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.