Authors: Patrick Antinori and Rodney J. Blackman
Dr. Rodney Blackman
United States Sports Academy
One Academy Drive
Daphne, Alabama 36526
Patrick Antinori is Director of Global Sales for Phoenix Bats, a hardwood bat supplier for Major League Baseball. He is also a graduate student at the United States Sports Academy.
Rodney J. Blackman, is an Associate Professor and Chair of Recreation Management at the United States Sports Academy
To a young fan whose innocence is preserved, baseball can represent the very best of life. Adult fans support this in a variety of ways. But, the history of the game has a less-than-noble side. The steroid era in baseball has been widely considered as a blemish on the visage of baseball, leaving the people involved and the game itself open to disdain and disparagement. Until recently, the writers who elect people to the Baseball Hall of Fame have echoed these sentiments by holding to a very narrow view of that era, and the effects thereof can be likened to staring at their shoes. But a certain shift is appearing regarding perceptions about the steroid era – a view given to greater forbearance, in the larger context of the history of baseball, and how best to preserve the integrity of the game.
Over time, there has also been a greater societal demand for full disclosure. This has created a wealth of information about the steroid era in relation to the history of the game of baseball, including chronicled accounts of what people did and what they said, and did not say, at the time. However, ascertaining culpability was not the purpose of this study. Rather, the purpose of this qualitative study was to explore and describe historical accounts of pre-steroid and steroid era behaviors and their after-effects, as well as to contextualize these choices and consequences that shaped the steroid era within the historical past and coming future of the game. Moreover, the data effectively also yielded the presence and contextualization of a discernible shift in perspective regarding the steroid era.
Keywords: Baseball, Steroid era, Hall of Fame
Purpose of the Study
Anecdotal indicators such as empty stands and fluctuating television viewer ratings have prompted a fresh look at perceived societal interest in baseball. While superficial warnings such as waning game attendance and unstable TV ratings may demonstrate something of a declination in interest in America’s pastime, it has been suggested that in order to revivify interest, stabilize ratings, and capture the fascination of coming generations, major league baseball will need to do a better job of policing itself – at least better than it has over the past two or three decades (Atkins, 1995; Ourand, 2017).
Many factors play a role in the popularity of sports. In baseball, the allure of the home run has consistently enchanted fans of all ages. Scrutiny of the home run, however, and scrutiny of baseball success in general has been borne out of the societal underpinnings, definitions, and re-definitions of fairness and justice. The steroid era is widely recognized as having sparked increasingly elevated levels of scrutiny of baseball. Understandably, years removed from the eye of the storm of the steroid era, public perceptions regarding its effects may be changing. The aging of interest and the presence of factors motivating a change in perception, for example, the economics of the game, may be accelerating said change in perception (Ourand, 2017; Schoenfield, 2016). Accordingly, the purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore and describe historical accounts of steroid era choices, and their concomitant consequences, all which shaped the steroid era in baseball, and to relate them to the developing shift in perspective regarding that era.
A historical research design was adopted for this qualitative study. Accordingly, primary sources such as judicial statements were identified, located, and analyzed, in combination with medical accounts, as well as other secondary sources such as popular literature, magazine articles, blog postings, and online sources such as YouTube videos. Criteria for data inclusion in the instant study were that the historical accounts examined had to:
- Be relevant to the story of the steroid era,
- Appear in a public domain,
- Be presented by recognized, credible sources,
- Address matters relevant to the choices and consequences of the steroid era, and
- Be useful for reflections on what will come, as a result of the steroid era.
Accordingly, data from these sources, both primary and secondary, were collected, analyzed, organized, and arranged according to the collective story that emerged. The remaining pages include the authors’ account of the story of drug and steroid use in baseball, the appearance of the steroid era and its effects, as well as a developing shift in perspective regarding that era.
Since at least 2013, every January brings heated debate in the baseball community about the Baseball Writers Association of America, (BBWAA) Hall of Fame vote. Interestingly, in 2013, no one was selected to enter the Hall. This may have been the writer’s way of attempting to drive a last nail in the coffin of the infamous “Steroid Era.” The notion that this time period in baseball can be forgotten and erased from the minds of baseball enthusiasts is coming to a crumbling end. But, general perception about the steroid era may be experiencing a shift, of sorts. In what can be interpreted as a controversial twist in the story of the steroid era, on December 4, 2016, the Today’s Game Era committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame voted former Commissioner Bud Selig into the Hall. Selig, one of ten commissioners, became the fifth baseball commissioner to be elected.
