Closing The Book On The Steroids Era

January 13, 2010 – 11:31 am

So Mark McGwire has finally come clean about his use of steroids.  Whoop-dee-do.  The media is making a big deal of this, but certainly every baseball fan from that era knew damn well he was juiced up.  In fact, even back then when he and Sammy Sosa were chasing the records of Ruth and Maris, I think it was pretty damned obvious what was going on.  I certainly knew they were using some kind of PEDs.  But there wasn’t much talk about it, and when there was it was very low-level and quickly hushed up — or so it seems looking back.  In fact, it was odd watching the home run chase on the nightly news shows.  The fans were certainly excited, the sportscasters certainly were in to it, and overall baseball’s popularity was clearly surging.  But I can remember watching it all, thinking what a sham it was — and wondering how many others were thinking the same thing.  It’s almost like everyone got caught up in it, and no one was willing to speak up.

Now it’s easy to come down hard on people like McGwire, and certainly he’s taking a real bashing right now.  But every time the issue of steroids comes up, I think of some of Buck O’Neil’s comments in Joe Posnanski’s The Soul Of Baseball:

People were always surprised that Buck did not have strong feelings about how bad steroids were for baseball.  He did worry about the kids ruining their bodies, but the cheating part did not move him much.  In the Negro Leagues, he had known players to bend the rules to win — they corked bats, spit on the ball, popped amphetamines, stole signals, and even loaded up on coffee for the caffeine.  They wanted to win.  “The only reason players in my time didn’t use steroids,” he would say sometimes, “is because we didn’t have them.”

That from Buck O’Neil, one of the most admired and respected players in the game.  If someone of his stature can’t get all that upset about the issue, then I sure have a hard time with lesser folks getting so bent out of shape.  Yes, McGwire and Sosa and Bonds and Clemens and all the rest of them cheated.  But as O’Neil points out, it’s the nature of an athlete to push the envelope and do whatever he can to be the best he can be.  All the outrage over McGwire smacks of a “holier than thou” attitude.

The real question at this point is what should be done about these past steroid users.  Most of the discussion in recent days has been about Hall Of Fame elgibility, and I suspect that issue will take care of itself over time.  But the issue that doesn’t get as much discussion is what to do about the records these guys broke.  Given that there’s almost univeral agreement that these guys “cheated”, why are their stats still in the record books?  They don’t even deserve an asterick as far as I’m concerned.  They should be dropped all together.  Put Hank Aaron back at the top of the career home runs record, and put The Babe and Roger Maris back where they belong.  And any other record that any of these guys might now hold should be removed.  Seems not only fair, but the right thing to do.

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