In the last few years, we have seen the All-Time Home Run King (Barry Bonds), the former Single-Season Home Run King (Mark McGwire), a pitcher with an unprecedented Seven Cy Young Awards (Roger Clemens), and a hitter who clubbed more 60 home run seasons than any player in history (Sammy Sosa) publicly humiliate themselves while insisting they never cheated the game of baseball. Baseball’s list of statistical giants who might not reach Cooperstown added another member this week.
Major League Baseball was hit hard Saturday morning when Sports Illustrated columnists Selena Robert and David Epstein reported perennial All-Star Alex Rodriguez tested positive for anabolic steroids during the 2003 season. For those keeping score at home, that was the year he won the American League MVP Award and the American League Home Run Crown. This crime against baseball is magnified by the fact that Rodriguez has stated his innocence of steroid use on multiple occasions, most notably in a 2007 interview with Katie Couric. Alex Rodriguez’s failed drug test caught my by surprise, because through all of the previously mentioned steroid cases, I still believed that some Major Leaguers were steroid-free.
I still believed in the “clean guys.” I believed in the A-Rods, the Chipper Joneses, the Ken Griffeys, and the Derek Jeters. I believed in the guys who came through the league and filled out their adult bodies with no signs of excessive growth. I believed that someday A-Rod would take his rightful place atop the All-Time Home Run list, and while doing so he would overtake a man who had greatly tarnished baseball. Now, all of my beliefs have changed.
In my opinion, we have to assume that everyone who played in the “Steroid Era” of baseball has used steroids or performance enhancing drugs at some point. Whether it was a one-time deal or a near-addictive routine, it seems now that steroids so greatly permeated the last fifteen years of baseball that no one can be guaranteed clean.
So who is to blame for all of this? Consequently, who is the loser in all of this? I think the answer to both resides in baseball fans as much as baseball players. Baseball fans had to know something was up when McGwire and Sosa started popping out 50 home run seasons. Fans probably started to notice when the Orioles’ Brady Anderson hit 50 home runs in the 1996 season (previous to 1996, he averaged 17 home runs per year). From there, fans were led through consecutive summers of the McGwire-Sosa battle for Home Run Champ. While these battles revived a weakening Major League Baseball organization, the fans noticed that offense was suddenly an easy thing to come by. Eventually the signs of steroid use became obvious. Barry Bonds’ head started to resemble a small watermelon, and a 40 year-old power pitcher was miraculously the best in the game (although we should have seen it coming when he threw shattered bats at people in ‘Roid Rage fits).
Is there a winner in all of this? I don’t know. If it has to be someone I assume it’s Jose Canseco. From the time his first book came out, Canseco was telling the world that players like Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez were juicing. When Canseco first made these claims, fans jumped to defend both these iconic players and the game of baseball. But Canseco’s words seemed to encourage a weight-loss program in Major League Baseball…
After summer-long speculation and a proverbial witch hunt for steroid users, Pudge Rodriguez showed up to spring training 40 pounds lighter. In actuality, he looked as if he spent the summer hanging out Calista Flockhart and Paris Hilton. How did Pudge explain it? He claimed that he wanted to be more dangerous on the base paths. Yes, a man nicknamed Pudge claimed that his end-goal was to be “dangerous on the base paths.” Pudge wasn’t alone, as a slew of players suddenly lost weight and looked noticeably weaker. Was it because they had to instantly cycle off of steroids? Ask them and they will say no, of course it wasn’t. Ask the world, and they will say “Wait a minute, Bret Boone hit how many home runs?”
Major League Baseball began their testing program in 2003. When the tests were completed the samples were shipped to a storage facility in California. The players’ names were not on each sample. Instead, a code number was generated and attached to each item. The code index that determined which test sample belonged to which player was sent not to California, but to a discreet location in New Jersey. For a while it seemed as if Major League Baseball had locked up the samples and thrown away the key. That was until Barry Bonds got involved.
When the Barry Bonds trial broke, federal prosecutors immediately subpoenaed the previously mentioned samples and acquired the necessary key to determine the origin of each sample. The samples are only now being identified, and Alex Rodriguez’s name was the first leaked to the press.
The same laboratory that held Alex Rodgriguez’s test sample currently holds more than one-hundred more samples. Yes, you read that correctly: One-Hundred Samples! I guess this is what we can expect from baseball for the next few years. No more “News Breaks” about obvious cases like Ken Caminiti, Bret Boone, and Rafael Palmeiro. Instead, stories will come out weekly about previously heroic players who tested steroid-positive. Had the first name leaked to the press been that of Roger Clemens, the damage would have been minimal. Instead, Alex Rodgriguez’s immediate descent from greatness stabbed the spirit of Major League Baseball to the core.
Alex Rodriguez was supposed to be the Golden Boy. The Natural. The kid who could save baseball from the Steroid Era. The night that Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s Home Run record, I immediately thought to myself it’s okay, Alex Rodriguez will break that record in a couple of years and all will be right again. Unfortunately, I was mistaken. Now I think to myself if the kid that I swore was the cleanest of them all turned out to be a cheater, who could have possibly been clean? Alex Rodriguez’s failed drug test propelled me to this thought, and it remains to be seen how many fans will be left with these thoughts in the months to come.
Generations will speculate over who did and who didn’t use steroids in the alleged Steroid Era. Now I can only hope to see Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens sharing a prison cell one day.
Yeah, I guess it isn’t so bad.