It is amazing to me to see the different attitudes from those within baseball between the steroid hush-hush, power-surging, record attendance and ratings of the late ’90’s-mid 2000’s to what has come down the past several weeks. When Bonds, Sosa and McGwire were hitting 50-70 home runs annually, and lesser-known players with no history of power, began muscling up and hitting 45 home runs, the Commissioner’s office had to know what was going on behind the scenes to garner these power results (probably along with juiced baseballs). Yet because the high scoring games were bringing in record crowds and ratings, and the Barry Bonds-Mark McGwire home run battle during the ’98 season was known as “saving baseball”, although it was questioned by fans, there was no investigation from MLB, because of the almighty dollars the power surge was bringing in.
Finally MLB began testing several years later (2004), mostly due to political pressure, and the first list of players that tested positive came out in 2005. Among those on the list were superstars Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, McGwire and Sosa. During the Congressional hearings, McGwire refused to comment one way or the other on whether he used, while Sosa and Palmeiro both denied use. Commissioner Bud Selig was even called to testify under oath and defended MLB’s policies while stating the issue had been blown out of proportion, even saying “Do we have a major problem? No.”
Turn the tables eight years later to 2013, as we are awaiting the remaining names on the reported list of (15) that are to be announced, including already announced former MVP Ryan Braun, many players and coaches have already voiced their opinions with most being glad the names and suspensions are coming out with some even levying for harsher penalties. My question is what has taken so long? Where was this outcry eight, ten or fifteen years ago? Although a lot of time has passed, it is good to see MLB finally get serious about the issue. But are the penalties harsh enough to prevent future players from using P.E.D.’s to take that next step or to aid them in getting that first big guaranteed contract. Braun will lose an estimated $3.2 million the remainder of this year, but is still due to make $113 million over the next seven seasons. Only time will tell if this will defer future users in baseball.
With Alex Rodriguez’s name supposedly on the yet to be released list, and many of his other former peers such as McGwire, Sosa and Bonds either testing positive or being linked previously, this makes Ken Griffey Junior’s feats during this “steroid era” that much more remarkable…because he produced a Hall Of Fame Career with his natural abilities. Griffey is currently sixth all-time in career home runs with Rodriguez (5th) and Bonds (1st) ahead of him. When Jr. was traded from Seattle to Cincinnati before the 2000 season, he was in his prime (30 years of age) and on pace to shatter the all-time home run record that was, at that time, held by Hank Aaron with 755. Unfortunately the years of playing on Astro-turf at the Kingdome in Seattle apparently wore Griffey’s body down, and he really was never the same caliber player in Cincinnati, due to many serious injuries he would incur with the Reds. That being said, it is ironic with all of his injuries, that one of the reported major benefits of steroids is that it supposedly greatly reduces injury recovery time, and he still chose to not go that route. Griffey, and his career and numbers, should be even more celebrated and respected at this time as he has never even been sniffed as a possible culprit of steroids or PED’s.
Since we’re on a Cincinnati twist, that leads me to the current punishments being handed down on players, whose use of performance-enhancing drugs could obviously have an impact on the outcome of games, and whether they are severe enough. All the while Pete Rose is still serving a lifetime ban for betting on baseball. There was no evidence found that Rose ever bet on the game as a player and only was found by MLB to bet on the Reds to win as their manager, never to lose. Essentially, his baseball crime didn’t have any impact on the outcome of games. So why, twenty-six years later, is Pete still banned from the game, while those who did, or could have, impacted game outcomes, are merely being suspended a short period of time, and then allowed back? In comparison, it is my opinion that Pete’s punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Pete is the greatest ambassador for baseball and he isn’t allowed to be apart of it, except where it made MLB money such as the All-Century Team Celebration where sponsor MasterCard demanded his participation, but I digress. Pete even said recently, in the wake of the current PED controversy, that he would love to speak to the minor league players of today and share his story to persuade them not to go that route or any illegal route.
While only time will tell how the current punishments will affect future P.E.D. use in baseball, to me, this has done more to destroy the integrity of the game than what Pete ever did. While this truly shines an even brighter light on the outstanding career of Ken Griffey Jr., the career of the Hit King, Peter Edward Rose, continues to sit on a shelf, outside of baseball for the 25th year.