by Jason Kezman
It was the year 1974 and a man was chasing down a record set by the most popular baseball player of all time. This man was Hank Aaron, and the man he was chasing was none other than Babe Ruth. The crown jewel he was after was the title of “Home Run King”. This was a noble race back then, between men who played hard everyday and played the game for a long time. Hank Aaron was now 40 years old in 1974, far from a young man anymore. But there he was, on a cool night in April with a record attendance of 53,000 fans in his home park in Atlanta. Aaron blasted home run number 715, breaking Babe Ruth’s all time home run record that had lasted since 1935 (Verducci par.5). The entire nation rallied behind Aaron, which said a lot for his public support. Flash forward to the 2000’s and America was presented with a similar chase. Barry Bonds was on the verge of breaking Hank Aarons home run record. Yet this time nobody seemed to want to see Aaron’s record to be broken. What was the difference between back then and now? One word, steroids.
Baseball was always, and always will be my favorite sport. It was my fathers favorite sport, and his fathers as well. However, the game of baseball has transformed into something completely different since the days that my father was growing up. Back then baseball was a game played by legends such as Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggion, and Jackie Robinson. The “heroes” of my childhood were men like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Roger Clemens. At the time, before all links to steroids came out, these were ball players who were shattering records that had stood for anywhere from thirty to eighty years. It was an incredible time period for baseball, but in the end, it was nothing but a lie. These are memories of my baseball childhood and many other too. It is sad too look back and know that the players we looked up too in awe, were nothing but genetically enhanced monsters. Players such as Bonds and McGwire were not performing these incredible feats with raw talent like those of generations past, but rather with the aid of PED’s, or performing enhancing drugs. These drugs gave certain players incredible advantages, which was pointed by Lee Jenkins, a sports writer for the NY Times, who said, “The difference shows up in various ways. As the juiced player continues his off-season cycle, he is able to work out longer and more often. Trainers tell him that when muscles are stressed, they usually become fatigued and break down, a catabolic effect. Anabolic steroids override the catabolic effect and shorten the recovery time from workouts” (Taking a Swing with Steroids par.3). Essentially meaning that these steroids were allowing players to work out and work out and never tire, allowing them to reach incredible levels of strength.
It is funny because one of the fondest memories of my childhood came in the midst of the steroids scandal. It was in the year 2002 and the MLB All-Star game came to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, my hometown. My father and I were lucky enough to attend the Homerun Derby that year, and there I was sitting, watching, players like Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, And Jason Giambi, three players who were all later accused of using performance enhancing drugs. It was the most entertaining night of my life, as baseballs were being launched out of the stadium in the most amazing of fashion. It was something I will never forget because, at the time, it seemed to be something that was not humanly possible, and as it turned out it really was not.
If we let these players into the Baseball Hall of Fame, we are giving the thumbs up for players to continue to do so in the future. If Bonds and other can re-write the record books and also put their names into the Hall of Fame, what would be stopping the next wave of players from doing the same?
This leads into another major issue that comes with putting steroids users into the hall of fame, is that it makes it impossible to define what an “average” baseball player is in todays game. After the many years of the “steroid era”, where home run totals skyrocketed and players looked closer to football players than baseball players, baseball is finally coming back down to earth. For example, Barry Bonds in the height of his career once hit 73 home runs in the year 2001, at the same time Mark McGwire hit 70 and 65 home runs in 1998 and 1999. However, as of the past 3 years not a single player in the MLB has hit over 60 homeruns in a season. This data is quite alarming but these statistics do not even tell the whole story. According to Bleacher Report, from the year 1996 until 2006, ten or more players had over 40 homeruns in a single season in eight of the eleven years in that time period. In the ten years prior to 1996 the peak year of players with over 40 homeruns was only 5 players. Then again after the year 2006 the power number dropped drastically with the highest number being 6 players in 2012 with over 40 homeruns. Author Zach Rymer gives his insight on the steroid era, “This speaks to one of the things we know PEDs can do for ballplayers. They essentially make them superhuman, and that’s a life that comes with both increased strength and increased longevity. Old guys were doing things in the juiced-up era that old guys generally have no business doing” (Rymer par. 5). Steroids are not just something that helps make a few players do incredible feats. It was a drug rampant in the game causing players who normally wouldn’t be able to perform on a hall of fame level, perform that way. However, with this information it is safe to say that steroids are starting to dwindle out of the game and that players statistics are starting to even out. The only problem is that these players during the “steroid era” put up such incredible numbers that we no longer know what part of those stats was due to skill and what was due to steroids. This makes it very hard for us to determine how many homeruns somebody in today’s game should be hitting. If steroids users are allowed into the hall of fame we are therefore recognizing their statistics as legitimate. And by doing so that is going to make all of the things that players are doing today seem less impressive. With this being said, if steroid users are allowed into the hall of fame, players that are coming up in the game will see the record books, see how many homeruns they themselves are hitting, and feel like they need to do something extra to reach the level that these players came before them were at.
The steroid era needs to have its chapter on the history of baseball closed, and the only way to do so is to not allow those who have used steroids into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Jenkins, Lee. “Taking a Swing With Steroids.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 13 June 2004. Web. 26 Apr. 2014.
Rymer, Zachary. “MLB.” Bleacher Report. N.p., 26 July 2013. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.
Verducci, Tom. “On 40th Anniversary of No. 715, Hank Aaron Remains True Home Run King | SI.com.” SI.com. N.p., 8 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014.