His fingerprints are certainly all over the game, good and bad: He presided over unprecedented revenue growth and was a key force in implementing more revenue sharing, interleague play, the World Baseball Classic and the wild card; he also presided over the cancellation of the 1994 World Series, ignored the flush of steroids into the game and too often created negative publicity with his constant whining about competitive balance and economics. (Schoenfield, 2016, No surprise, John Schuerholz, Bud Selig put in Hall of Fame, para. 3)
Underscoring the presence of a developing shift in perspective on the steroid era, on January 18, 2017 the BBWAA voted Jeff Bagwell, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, and Tim Raines into the hallowed Hall. Both Bagwell and Rodriguez have been associated with controversy surrounding the Steroid Era, and while there has been no “smoking gun” news story on Bagwell actually taking performance enhancing drugs, Rodriguez has been identified with steroids in the following ways:
- Jose Canseco publicly stated that he personally injected Pudge with steroids;
- When asked if he was on the list of 103 (in reference to a leaked, unofficial list of players who were steroid users in 2003), Rodriguez responded “Only God knows;”
- He played for the Texas Rangers (dubbed the “Steroid Sluggers”) in the 1990s; and
- His physique varied fairly radically over the years, with it being beefier pre-testing and noticeably smaller once testing was implemented. (Daniels, 2012, para. 2)
What makes this developing shift even more interesting and intriguing is that the third player elected, Tim Raines, was involved in an earlier drug problem that baseball had in the 1980s, which was cocaine use and abuse. It may fairly be said that the trials of several high-profile ballplayers, and the public relations embarrassment all of baseball seemed to feel, these effectively helped distract officials tasked with governing the game. As a matter of priority and, somewhat reflexively perhaps, the result was that these same officials turned a blind eye to steroids. Regarding Raines’ drug use,
“The resulting trial…became a national media sensation. [The] players who were called to court provided a wealth of juicy details, implicating a raft of famous names…
- Tim Raines of the Montreal Expos testified that he kept cocaine in the back pocket of his uniform pants during games. Raines testified that he always slid headfirst when stealing bases, simply to ensure that the glass vial would be safe” (McLennan, 2012, Baseball’s Greatest Scandals #4: The Pittsburgh Drug Trails, para. 8).
To many fans too young or idealistic to have lost their innocence, baseball and its icons, including the Hall of Fame, have represented the very best of life. While it may fairly be understood that the game is still loved by millions, its recent history is laced in controversy and illegal activity surrounding drugs. The Hall of Fame is an educational institution where families go to learn about the game and its history. Admittedly, the idea that great players should be kept out of the Hall of Fame for breaking rules that did not exist or were not well enforced is not realistic or sustainable (Lemieux, 2011), but to ignore the fact that this period of “juiced” baseball did not happen may be as much a travesty as the era itself.
Before there were steroids: Drugs and the Game
Coming out of the 1980s, baseball was recovering from the black eye it received from the court case where several top ball players testified that they had purchased cocaine from Curtis Strong (US v. Strong, 1985). This case made it clear that baseball had a substance abuse problem that went beyond public knowledge, and perhaps even its imagination. The fantasy of being able to play a child’s game as an adult and leaving out the adult part, this effectively was not an exercise in sound judgement – when that fantasy bubble is burst, society inevitably looks to blame someone.
Historically though, society has been relatively forgiving of its sports stars, and particularly of its baseball stars. Smith (2016) reported,
Baseball is a game splashed with spilled whiskey and tobacco stains from its origins, where substances of various stripes were valued for their supposed ability to help athletes play better, as well as to cope with the stress and tedium that is the months-long, 160+ game endurance test of the major league baseball season. (5 Drugs That Shaped Major League Baseball, para. 4)
In days long past, alcohol and tobacco use may have been considered vices, and as such were, and continue to be, considered relatively acceptable by society. As the medical and pseudo-medical industries came to recognize alcohol and tobacco as drugs, these substances have remained legal. Yet – society has come to understand that while legal, they are still drugs. By the 1980s however, baseball players, having sufficient resources, curiosity, and inclination, discovered cocaine (Smith, 2016).
