Well it's a slow week., so we'll probably get to spend another week hearing stories about Mark McGwire and steroids, and we'll be inundated with sanctimonious columns from sports writers who think McGwire and ilk are the spawns of Satan, and others who think steroids are completely no big deal whatsoever, and everyone else in between. If there is a silver lining to all this, it appears as though the amount of time spent each off-season talking about this topic is dwindling. We've gone from where we spend seemingly the entire off-season discussing the "steroid era," down to intermittent controversies brewing every few weeks, to the point now where it looks like the McGwire confession will be the major steroid story in an otherwise quiet off-season regarding the topic.
But since we're on the topic, I figured I'd break down what I see as some of the more annoying arguments that are made about steroids, ones that are repeated ad nauseum, but which are not entirely true or sensible.
1. Steroids were legal in the 1990s. No, they were not. The federal government passed legislation at the outset of the decade, and Major League baseball placed steroids on the banned list in 1991. Here's a Richard Justice article from a few years back (if you can cut through all the inane blather) that explains the matter. It's true that MLB did not test, and the owners were basically powerless - and also seemingly unwilling - to do anything meaningful about it. But the players were breaking federal law and the rules of baseball, and they knew it. Why else would they hide their behavior unless they recognized this?
2. Steroids are no different than any other form of cheating. Whenever I hear this one I feel like Kyle Broflovski listening to 9/11 conspiracies. So you really think that there is no substantive difference between altering the chemical composition of one's body and, say, scuffing a baseball? "Really?"
3. The "steroid era" saved baseball, and therefore the likes of Mark McGwire let us all down. Mike Lupica and Jayson Stark, I'm looking directly at you. In that Mets Walkoff post linked to in today's Applesauce, Rob Ircane layeth the smacketh down on that idea. In case you didn't read it, here's what he said.
Sure, it was a cute story back in 1998, but if you were one of the dopes who thought that famous home run chase "brought baseball back," go back in time and punch yourself in the face. The United States courts supported the players union and issued an injunction against the owners in March, 1995. That's what saved baseball. Good ol' fashioned litigation.
Fan interest in the game did increase somewhat during the summer of 1998, but does anyone really think that Major League Baseball would be on the brink of calamity absent the Sosa/McGwire chase? What, would the sport be a $5 billion industry instead of $6 billion today? Admittedly my perspective on this might be different because I was back to watching baseball immediately in 1995 - even going so far as to going to the enemy lair (Yankee Stadium) on opening day, and then to Shea on opening weekend there. Others may have been more reluctant to come back, but I think the Ripken story that season and his breaking of Lou Gehrig's record already put baseball back on the road to recovery. Then again, maybe I'm just naive.
Either way, the sentiment that McGwire and Sosa should essentially perform hara-kiri in order to express their deeply felt shame over what they did is just a tad overwrought. They broke the rules, and I don't think they should get a free pass. But can we stop acting like this whole era symbolized the loss of American innocence, or whatever such nonsense passes for sports journalism nowadays?
4. All records from the steroid era are suspect and should be stricken. I added this one after originally posting. While I understand the sentiment, it seems a bit outrageous to edit out all the records. Others might suggest simply removing the records of known or suspected users, but that seems to only add to the headache. I even heard someone on the radio suggest that all team records be stricken because the teams were aided by their players using steroids. While an absurd idea, it does have one thing going for it - what team won the most World Series during the so-called steroid era again? We'd hate to take those four titles back, now wouldn't we?