Can We Stop Talking About Steroids Please?
Posted by DrFunke on June 19, 2009
I’ve pretty much had it at this point. The steroid controversy in baseball has been back in the news after the leaking of Sammy Sosa’s name from a 2003 list of MLB players who tested positive for steroids. Basically there are only 2 justifiable reactions to this news:
1. Didn’t we pretty much already know this like 10 years ago? Why is this surprising?
2. This whole story is just some kind of conspiracy by the Jews or something.
When the first stories about star players and steroids broke a few years back, I felt like every other baseball fan: betrayed, cheated, fooled, all that fun stuff. Moments that I associated with joy and greatness, like the ’98 home run race, all felt cheapened. (Quick aside though: McGwire was taking Andro. Andro was over the counter and legal in MLB at the time. Why does McGwire get killed for doing something legal? But hey, why think about that when we can all just pretend to be outraged?) Legendary games like the Aaron Boone game (Game 7, 2003 ALCS, Yanks vs. Sox) where he hit the extra innings walk off homer felt ruined, because (and no one remembers this) Jason Giambi, who was juicing at the time, hit 2 huge home runs to get the game to extras in the first place. Folk heroes turned into pariahs, giving us our own class of modern day Pete Roses. Happy memories turned sour, kind of like finding out 6 months after a break up that your ex was cheating on you. At first, it was sad.
But now I don’t give a shit, and frankly I don’t see any reason anyone should. One reason that people lash out at juicers so much is because they broke records that were set by guys who were clean in a past era. There’s a famous picture of Barry Bonds running to the outfield after the whole steroid controversy broke out that shows a group of fans in the section behind him holding a sign that says “Ruth did it on beer & hot dogs.” (Not pictured: the sign extended to say “and Hank did it with class. How did you do it?”)
At the time, these fans got praised by other fans and by the media for their criticism of Bonds. It was witty, and it had a hint of truth to it. But it also left out one of the most important details: Ruth didn’t have to do it against black or Hispanic players. He also didn’t do it against pitchers who could throw as hard as most pitchers have to be able to throw now just to make it to the league in the first place. So sure, he did steroids, but he also faced guys like Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez who probably would’ve made the Babe shit his pants in the batter’s box. And just because Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the 40’s doesn’t mean black and Hispanic dudes showed up all over the league right away. It took time. (Fun aside: When the Brooklyn Dodgers manager, Leo Durocher, decided Robinson was joining the major league roster, he said this to his team: “I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a fuckin’ zebra. I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays.” How bad ass is that?)
Bob Gibson had the greatest season ever by a starting pitcher in the late 60’s because the mound was 10 inches higher than it is now, giving him more leverage and letting him generate more power than any hitter could handle. The next season, they lowered the mound to its now standard height and no one, including Gibson, could even sniff the records he set with the higher mound.
Hank Aaron set his record because he was a great hitter who was blessed with durability and the ability to sustain a long career while playing at a consistently high level. But his home run record might’ve only had a chance to exist because MLB didn’t allow Josh Gibson to play in the league because he was black. Gibson was known as the “black Babe Ruth,” and according to Wikipedia some people thought he was great enough that they called Babe Ruth the “white Josh Gibson.” He hit a staggering amount of home runs in Negro League games and in other assorted leagues, but no stats were kept. It pretty much comes down to guesses and estimates, but some have speculated he hit over 800 career homers. And oh yeah, this was all before he turned 33 and went into a coma because he had a brain tumor. I’m sorry, but Hank’s record was not as pure and sacred as we all made it out to be when all along there was a guy stuck in the Negro Leagues hitting 800 homers with a FUCKING BRAIN TUMOR.
Another thing that blows my mind. Starting about 50 years ago (maybe even earlier), amphetamines started to become popular among ball players. One point people always make about steroids is that they can make you stronger but they can’t make you hit the ball. Conversely, amphetamines didn’t make you stronger but increased your focus, energy, and reaction time. Which is to say, they made you hit the ball better. When he retired, Tony Gwynn gave an interview in which he said he thought over 50% of professional baseball players regularly took amphetamines before games, and an even higher percentage at least dabbled in amphetamine use. Why does this never get brought up? If Gwynn was right and 50% of guys did it before every game, then why are steroids such a huge controversy and amphetamines never get mentioned?
