A while back I wrote about what I believed to be the Ten Biggest Fallacies in Sports. Leading that list is the steroid scandal tainted the integrity of baseball. One of my primary assertions is steroids were an easy scapegoat for a host of other factors which have changed the game. Allow me to reprise in the following excerpt:
Tainting the integrity of baseball under Bud Selig is like shooting out all your lightbulbs so the sun will go down. The sanctimonious hand-wringing on the part of baseball writers that is still happening over this is almost too much to bear. Where were all these scribing Dudley Do-Rights when Mark McGwire suddenly gained 50 pounds of muscle and transformed home plate at Busch Stadium into a bigger launching pad than Cape Kennedy? They were conveniently were sitting on their pencils because the offensive explosion that occurred in the national past time in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s was exactly what they wanted.
Flash the clock back to 1995 when baseball was trying to resurrect itself from the fiasco of the previous year’s labor stoppage that killed a World Series. The writers were bemoaning the fact that baseball is boring, there isn’t enough scoring, and the fans won’t come back to the game after the strike. So, when the moon-shots started flying out of ballparks across the league, the writers could barely contain their overt giddyness. This led to fans flocking back to the ballparks, and Bud Selig couldn’t have been happier.
The part nobody wants to admit is that the whole steroid issue began as attempt by writers to disgrace Barry Bonds. Writers have a problem with players who won’t kiss their collective asses, and Bonds was notorious for treating scribes with utter contempt. When it became clear that Bonds would be the holder of the two sexiest records in all of sports (the single-season and the career home run marks), the press began its delving into Bonds’ connection with BALCO. But much like Dr. Frankenstein, they created a monster they couldn’t control. Next thing you know, we have Congressional hearings and the resultant “outrage” at the “cheaters.”
Now for the fun part…baseball has a long and storied history of cheating. Since day one, players have been stealing signs, corking bats, scuffing or greasing balls, and generally doing anything else they could to win. Steroids are no different. It is far too easy to “blame” the aforementioned offensive explosion on the hypodermic needle, but doing so ignores some key facts.
- In the 90’s, Major League Baseball expanded by four teams, meaning 50 pitchers who otherwise would have been in the minors now were plying their trade in “The Show.”
- Several new stadia were constructed in the 90’s, and the vast majority of them have outfield fences and small foul territory making them very “hitter-friendly.”
- Of all the players caught using “performance-enhancing drugs,” half were pitchers.
In other words, the increase in offense has several possible contributing factors. The emptiness of the steroid argument become clear when one stops to consider that from the list of players named in the Mitchell Report, there wasn’t a case of a player who suddenly became a star due to his use of “performance-enhancing drugs.” Players who were stars before the needle were stars after the needle, and “role players” remained just that.
Shakespeare penned the correct thought on this scandal 350 years before baseball even existed: Much ado about nothing.
Now, Ryan Hudson at SB Nation has penned a piece that echoes my sentiments. In his article, Hudson brings up the fact that there is not a proven link between steroid use and prolific home run hitting. Hudson also points out that very assertion is the central theme behind “Steroids, Other ‘Drugs’, and Baseball,” an exhaustive study of the subject done by Eric Walker.
Walker’s work is full of empiric data that casts some serious doubts on the credibility of the claims made by the “steroids are to blame crowd.” Hudson also quotes an piece written by Joe Posnanski that begs the question “What if we are wrong again about steroids?”
If you are somebody who feels strongly about this issue, I would as strongly suggest you read these works. This is another issue where we in this country let allowed an easy belief supplant a hard truth.