability to police themselves caused this problem to grow exponentially. By the late 1990's the actual number of players on "the juice" grew by the week. Once players saw the country embrace the "Chase for History" in Summer of 98, why wouldn't they feel like it was acceptable and even necessary. But I'm not sure if they (MLB owners and the Commissioner) wouldn't do just a few things differently if they had another chance. The fall-out from this era can be felt on nightly broadcasts of Sportscenter and on sports talk-radio all over the country. It became obvious to anyone with common sense that the games biggest stars had cheated.
So what did MLB lose by turning a blind eye to 'roids for the sake of filling seats? Well for starters, the record book is now a joke. The most hallowed records in the game, the single season home run mark and the all-time home run mark, now belong to an accused and federally indicted steroid user in Barry Bonds. You also had the Mitchell Report released in 2008 which led to Roger Clemens looking like a complete knucklehead on Capitol Hill. He was literally lying through his teeth. The biggest names in the game made this list. Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, and the most heart-breaking of all, Benito Santiago (OK not really). It's really hard to say who looked worse. Clemens straight up lying, McGwire not wanting to talk about the past, or Sammy Sosa's sudden need for the help of an interpreter.

If you think that the owners and the MLB front office, including commissioner Bud Selig weren't aware this was happening, you are delusional. Typically people don't put on 40 or 50 lbs of muscle mass in their late thirties. Now keep in mind, this problem goes back even before Canseco and McGwire were hanging out in the late 80's, injecting each other in a dingy bathroom stall at the Oakland Coliseum. Steroids have always been around, but it didn't hit mainstream acceptability in baseball until the mid-nineties. Bottom line is we will never know how many players actually took juice. However, with no testing in place for so long and the acceptance of 'roids in the culture of baseball, the numbers may be staggering. Mr. Rat, Jose Canseco puts that number at around 75% in the "Golden Age of Steroids".

When it was reported earlier this month that Sammy Sosa tested positive for juice in 2003, it was framed on ESPN as "breaking news". Hardly. Baseball won't be able to put this behind them anytime soon and the owners and Bud Selig have themselves to blame. They sacrificed integrity to put butts in seats and make some cash. And as long as baseball icons like Manny Ramierez keep testing positive for juice, this problem isn't going away. What about the record book? What about the Hall of Fame eligibility of accused steroid users? Bud Selig would be well served to make some kind of ruling on this, however controversial. It would appear if it is left to the Sports Writers, if you are presumed dirty, you aren't going to the HOF. Just ask Big Mac. Once Barry Bonds "officially" retires, he and Clemens will be on the clock counting down to when they become eligible for the HOF. Once thought to be HOF locks, they now appear to be long-shots. Hey Commish, rap your arms around this thing. You made your bed, now lie in it. Bottom line, if the media insists on revealing steroid users one at a time, this is going to be an even longer process. Won't that be exiting! Not really.

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