So rip steroid users. If they deserve to get criticized for anything, it’s because of the suspicions their use has now cast on all players. Clean players who perform at a high level are now just assumed to be steroid users by most. Think about this whole Raul Ibanez thing that just happened. Roy Oswalt gave an interview once where he talked about the problems of steroid use, and not once did he mention the sanctity of all-time records. He said the problems were that users ruined the reputations of clean guys, and they also effected the well-being of other players. If a user had a big season because of steroids then got a huge contract, that takes away from the money clean guys could be making. If a guy breaks into the majors because he took steroids and got a little extra power, then what about the guys who never get their shot in the majors because they chose not to juice? They get condemned to a life of bus rides and shitty salaries because they made the proper decision. Oswalt’s interview was interesting because it showed that the fans and the media were focusing their outrage in all the wrong places. People get all worked up about records and sanctity and blah blah blah, and they pretend to care about the disrespect to other players. But think about this: when was the last time you read an article on ESPN or wherever that discussed guys who weren’t given there fair shot because they stayed clean? Never. (Same goes for football. Guy gets caught juicing, no one gives a shit. Think about Shawne Merriman. He makes his money because he’s unnaturally big and fast and strong. Why is he that way? Because he’s juicing. Furthermore, his job is to find a way to get to the QB unnoticed and hit him as hard as possible. Why is it okay and forgotten that he took steroids? He could’ve literally killed a person already just because of the nature of his position, how is it even moderately excusable that he made it even more dangerous by taking HGH? I think it’s because the average IQ of the NFL fan is in Paris Hilton territory.)
So from now on, when you talk about baseball and steroids, use your head. Don’t just do the Skip Bayless, get angry, yell, then assume you’re right because apparently if you’re yelling your arguments are infallible. Think about what’s really wrong with steroid use, think about whether it really matters or not, and then then start your arguments. Otherwise you’re just going to sound annoying, like a Cubs fan who talks about how hard it’s been rooting for a team that hasn’t won in 100 years even though they’re only like 20 years old, but also always talks about how it’s their year even though their horribly un-clutch line-up is the same as last year except for the loss of one of their best players (Mark DeRosa) and the addition of a player who is about as sane as Charles Manson (Milton Bradley).
One last thing: don’t give up on baseball. Despite the flaws it’s always had, it’s a beautiful sport that just isn’t comparable to anything else. Thinking about steroid users and cheaters and even the flaws of old legends is depressing. But sometimes, baseball moments can be amazing enough to transcend the sport itself. I’m a Mets fan. I’ve never seen them win a championship, and I’m skeptical of the idea that I ever will at this rate. But regardless, I’ve never been a part of a better sports moment than the Mets first game after 9/11. Where I’m from, everyone was directly affected by this. For 2 weeks, you could see the smoke and debris rising from ground zero from my front yard. It was impossible to escape the thought of it, and it didn’t help that everything, TV, sports, news, whatever, had all shut down. But finally, it came back. The Mets played the Braves on the first game back. All the emotion and energy that everyone had in those few weeks off was pent up, and you could feel it during the game. The fans in the stadium were ready to explode; I was watching with a lot of my extended family on TV, and the tension from the game was palpable even there. The Mets were down 1 run late in the game, I want to say the 8th inning, and Mike Piazza and his fantastic hair cut came up to the plate andblasted a 2-run homer to put the Mets ahead for good. People lost their minds. At Shea, cheering was so loud that our TV’s speakers nearly blew out and the TV cameras were shaking from all the vibration. Fans were cheeing and hugging, guys from the NYPD and FDNY, some of the world’s bravest men, were crying like babies, and some other fans were too. Regardless of the cheating and the scandals that we now know were happening in the game at the time, that moment will always be bigger than baseball to any Mets fan with a memory.
Those moments are why I watch baseball, and I know I’m not alone. I’ll slog through hours of boring ass games every summer just to make sure I don’t miss that one moment, when it’s about more than the game. Steroids are just a story line, and a temporary one at that. Even if it is a little disturbing, we can’t let it ruin a game that means this much to so many people. Sorry this was long as hell.
Also, Mac 10 – the annoying Cubs fan from like 3 paragraphs ago was only 50% derived from you.