Accordingly, the commissioner overseeing baseball at the time, Peter Ueberroth, needed to do something. Not surprisingly, Ueberroth examined and reviewed the 1983 case against four Kansas City Royals players, Vida Blue, Jerry Martin, Willie Aikens, and Willie Wilson, where all four players were convicted of using cocaine, were suspended, and served some time in prison. Fatefully, Ueberroth made his primary focus to eliminate the cocaine problem baseball had.
Commissioner Peter Ueberroth had imposed conditional one-year suspensions on the baseball players who had admitted to using cocaine. He indicated that he would withhold the suspensions from the players who were willing to contribute ten percent of their earnings to drug prevention programs, submit to random drug testing for the duration of their careers, and spend roughly two hundred hours performing community service over the following two years. (Diamond, 1985. United States v. Curtis Strong (CR 85-129) para. 6).
Despite these penalties handed down by Commissioner Ueberroth, the rigors of the marathon, 162-game seasons, compelled ball players to often turn to stimulates of various kind – in order to help them maintain their performance at the highest level. When it appeared that cocaine was off limits, players resumed what had been around since World War II, amphetamines. Many of the amphetamines used were also listed as illegal stimulants, but as far as players were concerned, they were relatively harmless, especially compared to cocaine.
Greenies (Dexedrine) were a club house staple for decades beginning just after World War II, when ball players drafted into the military returned to the diamond having been exposed to the stimulant pills, which the armed forces dispensed by the millions. Another incubator of baseball speed-freakery was the winter Caribbean baseball circuit. There, players on seasonal hiatus discovered the two coffee pot system, where each club house had one pot with regular coffee and one with an amphetamine additive. Talk about a morning wake me up! The arrival of amphetamines in baseball also marked the emergence of the post-war embrace of better living through chemistry and opened up the debate of the role of performance enhancing drugs in way that booze and tobacco never did. (Smith, 2016, para. 11, 12)
Baseball on Strike – Then Sudden Success!
As players had been taking stimulants for decades, and since that had been accepted, a question emerges regarding how usage jumped to steroids. As players started to look for different ways to achieve performance through chemistry, what also appeared was that they had to pay for whatever chemistry they got themselves into – to understand how, one need only look to the landmark case of Flood vs. Kuhn (1972). To summarize, Curt Flood was a seasoned ball player, but he wanted more control of his own destiny, and more money. Flood sued major league baseball via the commissioner at the time, Bowie Kuhn.
Specifically, Flood wanted out from under the baseball reserve clause, which effectively enabled the teams to own the players, and many of the players’ rights. In short, the reserve clause gave the owners of the teams the power to control players and control the amount of money the players made. Curt Flood did not think that that was right, morally or ethically. He sued Commissioner Kuhn on principle, knowing full well that he would probably lose the case, and perhaps his career as well (Barra, 2011).
The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and in the end Flood lost and never played again. Three years later, due to this particular case, the players’ union president, Marvin Miller, convinced Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally to not sign their player contracts and play out the 1975 season unsigned, therefore, forcing the recognition that the players could sign elsewhere. The owners fought this, claiming the reserve clause made contracts perpetual, but Miller was successful in getting the argument in front of an arbitrator.
On December 23, 1975, arbitrator Peter Seitz reversed the Supreme Court’s original verdict and declared that Major League Baseball players had the right to become free agents upon playing one year for their team without a contract. The ruling forever terminated the reserve clause from sports, paving the way toward modern free agency. Major League Baseball also implemented federal arbitration of salary demands, which allowed players to negotiate their salary when their contract expired. The change wrestled further control away from team owners, and gave players freedom to block trades and request higher salaries.” (Bisk, 2017).
Once free agency became part of the game, players became millionaires and salaries skyrocketed, which only fueled players’ need to keep performing at a high level. With the reserve clause gone, animosity between the owners and players grew, resulting in work stoppage. The greed reached its peak in 1994 and Major League Baseball stopped playing, which included cancelling the World Series (Associated Press, 2004).
The fans were somewhat turned off by the game upon its return after the strike of 1994, due in part, at least, to the three-headed monster of the continued cocaine problem, players earning increasingly high salaries, and the fact the owners and players both seemed to have forgotten about the paying fans.
