Why Baseball Needed Steriods

By: Nate Pachl

Now that the Mitchell Report has surfaced and a wave of names has been released is anyone actually surprised? Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Miguel Tejada are the newest marquee names to be raked across the steroid controversy coals but the name that suprised me most was Chuck Knoblauch. What the heck, Chuck Knoblauch? Really? When people look back at most of the big home run hitters of the 90's and early 2000's they have already made the association of those players taking steroids - Frank Thomas, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa. Sure that era will be tarnished forever by the notion that players were on the juice, even if they were not.

Prior to Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire invading Major League Baseball where was the sport? Sure there was George Brett, Robin Yount, Tony Gwynn, and Ryne Sandberg. All were great and are worthy Hall of Famers, but they were all regional superstars. They didn't bring that extra bit of flash or hit 50 home runs a year. Don't get me wrong, these guys are legends but the fact of the matter is people were not shelling out money to watch guys hit opposite field base hits and run the bases hard, that doesn't put people in the stands or generate excitement. On top of this, Pete Rose was caught gambling and baseball was in peril.

However, McGwire and Canseco started generating a buzz which saved baseball. Canseco became the first person in history to join the 40/40 club (40 home runs, 40 stolen bases). McGwire hit 49 home runs, as s rookie. People were excited about baseball again and steroids were the reason why. Then the hold outs and strikes came, as baseball began generating more revenue the players wanted their slice of the pie. In 1994 it had seemed baseball was back on track, especially after a few consecutive very exciting post seasons. But the strike painted most big league ball players as greedy and fans responded by focusing their attention on other sports. As a result baseball revenues dipped and the sport was once again in trouble. Enter steroids again.

I was a freshman pitcher at Dickinson State University during the fall semester of 1998 and just beginning my collegiate academic journey. I remember getting into an argument with my English professor because he said hitting a tennis ball served 120 mph was harder than hitting 70 home runs. I was floored. Here is this guy without an athletic bone in his body raining on the McGwire/Sosa home run race - before either had broken the record! I have always been a huge baseball fan and right in the middle of the most exciting baseball moment I've witnessed, this guy has the nerve to try and ruin that moment, by putting tennis above baseball nevertheless. I guess all those years of bitterness of being cut from the team as a child finally came out of him. But 10 years later he might have been partially right. Maybe hitting home runs wasn't as hard, if you were taking 'roids. Is Pete Sampras a better athlete than Mark McGwire? Now I say yes, but McGwire did more for baseball than most of us understand and has potential to do more!

Baseball knew what was happening, probably about as much as Bush knew there were not any WMD's in Iraq. But like Bush, MLB turned it's cheek because its sport was now drumming up support, excitement, and most of all - money. It didn't matter to the commissioner that kids were looking up to these guys or to the fans that these guys were all jack up on HGH, what mattered is that we all loved baseball again. Then the Yankees were great again and we all loved to hate them again. Interest in baseball was at an all-time high, Ichiro turned the path that Nomo created for Japanese players into a 10 lane highway. People appreciated the things Ichiro did, what Yount and Gwynn were doing in the 80's, because fans were becoming more savvy and more engaged. Baseball was once again America's game.

Then came Bonds.

A very talented guy that few people appreciate and wanted the accolades that McGwire and Sosa had. Bonds recognized their receipe for success and began pumping himself up, but he missed the boat. No one wanted to see Hank Aaron or McGwire's records fall, unless it was by someone we love like Albert Pujols or Alex Rodriguez. So when Barry came along and broke McGwire's record of 70 home runs in a season it was then that the public and media cared about steriods in baseball. If Bonds had never broke the single season home run record, our tax dollars would not have been wasted on Senator Mitchell's report.

The ironic thing is that baseball benefited and will go unphased by this controversy. The Red Sox are winning, we have Santana's, Mauer's, Verlander's, and Big Papi's to cheer for. On top of that we've been force fed steriod headlines to the point where we are so desensitized by steroids that we don't care when we hear that Clemens did it, or Chuck Knoblauch. But what about the guys that seemed to have played by the rules. How much better could they have been? Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson dominated despite every other guy in the opposing line up being pumped up on roids. Would they have been more dominant? Would some players have had a chance to crack big league rosters but couldn't because they traded hitting home runs for having morals?

Baseball needed steroids to survive and thrive. Its popular again and steps are being taken to reconcile mistakes and finally clean up the sport. It might not restore tainted records, erase 20 years of stealing money from fans, demonstrating that cheating is acceptable, and penalizing players for playing the game right. But because of steroids, long term solutions can be implemented to ensure future playing fields are level and that kids keep needles out of their arms. People still love players like Sosa, Palmeiro, Clemens, McGwire, and Giambi and they can still have a strong legacy. These guys were tremendous despite taking performance enhancing drugs, no question. They've made big mistakes and in retrospect they've all probably feel regret for cheating. They learned from it, and they need to teach young players the same lessons.

Hearing a guy who hit 500 home runs say, "I messed up and cheating was wrong because it hurt people," is a very powerful message to a young kid. We loved these guys for more than their ability to play; we loved them for their personalities and charisma. Those qualities make good coaches and good mentors. This is why MLB needs to embrace these guys to help spread a more powerful message, to restore it's image and more importantly, restore the game. Lemonade out of lemons.

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