Accepting Steroids In Baseball
Posted by Andrew Zercie on February 15, 2009
For the longest time, I believed that any baseball player who took steroids should not be allowed into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Even a week ago when it was revealed, after years of rumblings from the likes of Jose Canseco and others, that Alex Rodriguez had taken steroids, my first thought was, ‘So much for that guy.’
But who knows how long steroids have been a part of the culture of Major League Baseball? Canseco has admited to relying heavily on steroids since 1985 or so. Back in the 1990s, Nolan Ryan was firing fastballs at over 95 mph deep into his 40s. He struck out 301 batters at age 43 in 1989! We’re quick to suspect Roger Clemens for performing at a high level into his 40s; why aren’t similar questions being raised about what Ryan did late in his career? Can we be sure that Cal Ripken played in over 2,600 consecutive games without the aid of amphetamines or steroids? Kirby Puckett hit zero home runs in his rookie season in 1984 and had seasons of 30 or more. If someone pulled off a similar feat in the last five years, we’d all wonder how authentic the performance was.
I’m not suggesting that Ryan, Ripken, Puckett, or any other contemporary Hall of Fame players relied on steroids. I have no proof of anything. I am suggesting, though, that baseball fans are naive if they believe that steroids are only a post-1994 strike phenomenon.
As a kid, I remember hearing quite a bit about how Brian Downing lifted weights and had a lot of success. Looking at his career numbers, Downing didn’t hit 20 or more HR in a season until 1982 at the age of 31, as a member of the California Angels. He wound up carving a solid career for himself, playing effectively into his early 40s. That’s not to say that Downing wasn’t a good player before 1982, or that I believe he was a product of steroids. He made his lone All-Star appearance in 1979. Still, the power didn’t arrive until he was 31. If a similar career arc existed for a player playing today, we’d raise our eyebrows. Again, I’m not accusing Downing of anything. All I’m saying is that a player with a similar career now would be suspected of using performance enhancing drugs.
For the longest time, I believed that Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens and others were undeserving of the Hall of Fame. I’ve gotten over that, though. I’m of the belief that steroids existed long before the strike that killed the 1994 season. I’m of the belief that the number of players using steroids after the strike increased dramatically. But any player whose career spanned the time periods from the late ’70s until the beginning of the Drug Testing Era of Major League Baseball (2004) is suspicious in my mind. And, if players such as Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith, Bruce Sutter and others can enter the Hall of Fame despite spending some time (knowingly or not) around the emerging steroid culture in baseball, then the players who clearly benefitted from using the drugs shouldn’t be left out of the Hall. Being in the same room, knowing about it, and saying nothing makes these icons just as complicit as the users themselves. If there’s room in the Hall for Carlton Fisk, who hit 37 HR while playing 130 games at catcher at age 37 (nothing suspicious about that…) , then there’s room in the Hall for the many contemporary stars who are guilty, through testing or association, of steroid or performance-enhancing drug use.