Disillusioned by a 232-day strike that wiped out last year’s playoffs and World Series, fans are staying away in droves. While Fenway Park is doing relatively well, slumping big-league attendance (down for 25 of 28 teams and more than 25 percent overall when measured against comparable home games last season) is causing its share of anxiety in baseball’s executive offices. (Atkins, 1995, para. 3)
Then 1998 happened, and since then, its Great Home Run Chase has been stamped as having saved baseball. But what is easily forgotten is that in 1998, baseball expanded and introduced the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Why is this important? History tells that a natural consequence of expansion includes higher home run totals. In 1961, baseball also expanded and brought into existence the Minnesota Twins, who were the Washington Senators, the Anaheim Angels, and because baseball felt D.C. still needed a team, they created the “new” Washington Senators. In both circumstances, 1961 and 1998, expansion thinned out major league talent – especially quality pitchers. In 1961, home run totals went up, including the single season home run record, previously held by Babe Ruth and broken by Roger Maris. The fans, owners, writers, and the Hall of Fame all soaked it up in glorious gladiatorial fashion. Not surprisingly, fans poured out their money to see that history in the making. It was so euphoric that Mark McGwire’s 62nd homerun is listed as the number one baseball moment of the 1990s by Major League Baseball (MLB.com, 2011).
Interestingly, questions started to arise in the years following, as players continued hitting home runs at incredible rates. Fans and writers, the same ones who ate up the attention and success of the ’98 season and the continued incredible baseball achievements, wanted answers. Why the explosion of power? How could this be happening? Could there be something sinister afoot? What emerged was that players had discovered new assistive substances – steroids, and other performance enhancing drugs, or PEDs as they have come to be known, which have been legal and useful in some settings. But – their presence in the sports setting organically changed the way sports competitions happen ever after. Once again, baseball officials had work to do, and needed to protect the integrity of the game.
Steroid Era Choices and Consequences
Steroids have been around for quite some time. Anabolic steroids were first created in the 1930s and were mostly over-the-counter drugs prescribed by doctors and approved by the FDA. In the context of sports, they were made popular in a negative way through the Olympics – and they attracted the attention of the media when track stars Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis faced each other in the 100 meter finals at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. Johnson won the race but thereafter failed the drug test for banned substances known to enhance performance. Johnson tested positive for Stanozolol, a synthetic anabolic steroid (Isaac, 2012; Pye, 2013).
Casting steroid use onto a baseball substance use timeline reveals that steroids were the replacement for cocaine. Interestingly, Collins reported steroids were still in question as to their legal substance categorization, until Congress decided to start investigating steroid use and the effect on the public, thereby attempting to classify steroids under the Controlled Substance Act along with heroin and cocaine. This effort was slowed by witnesses in the congressional hearings, between 1988 and 1990, who stated that steroids were not unhealthy (2005).
In fact, a large number of people who had testified at the Congressional hearings that included several medical professionals, experts and representatives from DEA, FDA and other regulatory bodies had also strongly recommended against the ban on the usage of anabolic steroids under the proposed amendment. The medical community still continues to persist that the effects of abuse arising from the usage of anabolic steroids or any other growth hormone does not lead to any form of psychological and physical support that can render a drug to be scheduled under the Controlled Substances Act. (AnabolicSteroids.net, 2013)
In 1990, primarily for the purpose of controlling steroid use in professional sports, Congress wrote and passed the Anabolic Steroid Control Act.
As a result, after much debate, controversies and Congressional hearings later the Anabolic Steroid Control Act was finally passed in 1990. The Act also placed anabolic steroids in league with several other harmful drugs such as ketamines, LSD, cocaine and heroin. As per the new laws, those caught with the possession of anabolic steroids would face prosecution and also arrest. The Act also prohibits any individual to possess any amount of anabolic steroids unless the said amount was obtained directly under a medical practitioner for use in medication. (AnabolicSteroids.net, 2013)
Proponents of the argument that the steroid era cheated the game because PEDs were technically illegal have a winning argument; however, as has been evidenced in days past, baseball’s history has not exactly followed the laws of the land. Exiting the 1980s and following the 1994 strike, the perfect storm met the National Pastime. Players were making more money and had the ability to negotiate their contracts for more riches based on performance. Cocaine was the drug that became the taboo substance, as the illegal narcotic that baseball was testing for at the time and the fans are not coming to the ballpark the way they used to. Cue the Steroid Era.
