Love him or hate him, Alex Rodriguez will find himself among the greats at Cooperstown some day. Although it is a dark time for Major League Baseball, we need to learn to accept that the Steroid Era happened, and the only thing we can do about it is to prevent it from happening again.
Alex Rodriguez is one of the many faces and one of the greatest players of the Steroid Era. While many fans won't acknowledge his records, and no matter how many asterisks are placed next to his name, each and every one of his 644 home runs has happened. Each of his 1,937 RBI are in the books.
Rodriguez, who turned 37 in last week, has an excellent shot of being the next player to reach the 3,000-hit plateau and needs only 128 more to accomplish the feat. He would be one of only five players in the 3,000 hit/500 home run club along with Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Hank Aaron and Rafael Palmeiro. He is also only 17 home runs away from sending another Hall of Famer, this time Willie Mays, down the all-time home run list.
He is also an admitted steroid user and used banned substances while with the Texas Rangers from 2001-03.
According to an ESPN article published in 2011, the Steroid Era "refers to a period of time in Major League Baseball when a number of players were believed to have used performance-enhancing drugs, resulting in increased offensive output throughout the game." Although there is no definitive start day like the Dead Ball era (1901-1919), it is credited to have began in the late 1980s through the mid-2000s.
In 1961, baseball commissioner Ford Frick petitioned to have Roger Maris' home run record kept separate from Babe Ruth's, citing the length of schedule (teams played more eight more games when Maris his 61 home runs in 1961 than then did when Ruth hit 60 in 1927. Maris hit home runs 60 and 61 in the last eight games that season). Many baseball traditionalists felt the same way.
Now, today's traditionalists feel that Maris is still baseball's single-season home run king.
"The institution of the asterisk, the most important typographical symbol in American sport, (is) terribly unfair. To take away Ruth's record was to take away something that was held so close to the hearts of the baseball establishment that they couldn't see doing it. Nonetheless, Roger Maris, did it. He hit 61 home runs and the fact that it took 162 games; he also had to do it playing at night, to bat against the screwball, having to travel to the west coast for games, and to do it all with a parade of reporters I think is unfair." -Daniel Okrent in Ken Burns: Baseball
Regardless, there is a huge difference between the extra eight games (and exactly seven at-bats) between Ruth and Maris, and the body-altering drugs and chemicals between Maris and players like Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa.
Another rule change that Frick was instrumental in was the widening of the strike zone so that Maris' mammoth 1961 campaign never happened again, which opened the door to the "Golden Age of Pitching." This launched the careers of Juan Marichal, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and the dominant pitchers of the 1960s.
Since there was a rule change implemented before those players started the dominant stages of their careers, should there be asterisks placed next to the names of those players too?
Baseball historians, while determining what records stand and which ones don't, determined that everything after the year 1900 would be deemed the "Modern Era." By this time, the strike zone was defined, four ball walks existed, the pitchers mound was 60 feet six inches from the now pentagon-shaped home plate.
So because of the rules' stabilization, Major League Baseball does not recognize records and statistics compiled in that era to be comparable to the statistics achieved today. Therefore records like Nap Lajoie's .427 average in 1901 are the standard, whereas Hugh Duffy's .440 average in 1894 (which is the highest single-season average since baseball's inception) are not.
But Hugh Duffy still did it. And he is in the Hall of Fame.
Don't get me wrong. Rule changes implemented by the Major League Baseball front office is no way comparable to injecting yourself in the butt with HGH and testosterone.
Just a quick disclaimer before we get into the juicy part: steroids are bad. They are wrong. Don't do them. People who use steroids are cheaters. The damage that steroids users risk to their bodies far outweigh the athletic benefits of using them...not to mention the influence that professional athletes have on young and amateur athletes across the world.
Although there is no definitive start date of the Steroid Era, the pioneers of the era were the Bash Brothers Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, who hit a combined 410 home runs while they were teammates with the Oakland Athletics from 1987 until 1992 when Canseco was traded to the Texas Rangers. McGwire was limited to only 74 games in 1993 and 1994 with foot injuries and the labor dispute...a dispute that would result in the cancellation of almost 950 MLB games, including the entire 1994 postseason.
Fans were disgruntled following the 1994 player strike and the 20 percent decrease in attendance from 1994 to 1995 reflected that.
However, in 1998, the home run phenomenon climaxed.
1998 was about three players: Seattle Mariner Ken Griffey Jr (one of the rare Steroid Era sluggers who hasn't been linked to steroids), Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa, and McGwire (now with the St. Louis Cardinals)...all three in pursuit of Roger Maris' single season home run record. Griffey was the early favorite. The reigning AL MVP fell five home runs short of tying Maris the season before and would finish the 1998 season with 56 again.
The spotlight all summer was on Sosa and McGwire. The NL Central rivals were hitting home runs at a record-breaking rate and stayed almost neck and neck the entire way, and were tied at 55 apiece on August 31. But, while playing Sosa and the Cubs, McGwire hit his record-tying 61st off of Mike Morgan on September 7, then the record-breaking shot off Steve Trachsel the next night. McGwire finished the season with 70 home runs, which stood as the record until Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001.
The excitement of the home run had fans flooding stadium gates. There were 5,064 home runs hit in the major leagues in 1998, which was the most all time and the first time there had been over 5,000 hit in a season. There were more hit the next season (5,528). And even more the next (5,693). The amount of home runs hit in the National League had more than doubled from 1992 (1,262) to 2000 (3,005).
And it was exciting...until it was revealed that players had been using performance-enhancing drugs and all the splendor has turned into bitterness
But players can argue that ball players had been using advantages to get the upper hand over their opponent for decades. After all, Ty Cobb was notorious for sharpening the spikes on his cleats in an attempt to slice open opposing players' shins, right? Or what about stealing signs? Or Joe Niekro's emery board? Or Kenny Rogers' pine tar?
Right. But they haven't been injecting testosterone and hormones into their bodies to give them a chemically produced edge.
Although the Steroid Era is a black mark on professional baseball history, we need to acknowledge that it happened and take away things that can help improve the game. Steroids saved baseball. The Steroids Era is a part of baseball history, and the players from that era belong in Cooperstown. Perhaps not hanging in the same hallway as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Hank Aaron. But they belong somewhere.
Alex Rodriguez happened. He is a feared hitter that is capable of changing the game with a simple flick of his wrists. And, for that, he is Hall of Fame worthy.