Here’s who we blame for the steroid crisis in baseball. Ourselves.
That’s right, folks. We are to blame for the reason why baseball players thought it was important to jack themselves full of drugs in an effort to make themselves better players.
In 1994, baseball was dying. “America’s Game” had lost its believers, and no-one was going to church. In fact, some people have never come back.
But in 1998, everyone did. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr were whacking balls out the park, and everybody loved it. We waxed lyrical about McGwire, talking about just how far the big man could hit the ball. “The bat’s like a toothpick in his arms,” became the slightly clichéd phrase of people watching the St Louis Cardinals first baseman. We love Sammy Sosa too, though. We loved that grinning Puerto Rican who’s gone from being “Slim Sammy” to “Muscled Sammy” almost overnight, and was now having the hitting season of his career.
In 1998, the `Run for 61′ was something none of us could stop talking about. Heck, I spent far too many nights in the UK watching baseball on TV in an effort to see as many home runs as possible.
People mentioned `Andro’ when talking about Mark McGwire that year, but no-one really batted an eyelid. There was a little talk about asterisks and a potential dirtying of Roger Maris’ home run record, but boy, how we celebrated when McGwire broke the record. Hell, even Sports Illustrated – a magazine we bought by the ton – voted Big Mac (and Slamming Sammy) their “Sportsmen of the Year.” We didn’t want to talk about an impending cheating scandal. We just wanted to see tree trunks whack balls millions of miles and celebrate it. We didn’t want to think that that tree trunk was full of more drugs than the average crack addict, because we wanted ‘America’s Pastime’ back.
If McGwire and Sosa were baseball’s heroes in 1990s, then Barry Bonds has to be its devil.
But despite the fact that we fingered Bonds as a cheat, we still packed out the parks to see the man play. Hell, I’m a bit of a baseball purist but I’d have killed to get a ticket to see Bonds break McGwire’s record. And I wouldn’t be the only one. Ballparks around the country have been packed when the Giants have been in town for the past few years. You think it was to see Jeff Kent or Rich Aurilia? Sure, most of the crowd there will tell you that they are only going to the park to boo Bonds, but really, aren’t they going for that “I was there” moment, when Bonds jacks 926 into the car park?
So as we packed out the stadiums to watch Barry, Big Mac, and Slammin’ Sammy, the other players got a whiff of this popularity. So did their agents.
As we continued to pack out the stadiums, enticed in by a glut of new parks, some of which embody MLB’s dinger-obsession (Citizens Bank Park in Philly), while others become a pitcher’s wet dream (Petco Park, San Diego), the agents asked for contracts that were as jacked up as some of their charges.
Did we complain bitterly about forking out small fortunes to make Little Johnny happy at the ballpark? If we did, I haven’t heard heard a whole lot about it. Why? Because we love America’s Pastime.
And our love of ‘The Pastime’, mixed with wealthy baseball clubs and no real bargaining agreement or cost on controls meant that every ballplayer — however aged — wanted more money. Can you actual blame a 40 year old player for wanting to carry on for just one more season, even if he is a walking pharmaceutical experiment?