While there is technically no widely-agreed-upon start of the steroid era in baseball, the investigations regarding steroid use in baseball, discovery of its use, and subsequent sanctions all point to its appearance in baseball in the 1980s and rise in the early 1990s. While steroid use has likely tapered off since the height of the steroid era, performance enhancing drug testing is now an understood and accepted part of the game. Speculation as to the veracity and extent of steroid use in baseball has been characterized as somewhere between rampant, or widespread, or maybe even nearly everyone in baseball at the time. Pin-point accuracy of such claims will forever remain unknown. However, what is known for sure is that some players used steroids to gain advantage over other players, which reached a point where congress elected to intervene. The fact that congress elected to intervene on more than one occasion regarding steroid use in baseball suggests that the handling of the steroid problem in baseball was not resolved after the first instance when congress stepped in to enact legislative measures in this regard. What congress could not, or did not regulate, however, was the economic boom associated with the appeal of home runs (Collins, 2005; Smith, 2016).
Grossman, Kimsey, Moreen, and Owings, reported that, in 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa embarked on the chase to break Roger Maris’ home run record, the fans came back in droves. Owners were seeing huge profits, players were getting paid, writers wrote magnificently about player achievements, and the game was exciting, all because – at any given moment a home run could happen (2005). Atlanta Braves pitchers Greg Maddox and Tom Glavine even spoofed the era in an entertaining montage, and included it in a commercial glorifying the times – because, as their video proclaimed, “Chicks dig the long ball!” (Reyna, 2009, video).
Ironically, the lure of the long ball also brought about the demise of the steroid era. While steroids now remain a constant challenge for all sports officials, and an effective blemish on the face of baseball, the steroid era itself had to come to an end. To the moderately unforgiving, steroids are just that – only a blemish. To the harshly unforgiving, however, baseball and steroids are inextricably linked to the human condition of envy (Collins, 2005). Interestingly, envy is listed as one of the seven cardinal sins (Kinsley, 2016), and it may fairly be said that envy ultimately also helped to end the steroid era.
To a casual observer, the person most closely associated with envy in the steroid era may be Barry Bonds. At the height of the home run chase, Bonds was already recognized as one of the best ball players – yet, he could not stand that McGwire and Sosa were getting all the acclaim. To him, their abilities were inferior to his ability on a playing field. Bonds was motivated to take his physique, and his performance – to the next level. He bulked up and broke McGwire’s home run record only a few years later, but his bitterness and general attitude toward writers and others created the path for – the proverbial microscope (Fainaru-Wada & Williams, 2006).
A scrutinizing, closer look was placed on the performance of players, the records being broken, and why baseball did not have a testing policy when the Anabolic Steroid Control Act was law. Bonds continued to claim he did nothing wrong and followed a strict diet and workout regimen, daring writers and anyone who would listen to him that he would take a drug test at any time. However, this claim was made with full knowledge that the players union would never allow such testing because baseball and the union did not have an established steroid testing policy in the agreed upon collective bargaining agreement (Fainaru-Wada & Williams, 2006).
In 2002 the federal government began to investigate a nutritional company – the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) – and learned that this company was one of the primary reasons why steroids had gained more popularity in baseball, even after the congressional hearings in 1988 and legislation in 1990. The information and subsequent testimonies from the federal investigation led to an additional congressional investigation and a new law enacted by President George W. Bush.
A new federal law was drafted in 2004 when President George W. Bush signed in law aimed at controlling the anabolic steroids. As per this law, an additional 26 substances would be added to the earlier list that was created in 1990 and had been classified under schedule III drugs. As a result, the possession of even a single tablet of anabolic steroids can lead to severe imprisonment and would be considered as a federal crime. The Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004 was initiated by the BALCO scandal that involved several eminent sporting personalities involved in an act of steroid usage for performance enhancement. (AnabolicSteroids.net, 2013)
In addition, US Senator George Mitchell conducted a 20-month investigation into performance enhancing drug use in baseball. Interestingly, most players declined to be interviewed by Mitchell, however, some – because of their involvement in the BALCO investigation – were compelled by Commissioner Bud Selig to cooperate, and be interviewed by Mitchell. Eventually, over 80 players were named in the investigation, including seven MVPs and 31 All-Stars. A document detailing the findings of the investigation was released in December of 2007, and has since come to be known as the Mitchell Report (Salkin, 2006; USA Today, 2011).
