Friday, April 15, 2011

Checking in on PED's

So it took less than 1 week for the topic of Performance Enhancing Drugs to come up here at Relay to Home. I’m sure that doesn’t set any records, but it’s something that I see as a statement on the game that we love.

My baseball fandom, while born in the late 80’s, took real flight in the 90’s. I remember watching the 1991 World Series because I thought Kirby Puckett was awesome. I remember laying down a $5 bet with my own grandmother that the 1992 Blue Jays would win the AL Pennant, and sprinting up the stairs to claim my prize when they did. Back-to-Back Championships for my favourite team, coupled with the ongoing mediocrity of the Toronto Maple Leafs, quickly aligned me with the sport of baseball through my formative years.

I remember watching the ’92 NLCS with intrigue and wondering “who will be tougher for the Jays to beat?” At the time, I was convinced it was the powerful Pittsburgh Pirates (that feels so weird to type). That was the first time I’d seen how great Barry Bonds was. Fast forward a couple of years and we’ve come out of a work stoppage and Major League Baseball has decided to appeal to the lowest common denominator…the Home Run. Guys like Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were celebrated in their local markets for their dominance on the mound, but MLB put three guys on their brand as icons of the sport, Ken Griffey Jr., Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire.

Appearances on talk shows, in Nike commercials and even a spot on The Simpsons just took “the long ball” to new levels. All the while, players were growing to cartoonish sizes and hitting home runs that looked like they belonged in “Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball” and not on the actual field of play.

This continued for an entire decade from 1997 to 2007 until MLB commissioner Bud Selig (the same man who enjoyed the rejuvenation of his game through all this) appointed US Congressman George Mitchell to investigate steroid and HGH use in MLB. From that point on, players named in that report, or anyone else suspected of, confessing to or caught using “illegal performance enhancing drugs” has come under amounts of scrutiny that border on shocking.

Through this decade (of unparalleled financial gain for the game itself) the use of performance enhancing drugs was not against the rules. Players were free to police themselves, and expected not to cheat. When Barry Bonds blew up to the size of the Michelin Man, no one asked questions. When Mark McGwire looked more like a linebacker than a first baseman, no one asked questions. But Selig decided to define his legacy on the game as the commissioner that “cracked down on drug use in the game”.

Now let me state that I loved every second of it. I ran inside from the ball park to watch McGwire break the record. I got commemorative plates that I proudly hang on my walls even today to celebrate how many home runs he hit. And I think it’s absolutely ludicrous that the Baseball Writers of America now exclude players that brought the game out of the gutter (post strike) from their Hall of Fame votes.

The Steroid Era happened. If Major League Baseball is prepared to honour Barry Bonds HR record, Raphael Palmeiro’s career number of hits or Andy Pettite’s post-season dominance then all of these players deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.

1 comment:

  1. And therein lies the rub, amigo. The HoF has sweet fuck all to do with MLB (and thank goodness; otherwise Mr. Thanks-Seattle-for-your-Pilots Himself would declare every year's vote a tie).

    I like that the HoF has its quirks and foibles.

    Seriously; MLB changed the height of the mound, added a DH in one league and not the other, and introduced a livelier ball, etcetera ad infinitum — and all that happened in ONE decade. They're wankers (yet we still give them money, out of love). They have about the same sensibility and sticktoitivness as my cock.

    The HoF on the other hand has no rules; no nuthin'. The only rule is, pass muster with the baseball thinking elite of the day. It may not relate to anything at all, but the 'of the day' part is kind of intriguing as a concept.

    I've heard people say, "Yeah, maybe it wasn't against the rules of baseball, but it was against the rules of society (i.e. illegal)." True that. But so was firing off guns willy-nilly and beating your wife. Plenty of those kinds of candidates in the Hall. But obv, the voters of the day found their behaviour acceptable, at least from a baseball standpoint.

    And the voters of today are not quite yet comfy with the 'roidsters.

    But don't worry, Jay, your day is coming. There are a number of implicated pinstripers whose time will come, and they'll go in. Will it open the gates for anyone who didn't play in New York? Dunno (it should, if it goes that way.)

    All I'm saying is that MLB does not equal HoF, and I'm good like that. And I've been drinking.