I really wanted my very first column on this website to discuss this year's MLB trade deadline. But a funny thing happened on the way to writing the column....the NY Times released the names of two more baseball players that tested positive for performance enhancing drugs......in 2003. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez allegedly tested positive during a random, what was supposed to be anonymous test to determine the extent of baseball's PED use....back in 2003.
In 2003, steroids and other PEDs WERE against MLB rules. Any arguments to the contrary are just not accurate. What MLB didn't have in 2003 was a testing program set up to catch these players and subsequently punish them. So, steroid use became rampant in baseball. (Not unlike football, mind you, but America seems content to sweep the drug problem in the NFL under the rug, as though it doesn't exist.)
The biggest problem I have with what is now being deemed the "Steroid Era" in baseball is the blatant hypocrisy with which it is being handled. Now, I am not about to absolve any player of his fair share of the blame. After all, no matter how much hypocrisy this has been handled with, nobody forced these players to do drugs. It's just like a teenager who dabbles in drugs, then claims peer pressure. You can blame the parents, the schools, the friends, siblings or whomever else you can pin it on....but at the end of the day, unless the child was held down and forced to do the drugs against their will, we all have a certain amount of will power that allows us to make our own choices, for better or worse. In this case, these players made a conscious decision to cheat. And for that, they are all guilty. But to only hold the players accountable for the mess that has ensued would be short-sighted and unfairly biased.
To only hold the MLB Team and Commissioner's office executives accountable, along with the players, would also be a miscarriage of justice. The media wants the fans to hold the players and executives accountable for the Steroid Era. And while that is true, what the media fails to do is take a long look in the mirror at the mess they helped create and facilitate. And, us fans are not without blame, either. Let me cite a couple of examples of how the media helped create this monster....the monster they now so quickly condemn.
ESPN (the Everything Sox and Pinstripes Network) begins running ads in 1999 entitled "Chicks Dig the Long Ball", depicting players hitting home runs and wowing the ladies. 2-1 games now a thing of the past and rendered "boring" because of the rampant steroid use, rather than investigate and bring the problem to light, ESPN makes light of it and encourages the new found "power surge" in baseball. Not that ESPN has ever been known for cutting edge, investigative journalism, but to now act outraged and shocked over the power surge in baseball is ludicrous.
Journalist "extraordinaire" Mike Lupica chronicles the great HR chase of 1998 between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. He writes a book about McGwire and Sosa chasing Roger Maris' single season HR record and entitles it, "The Summer that Saved Baseball." A record that stood for 37 years and was never seriously challenged is suddenly not only threatened, but surpassed by two sluggers.....in the same season. And rather than investigating why this might have happened, Lupica writes a romance novel on McGwire and Sosa that vaults to the top of the NY Times best seller list. Lupica makes a mint. Later, both McGwire and Sosa are linked to PEDs, and now Lupica in all is hypocritical glory, condemns the entire era in baseball.
The media, which hides behind the first amendment more than my 5-year old son hides during a game of hide and seek, and always uses "anonymous sources" to break stories now begs for the names of the players that tested positive in 2003....the tests that were anonymous, remember? But when the media asks, they claim they need the names because the public has a right to know. The same people that won't give up their anonymous sources for public interest, now use that same argument to get a list of people on an anonymous list. That reeks of hypocrisy.
Of course, none of that would matter if MLB would have actually conducted an anonymous test and destroyed the records after they got the information they used. But MLB managed to bungle that one, too.
But if we are to fully play the blame game when it comes to steroids in baseball, then we, the fans have to accept our own responsibility in the matter. We are America. We are the land of boycotts and protests. We protest a garden being ripped up for a new parking lot.....but yet we kept going to baseball games. In masses. When McGwire, Sosa and then Bonds all were chasing records, crowds flocked to games in record numbers. Even the Florida Marlins managed to draw better than their standard 5,000 fans for games when these players came to play. Bonds made an appearance on the David Letterman show a couple years ago, after the steroid rumors had hit their peak. Letterman asked Bonds, "Do you think people will stop going to baseball games because of all the steroid talk?" Bonds, smugly and arrogantly replied, "No. What else are they going to do over the summer?" Bonds was challenging us. He dared us to stay away from the ballparks. And how did we respond? We proved him right. We spent even more money taking our families to the ballparks to watch players we condemned around the water cooler. We spoke about players of the past and how they "did it the right way". Really? they did? The high and mighty Hank Aaron and Willie Mays? They've admitted amphetamine usage when they played. Just as illegal and performance-enhancing. But somehow. revisionist history gives them a pass.
I'm not sitting here saying what McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, Clemens, ARod, Glaus, Ramirez, Papi and the hundreds of others did was right. But what I am saying is this - there is a lot more blame to be spread around than we are currently spreading. And to leave these players out of the Hall of Fame because they cheated actually cheats them, since we already have admitted cheaters in the Hall of Fame.