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Did Steroids Really Save baseball?

Publish Date: 02/09/2024
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa

We have all heard it before Steroids in the 90s helped save baseball. That was a true statement, at least for that period, But when looking back, did Steroids save Baseball? In the long run, I think Steroids ended up hurting Baseball.

If you went over 60 years and tuned into any radio station or analog television set, chances are good you would hear mention of Roger Maris.

At that time, in 1961, he was in an ardent pursuit of one of baseball’s most coveted records – Babe Ruth had held this mark previously, and every home run he hit brought forth cheers and applause from fans around the country.

Roger Maris was undeniably blessed with godlike talent. His chase of Babe Ruth’s record home run total eventually became legendary, eventually passing it by one.

Things in baseball today differ significantly from over 60 years ago due to performance-enhancing drugs such as HGH (human growth hormone) and anabolic steroids, which have emerged on the scene.

In the mid to late 90s, nobody thought anything about steroids.

Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were two young players hitting home runs at an unprecedented rate throughout the 1998 season, consistently hitting bombs.

McGuire quickly established himself as one of baseball’s premier figures, going on to hit 70 homers in a single season and become a legend among his fellow baseball fans.

Something seemed wrong after Mark broke the record; something about his break rang hollow in 2001 when another baseball player, this time Barry Bonds, aged 37, made an attempt on it. It seemed unlikely that somebody could break that record so quickly.

At that point, many were beginning to question the legitimacy of each home run hit by Barry; when he eventually broke the record; many questioned its veracity.

How could an ageing and fading star make such an impressionful comeback? People were left uncertain whether he was getting better with age or if he had some help.

Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa were among dozens of players to come under investigation for taking banned substances to increase their speed, size and strength.

Steroid abuse quickly gained notoriety in baseball during its so-called steroid era. This scandal proved devastating for an athlete so profoundly committed to history and records; baseball’s records are revered among its players and fans. The Steroid era destroyed the baseball record book.

Major League Baseball faced the difficult task of determining whether the records broken by those using performance-enhancing drugs were valid or not.

Jose Canseco became the first player to publicly acknowledge their use of steroids after retiring in 2001 as a self-proclaimed “Godfather of Steroids”. By that point, he could look back over his 17-year career and reflect upon it with clarity.

He later published “Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big”, an expose about his use of performance-enhancing drugs along with hundreds of players across Major League Baseball.

In his book, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield were included as top baseball players; however, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds garnered most of the interest.

Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire had separate trials in federal court where they were required to be honest when answering questions regarding their alleged use of steroids. Each took different approaches when considering what they wanted to say when their turn came up for testimony in front of the judge.

Sosa was quick to claim that he did not understand the questions asked of him and became incapable of speaking English at that moment. On March 17, 2005, Unlike Sosa, however, Mark decided not to respond directly but spoke about general topics instead of anything specific people asked him for.

“I don’t wish to delve into my past; instead, I am here to make a positive difference in this.” (CNN.com) He stated that his lawyers advised him against answering questions, McGwire admitted using one form of anabolic steroids precursor – androstenedione – but not others.

Barry Bonds stands apart from Sosa and McGuire on many levels; many consider him the face of the steroid era, being mentioned not only by Canseco in his book but also appearing as one of many players listed by George Mitchell for the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball.

Barry Bonds was the last player to break both single-season home run records and all-time home run records in 2001, which sparked suspicion of his possible use of steroids. However, Barry’s abilities did not seem to diminish at the end of his career. He grew bigger and stronger while his home run swing remained intact.

Two years after Barry Bonds broke the single-season home run record, he found himself similar to Sosa and McGwire testifying before a Federal Grand Jury on December 4, 2003.

Bonds claimed before the grand jury that he never knew or used performance-enhancing drugs; according to him, his trainer Greg Anderson provided him with a “cream” which was “clear”. Bonds has repeatedly maintained his innocence to national media outlets by insisting “they can test me every day if they choose.” (ESPN.com).

August 8, 2007, was one of the most significant and controversial days in Major League Baseball history: Barry Bonds hit his 756th career home run to surpass Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record and become its new holder. This event led to widespread discussion and contention.

Not everything happens as expected. In the same year that Bonds testified before Congress, there was also a league-wide anonymous steroid test with results that were supposed to remain confidential.

This was meant as an experiment to assess how many baseball players were using performance enhancers and whether Major League Baseball should introduce penalties for such use.

Alex Rodriguez was among 104 players who tested positive for steroids, with most other players remaining anonymous. What once looked to be an exoneration during this contentious era has become another all-star player who finds themselves embroiled in controversy.

Public opinion regarding steroid users has often been highly critical, particularly as those accused of doping fail to address or deny allegations against them. On February 9, 2009 – just three days after reports surfaced of his having tested positive for steroids – Alex Rodriguez interviewed at his Miami home to address all allegations and defend himself.

“In an interview, he admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids. For this act of indiscretion and wrongdoing, I am very sorry and deeply regretful,” according to ESPN.com.

Major League Baseball turned a blind eye to steroid use, and, yes, the great Home Run chase of 1998 changed baseball, and yes, at the time, it seemed that it changed baseball. Looking back on those times, did they save baseball?

Baseball was coming off a strike season in 1994, which led to the postseason being cancelled, and when they came back to play in 1995, the fans did not come all the way back, and the Television ratings dipped. These are the reasons why desperate owners allowed steroids to be taken. Most knew what was going on and turned a blind eye.

Fast-forward a quarter century and look back, and you can make no mistake that what happened in the steroid era still negatively affects the game. A baseball record book is a useless tool anymore since cheating and breaking records are allowed to happen. The Hall of Fame has controversy around it yearly, and those television ratings are still not good.

The Steroid issue cast doubt on the legitimacy of the results we were seeing. Baseball was America’s pastime for most of the 20th century; that all changed, though and Football is the number one sport now.

Yes, Steroids made that 1998 season memorable, but to most fans, it’s not memorable because of how great it was; in hindsight, baseball fans were sold a lie. That lie for a few years was fine, but in the end, when the truth came out, we just found that Baseball’s leadership took the fans for a ride that was just not true.

Baseball will never return to its glory days, and that’s a shame, but everything evolves and changes. For better or worse Steroids changed baseball forever, and in my opinion it was for the worst.

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