These investigations and hearings and the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004 put baseball in the news constantly. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, and players union president Donald Fehr were grilled by congressional law makers. In addition, players, including McGwire and Sosa, were embarrassed in the court of public opinion. Along the way, new court cases and legislative hearings were being forged against baseball’s all-time home run hitter, as well as arguably one of the greatest pitchers in history, Roger Clemens (Fainaru-Wada & Williams, 2006; Grossman, et al., 2005).
Concomitantly, United States v. Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc. charged BALCO for illegally supplying athletes with performance enhancing drugs. Barry Bonds was linked to BALCO and was found to be in contempt of court for his testimony to a grand jury in 2003. He was later exonerated by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. To this day Barry Bonds has never tested positive for PEDs, and he has always denied knowledge of taking steroids (Fainaru-Wada & Williams, 2006; Grossman, et al., 2005; McLennan, 2012).
Roger Clemens meanwhile was brought to congressional hearings and later defended himself in perjury charges for those hearings. For all those who do not remember, or “misremember,” as former pitcher Andy Petite famously stated, Roger Clemens’ former trainer Brian McNamee supplied investigators with syringes he supposedly injected into the arm of Clemens after Roger Clemens had testified to Congress that he never took illegal substances. Yet in the end, Roger Clemens was exonerated of all perjury charges (Fainaru-Wada & Williams, 2006).
The United States government spent millions in attempt to convict high-profile baseball players and struck out. Major League Baseball, on the heels of the 2004 congressional hearings, appeased the public by instituting a new drug policy.
In January 2005, MLB and the MLBPA announced a new drug testing policy. The new policy, currently in effect, includes year-round testing and stricter penalties for steroid use. Penalties for positive tests remain toothless compared to other sports, starting with a ten-day unpaid suspension for the first offense and a potential life ban, at the commissioner’s discretion, for the fifth. (Grossman, et al., 2005, para. 5)
Whereas accounts vary regarding an exact end date of the steroid era, there is consensus that the presence of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs in baseball has forever changed the game. While the information available regarding steroid use in baseball is voluminous, it has become increasingly sophisticated and less wildly speculative. This has been a natural occurrence given the added benefit of time – for the revelation of additional facts, undistracted reflection, measured contemplation, and increased understanding. Accordingly, such factors aid the timeliness of the instant study. Clear patterns and consequences emerged from the material examined for this study, and are presented in the next section.
Patterns of Choices and Consequences
The purpose of this study was to explore and describe historical accounts of the choices and consequences that shaped the steroid era in baseball, as well as to relate them to the developing shift in perspective regarding that era. From the historical data examined in this study, several patterns of choices and consequences appeared. Identification and review of these patterns appear in the remainder of this section.
For players using or suspected of using steroids, there was no classy way of being involved in this. Almost laughably, testimony in steroid era cases were rife with “misremembering” players, ala Andy Pettitte. The script that emerged for players using steroids was to hide and deny first, admit later, deal with whatever came from admitting or not admitting (such as perjury or obstruction of justice charges), and accept public skepticism and scorn.
For Major League Baseball in general, there were clear attempts for preservation of game traditions, both good and bad. This appeared where players continued in the tradition of practicing seedy or societally taboo behaviors, as well as officials (and a few players) who continually and consistently expressed desire for a protection of the integrity of the game. While the players were effective and efficient, the governing officials of the game were slow and ineffective. As eventually steroid use was harnessed, these effects now appear clearly.
For example, fast-forward to February 13, 2016 – New York Mets pitcher Jenrry Mejia tested positive a third time for a banned substance and was permanently suspended from baseball (Berkon, 2016). Game officials have cracked down on those who violate! But, the point is that baseball, as much as it is loved, is a game with a seedy side. Someone once said, “He who is free from sin may cast the first stone,” and the argument there is that everyone bought into the excitement that this era brought. While steroids are drugs and illegal in the United States, baseball had no policy for it, no way of testing, and therefore had no way of showing who took PEDs – before the Mitchell report, released in late 2007. It is only fair to state that the writers put these players on pedestals and helped foster the culture, while fans paid to see it, and owners’ pockets got fat.
