A Sports Crisis Story: Cleaning Up Our National Pastime

Amidst a lockout which brought the 1994 MLB season to a screeching halt, baseball faced an unprecedented problem. 

Once America’s most popular game and pastime, the level of interest amongst fans was dwindling. Fans wanted to feel something, get excited, be amazed, and the game was simply no longer doing it for them. 

That was, however, until the summer of 1998. 

By the end of July, with roughly two months to play, Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs and Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals were in an absolute slugfest. With 42 and 45 homers respectively, Roger Maris’ single season record of 60 was well within their crosshairs. McGwire broke the record on September 8th and went on to hit 70 home runs, while Sosa broke the record on September 13th and went on to hit 66. 

Three years later in 2001, Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants broke McGwire’s record of 70 when he belted 73. This never before seen power surge brought excitement and fans back to the game of baseball, but it was accompanied by rising suspicions of steroid usage.  

George Mitchell, a federal prosecutor, was appointed by ex-MLB commissioner Bud Selig to investigate the steroid use amongst MLB players. In 2003, Mitchell found that 5-7% of all MLB players had been using steroids. Human Growth Hormone (HGH) did NOT show up on the tests that were administered, and it wasn’t until 2007 that players’ who used HGH were exposed. 

Bud Selig speaks at a news conference the day after the Mitchell Report was released (via Getty Images)

Bud Selig speaks at a news conference the day after the Mitchell Report was released (via Getty Images)

On December 13th, 2007, the “Mitchell Report” was released, indicting 89 MLB players of performance-enhancing drug use. Home run king Barry Bonds and seven-time Cy Young award winner Roger Clemens were among the most notable names listed on the report. Clemens and McGwire came clean about their usage, while Bonds and Sosa continue to deny it to this day. 

Most recently, Alex Rodriguez, the most polarizing player of his generation and youngest player to reach the 600 home run milestone, was indicted for PED use in 2009. A report from Sports Illustrated confirmed that he had been administered “Boli,” a form of steroids by his cousin in 2003 while with the Texas Rangers. A year in which Rodriguez won his first MVP, hitting .298 with 48 HRs and 118 RBI. 

"It was his understanding that it would give me a dramatic energy boost and otherwise harmless,” Rodriguez said. 

Rodriguez admits to PED use alongside Head Coach Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman (via New York Daily News)

Rodriguez admits to PED use alongside Head Coach Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman (via New York Daily News)

Presumably clean when the report came out, Rodriguez was not handed down punishment and helped lead the Yankees to their 27th World Series title in 2009. 

Four years later, reports of steroid use resurfaced for A-Rod, only this time he was accused of using while in pinstripes. Frustrated with the continuity of cheaters in the game, especially from its celebrity level players, ex-Commissioner Bud Selig dealt Rodriguez a 211 game suspension. After a controversial appeal which enabled him to finish the second half of the 2013 season, Rodriguez eventually accepted the reduced suspension, keeping him out for the entirety of the 2014 season. 

Misconceptions by fans of players who have seen stark performance increases are now instantly accused of doping. Some will argue that this unfair speculation changes the perception of upcoming players and veterans who work hard and see increased success. Current MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred sounded off about this dilemma, “People get better. And to speculate it’s because of performance enhancing drugs is literally baseless speculation. There’s one way to know. Did he test positive or did he not?”

As the MLB has tried to heal the wounds of the steroid era, their hope is with new regulations and regular testing, the issue can be left behind. Despite the measures that have been taken to decrease use, suspensions have still consistently been handed down every year. Since Alex Rodriguez’s suspension in 2013 was enforced, 30 more Major Leaguers have also been suspended for PED use. 

Make no mistake, the steroid era has yet to pass and a solution to absolve the troubles cannot be seen on the horizon. The mystery and allegations surrounding PED use in baseball will continue to loom large as the integrity of baseball hangs in the balance. 

“I honestly don’t know what else I could have done.” - ex-Commissioner Bud Selig. 

 

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