Editor's note: Like any commentary piece here at eDraft, this article represents the opinion of the author and not necessarily other members of the eDraft team or its affiliations.
I’ll never forget where I was when the final out was recorded in the final game of the 1989 World Series. I was standing in the family room of my house in Bakersfield, California going berserk as Oakland Athletics second baseman Tony Phillips made an amazing running grab-to-throw to a sprinting Dennis Eckersley at first base. Even though I was only six-years-old at the time, I knew I was watching something special, more than just bragging rights over the San Francisco Giants and their fans for years to come. I was witnessing one of the greatest teams in Major League Baseball history. Granted, I did watch the A’s lose to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988 and the Cincinnati Reds in 1990 in that same room, but the thing that truly needs to be looked at is that all-around the A’s were hands down one of the best hitting, catching, pitching and fielding teams ever assembled.
But now, 24 years later, that team has pretty much been stripped of any real legacy. With one little pop of a pill, with one little prick of a needle and with one little push of the plunger on a syringe any player who may have played within the last quarter-of-a-century, any player who may have had contact with the likes of guys like Jose Canseco and any guy who has even just the glimmer of a productive season is labeled guilty as a performance enhancing drug user, even if by association. This last January proved this theory as not a single player was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America. And for what?
To take a stand against steroids and PEDs?
To prove to the next generation and the current generation of players that no matter what they do on the field, the second someone gets popped there will be a halo of suspicion?
Times have certainly changed in professional baseball, and I for one am sick of it. Not of the PEDs, believe it or not, but the way the system allowed it to happen, and how proven and unproven players are being penalized for it.
My allowance of PEDs, per se, started in elementary school. For those of you who don’t remember George Bush (the dad) was elected President of the United States during the 1988 election and took office from 1989-1993. During his time he made youth fitness a national priority. And who did he get to lead this campaign? None other than actor, and former Mr. Olympia Arnold Schwarzenegger, who served in his first politically-based position as President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports from 1990-1993. One thing that many of you might not remember was all the cheesy Public Service Announcement commercials that appeared on television around the same time, which talked about the dangers of steroids.
There was even a made for TV movie staring Ben Affleck which touched on the same subject. I bring all of this up because this is where it all started. In the previous four years Major League Baseball had wrapped up banning Pete Rose from baseball for gambling as well as the Pittsburgh Cocaine Trials which had implicated several players including former New York Met Keith Hernandez and former-Pittsburgh Pirate Dave Parker, who was in fact a member of the Athletics in 1988 and 1989. As things shook out going into the 1990s, steroids and PEDs were the last thing that MLB thought would become an issue. After all, the government was in the process of cleaning it up themselves.
In 1994 another bombshell was dropped on the baseball world as the players decided to strike. As much as it broke our hearts to see it happen, and players’ salaries steadily increased, oddly enough the viewership and popularity of the sport rose steadily when play started up again in 1995 all the way through 1998, the year that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa captivated the world, once again, captivated the WORLD by hitting home runs at a record pace in a race to see who would eclipse New York Yankee Roger Maris’s 1961 record of 61 home runs in a season. MLB couldn’t be happier. Fans couldn’t be happier.
Even the players couldn’t be happier… but one journalist from the Associated Press got just a little too nosey. Kidding. Steve Wilstein was the journalist who discovered androstenedione in McGwire’s locker, a perfectly legal supplement at the time. From there, even as McGwire hit a then-record 70 home runs on the season, it all went downhill.
Several stories and reports began coming to light, as players were feverishly questioned as to whether-or-not they were taking or knew of anyone who was taking PEDs. Most players kept their mouths shut, while other (Canseco) elected to write a book about it and rake in the cash.
The results: Canseco is pretty much blackballed from baseball and anyone who ever played the game, several Congressional hearings took place which ushered in the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004, Senator George Mitchell did a rigorous investigation himself which ruined the lives of dozens of ballplayers including the great Roger Clemens. Other books were then written and published, all of which shattered the lives of their subject, most notably Barry Bonds in Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams’s book Game of Shadows.
Once again I have to ask, and for what? I don’t mean why the players were taking PEDs, I mean why our government decided to use so many tax-payer dollars to fund something so trivial. Baseball is, and will always be a game first. Baseball is a business second and a form of entertainment third. Whether players were taking PEDs or not should have been the least of MLB’s concerns. After all, as 1998 proved, PEDs helped put fans in the seats and ad dollars in the pockets of the networks who broadcasted “the chase.” It’s hard to believe that commissioner Bud Selig didn’t know of anything that was going on, let alone anyone else working in the office of the commissioner.
If anything, what had started in 1990 under the Bush administration should have been the first red flag that MLB should really monitor what was going on, as that was when it all really started getting out of control. But even at that, what good would it be to take away something that helps players perform better, which in turn helps bring in more money from fans?
The Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004 is what helped usher in mandatory drug testing. It was a rather lackadaisical process at first, but it has now become rather intense as guys like Bartolo Colon, Melky Cabrera, Manny Ramirez (twice) and Ryan Braun have all gotten pinched in some form. Even though Braun got off due to a technicality, a 50-game suspension, 100-game suspension and then banishment system is a joke. I say this because what does that really mean in the long-term for a player and their future after baseball? Are they going to be marred by the BBWAA because of their one mistake, or are the writers going to treat it as such, a mistake.
Guys like Bonds, Clemens, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio were never given suspension, nor did they fail any drug tests, and yet, all of them, all Hall of Famers in my eyes, received the shaft from the BBWAA. The system, whatever you want to call it, is a joke. Players are going to continue to take PEDs under the idea that any of us would if given the chance. If someone were to come up to you and say, “I have something that will make you stronger, smarter, faster and will make you more money” you’d be a fool and lying to yourself if you said no to that.
This whole Biogenesis thing, a waste to MLB. If the government wants to crack down on it, let them, but none of the players on whatever list there is should be punished whether anything comes back positive or not. This “problem” will never go way. Chemists will continue to find better ways to get their concoctions through drug-testing procedures and MLB will continue to find a way to ban them. It has now become the circle of life. Everything about enhancing performance is weird, and once again, it all started with the Bush administration when they put Schwarzenegger, and admitted steroid and PED-user, in front of children and told him he wanted to see them get fit, faster and stronger. I’m 30-years-old now, and that all started when I was seven. How many current and former-MLB stars saw the same things I did, and were encouraged by the same people/person that getting stronger and faster was the way to go? Probably a lot more than you would think.
I guess in the long run that’s the one thing that is truly frightening in all of this, the impact on the kids and future generations to come. I’m not encouraging PED use; I just don’t care about it. People are going to do what they want and pay the consequences in the end. MLB needs to finally take responsibility for allowing this to happen as they were clearly just as encouraging and stop trying to make themselves look like saints by finally trying to stop it. And as for the government’s involvement in this? Clearly they were the problem from the start and have no reason to be involved in anything other than having the President throw out the ceremonial first pitch.