For team owners, there was a constant call for the almighty dollar – and such owners did what they could, knowingly or unknowingly regarding steroid use, to profit themselves. Make no mistake though, the players profited as well – even the ones who got caught. Yet, player profits from the steroid era were mitigated, by way of consequence, by tainted reputations, public outcry, elevated levels of negative attention, varying degrees of regret and remorse, and unsavory memories.
In addition, within these choices there was a regular presence of cooperative interests, and the appearance of occasional competing interests. Players, owners, and governing officials profited from cooperative initiatives, yet there were no clear winners when interests were competitive. Until recently, it may fairly be said that the biggest steroid era losers were Major League Baseball officials. Reflectively, most likely all involved in the steroid era look back at that time and call it what it was – ugly! However, there is a developing shift in perspective among steroid era onlookers, as evidenced by the recent induction of named participants in the steroid era into the Baseball Hall of Fame. One can only expect that near-future Hall of Fame inductees will have been, in one way or another, associated with the steroid era.
Among the consequences, for choices of action or inaction during the steroid era, were varying degrees of public distrust, paranoia, defensiveness, and flashes of delight. Accompanying public distrust were fan disillusionment, feelings of betrayal, feelings of anger, and feelings of unfairness. How could these guys, who were already making high tax-bracket salaries, cheat and get away with it!?! Throughout player testimonies before game and government officials, paranoia and defensiveness reigned – yielding difficult-to-watch profuse sweating, foolish finger pointing, and widespread misremembering. But there was an upside – all those cheering fans, splashed with smiles that made it all the way up to their eyes! Yes, the unvarnished delight of fans cannot be misremembered. All the home runs were just so sexy!
As another consequence for slow and ineffective handling of the steroid era, baseball also earned the dubious distinction as the model of what not to do – for other sports. Such ineffectiveness served as a lesson for sports officials in other sports to heighten general awareness regarding the seriousness and prevalence of the steroid problem.
An additional consequence of the steroid era was somewhat of a by-product – the need for patience. Winds of change, they always are a-blowing. Public outcry regarding the steroid era has slowly faded in intensity, to that of a whisper. Steroids in sports are now a generally understood phenomenon. No surprise. No big deal. Standard fare. And for the youth generation in baseball who are unable to recognize or recall the stars of “Seinfeld,” “Friends,” or “Cheers,” imagining the controversy ensconced in the steroid era is like imagining life without their smartphone – virtually impossible. So, the alleged, the accused, the indicted, the charged, the guilty, and the innocent, from the steroid era – need only wait.
Effects, Implications, and Future Research
Time, it has been said, heals all wounds. This too, is the direction of perceptions regarding the steroid era. Time marches on – and things change. They inevitably do. This too, is the direction of baseball and the steroid era in baseball – if for no other reason than for the sake of sentimentality. Who can forget all those great home runs!?!
It is possible, however, to forget that Major League Baseball and the Baseball Hall of Fame are not connected, in the sense that the Hall of Fame is not governed by Major League Baseball. The Hall, however, has generally followed Major League Baseball’s decisions and suggestions, for example, the exclusion of Pete Rose (for gambling on baseball games while managing them) and Shoeless Joe Jackson (accused, along with seven other players, of purposely throwing games while a member of the 1919 Chicago “Black Sox”).
When it comes to the Hall of Fame, part of what makes baseball the National Pastime is that in baseball, the fans have always had the last say, figuratively, regardless of who the writers vote in. This is why there are still vigorous conversations, arguments even, and sometimes fights – about Reese vs. Rizzuto?, or should Gil Hodges be in or not?, or if Ozzie Smith and Bill Mazeroski are in for their defense, why is Keith Hernandez unable to get a sniff at immortality?
The steroid era brings such debate to a new level – perhaps merely the next level. But, the nature of the debate is still the same – only the names, and the details have been changed. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were virtually assured their places in the Hall before suspicion of steroid use entered the picture – so, should they be in? This debate is part of what makes baseball so well loved – it connects fans of the game to what is so enamoring about baseball. Interestingly, the steroid era, among other factors, has also brought organic change to the Baseball Hall of Fame. At the risk of some small measure of sacrilege, it may fairly be said, and it must be recognized that, the role and purpose of the Hall of Fame is changing.
Tradition, such as respect for the historical aspects of baseball, will remain a vital part of the role and purpose of the Hall. Opportunities for young boys to fall in love with the game, as their fathers and grandfathers introduce them to it – this too will be preserved. Excited youngsters, dedicated to understanding the significance or Ruth, Robinson, Mantle, Mays, Clemente, and Seaver, these too will go on, undisturbed. As will the lesson that baseball is not perfect, but has a way of umpiring itself – through its foundation, the fans.
