I remember what I was doing when Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris' home run record in the summer of 1998. I was a 10-year-old in my pajamas running around in circles in my living room. I was so excited jumping up and down that I lost my balance and broke my toe. It was the most fun I've ever had watching sports.
Despite the fact that the media has spent the better part of the past decade demonizing the event's existence, you can hardly find a single sports fan that doesn't reflect fondly on watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chase after Roger Maris' home run record.
Of course, the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, who determine Hall of Fame induction, would rather you forget about this tainted race. On Wednesday, they voted not to induct a single player from what has been dubbed baseball's "steroid-era" into the hall of fame.
The message they sent was clear, but the timing of their moral high-ground is curious.
After all, these are the same sportswriters who were fully aware of the bottle of Androstenedione, a testosterone-producing pill, that was visible in Mark McGwire's locker during his record-setting chase in 1998. However, it seems the vast majority of them didn't decide it was only morally reprehensible until years after their columns fawning over McGwire's remarkable achievement went to print. In fact, they mostly managed to bite their tongues until 2001, when Barry Bonds -- who wasn't quite as charming in front of cameras as McGwire and Sosa -- had the audacity to hit 73 home runs in a season, beating out McGwire's then-record.
So the question arises, is the media, and by extension, the public, really outraged by the use of steroids in athletics, or have we simply been told that we're outraged and decided to follow along?
I'm not denying the fact that steroids contributed the overall performance of professional baseball players in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In fact, an expertly crafted feature on the topic penned by Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci, included the following excerpt describing how the use of steroids affected Dan Naulty, a below-average minor league pitcher who achieved his dream of making it to the major leagues only after he began using:
In four years Naulty gained 50 pounds and added 10 miles an hour to his fastball. (He would eventually top out at 248 pounds.) His legs were enormous. His shoulders looked like cantaloupes, with the rounded, watery hallmark of steroids. He loved the way his body looked, loved to take his shirt off, loved the compliments he got from coaches and loved the way nobody in baseball asked, How? The Steroid Era was taking hold, made possible by a don't ask, don't tell policy. "Everybody is telling you how great you look," Naulty says. "Nobody ever asked if I was using drugs. I never had one discussion about steroids around another baseball player.
Yes, steroids most definitely offer an unfair competitive advantage, but Major League Baseball didn't even begin testing for them until 2003. Why weren't these same writers, who now have served as the judge and jury for every player who participated in this era, banging down the doors of the Major League Baseball offices in the 90s, demanding that they carry-out regular testing on players?
And if the concern is about questionable statistics, why hasn't the Baseball Writers Association of America re-explored the wide, wide use of amphetamines in baseball throughout its history -- even Giants great Willie Mays was accused of being a rampant user -- and pitchers like hall of fame member, Gaylord Perry, who was ejected from a game for using a doctored ball. Even beyond that, why hasn't an asterisk been attached to every statistic and record that was achieved in Major League Baseball prior to 1947, when racial prejudice prevented African Americans from competing? Does the Baseball Writers Association of America truly feel the exclusion of an entire generation of athletes didn't alter the statistics achieved during this time period?
It's fine to be outraged by steroid use in athletics but I'm suggesting that we at least be consistent about it.
On December 31, the Associated Press released a damning report outlining the use of steroids in college football.
The sport's near-zero rate of positive steroids tests isn't an accurate gauge among college athletes. Random tests provide weak deterrence and, by design, fail to catch every player using steroids. Colleges also are reluctant to spend money on expensive steroid testing when cheaper ones for drugs like marijuana allow them to say they're doing everything they can to keep drugs out of football.
While other major sports have been beset by revelations of steroid use, college football has operated with barely a whiff of scandal. Between 1996 and 2010 -- the era of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Marion Jones and Lance Armstrong -- the failure rate for NCAA steroid tests fell even closer to zero from an already low rate of less than 1 percent.
So my question is, if we as a nation are truly upset and outraged by steroid use, why is our concern so targeted? NFL players frequently turn in positive drug tests and the sports media doesn't so much as flinch. Many college athletes are allegedly turning to performance enhancing drugs to get ahead, and the top story on ESPN as of yesterday was that Tim Tebow probably won't play for the Jacksonville Jaguars next year.
Are the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America really outraged by the history of drug use in the sport?
I remember what I was doing when I watched Mark McGwire hit his record-breaking home run.