From generation to generation, old fans are replaced by new ones. Baseball, as a tradition, has personified the creation of new fans, and the Baseball Hall of Fame has been a vital part of that generational exchange. The Hall of Fame has been an educational institution embossed with the label of historical fact, to educate people about the early beginnings of the sport, its changes, its failures, and its triumphs. On any given day, visitors of the Hall of Fame represent a blending of multiple generations.
As the results of this study demonstrate, and as a likely result of the influx of new, and younger points of view, there is a developing shift in perspective regarding the steroid era. Increasingly, writers voting on Hall of Fame ballots are predisposed to an inability to remember the controversy of the steroid era, or are given to something more along the lines of – forgiveness. While the authors do not claim inevitability, the expected result is that more and more individuals associated with the steroid era, dead or alive, will be voted into the Hall!
Imagine then – as candidates whose history includes features of the steroid era get elected into the Hall of Fame, it may fairly be said that the Hall will need to, at the very least, identify the Steroid Era and those who played during such time. They will likely also need to instruct writers that those players who appear on ballots and were found to be using PEDs, with proof, these players, if elected, will have their plaque labeled with their steroid use information; however, those who were merely suspected of use, but available evidence fails to demonstrate any occurrence of impropriety, these should be reviewed and voted on according to their personal statistical achievements, solely. If voted in, their plaque may reflect that they played during the steroid era, but were not found to be an integral part of it. In other words, give the steroid era, and steroid use, consideration – its due consideration.
Effectively, the presence of steroids and the steroid era expand the purpose of the Hall of Fame. Whereas, the history of baseball is presented at the Hall, education about the steroid era could bring a new level of awareness regarding one of the greatest perils in sports, both then and now. The proclivity for use, the pervasiveness of use at that time, and the potential dangers of steroids have all become reasons to tell the story of the steroid era. The apparent gravity of the effects of the steroid era could re-purpose the Hall of Fame to provide opportunities to accurately inform future generations – for the safety and protection of players yet to come.
Accordingly, the Hall of Fame will need to stand up and recognize the fact that this era took place, and the era itself is part of the woven fabric of the game. As the developing shift in sentiment regarding the steroid era takes hold, practically speaking, this can be done by clearly posting the relevant statistics that got a particular player elected into the Hall of Fame. On issues of debate-ability, let those who visit decide. If the question were to be posed, who is the single season home run king? fans visiting the Hall should be indulged with all the facts – so they can take in the information, and make their own informed decision. A sampling of facts regarding the home run king may appear as – Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs, but was using steroids, never proven, but he sure looked like he did; McGwire and Sosa, hit 70 and 66, before Bonds – but, to the public eye, and after the Congressional hearings in 2005, they never looked the same; and then there was Roger Maris who, in 1961, carried the weight of breaking the beloved Babe Ruth’s previous record of 60 home runs in a season; Maris, however, received death threats during his chase for the title, lost a noticeable amount of hair from the visceral pressure that the writers and fans put on him, and still, he hit 61 home runs. (YanksAtShea, 2011, Roger Maris 1961 – 61st Home Run as Called by Red Barber, WPIX-TV, 10/1/1961). Let the debate begin!
Providing substantive debate fodder has long been within the role and purpose of the Baseball Hall of Fame. But, with the presence of the steroid era, and shifting sentiment toward electing players and others associated with the game during that era, for example, Bud Selig, there is an incumbent duty. Championing a cause aligned with resistance to temptation to use banned substances will need to accompany the message voters send to the public – when they elect players who have used steroids, either during the steroid era or since, to the Baseball Hall of Fame. It may be considered likely that the role and purpose of the Hall of Fame, in the near future, will include information of this nature.
Similar valuable information can be garnered through review of public opinion, and the casting of such opinion against a scientific record of facts. Recommended future research on these and similar topics should include tracing of the changes in sentiment regarding the steroid era, continued review of the perils and pitfalls of steroid use, as well as the consistent review of rules, regulations, policies, and procedures regarding steroids and performance enhancing drugs. Consistently updating such information will aid in the curtailing of the ever-present flare of the underbelly of the human condition.
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