The Steroid Era: The Innocence of Todd Helton and Others Must Be Rewarded

David MartinAnalyst IFebruary 11, 2009

With this weekend's revelation that Alex Rodriguez used steroids, the time in baseball known as the steroid era solidified its reputation.

With Rodriguez's admission, we now have reasonable doubt that many of the game's greatest players were cheating—Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, Miguel Tejada, and now Rodriguez, not to mention the slew of names in the Mitchell Report.

The happiest person on earth after the news about A-Rod came out had to have been Bonds. A man who broke one of the most hallowed records in the game's great history is now not alone in lying about his steroid use.

A-Rod's admission is another black eye to Major League Baseball and, unfortunately, one that may not be able to heal. 

The public reaction to A-Rod's steroid use suggests less anger towards him and more anger towards Major League Baseball. With so many star-studded names on the "cheater list," A-Rod may have made the public perception change from "these certain guys were on steroids" to "everyone was on steroids in the '90s and early 2000's."

The era had already earned its reputation in history. Years from now, when historians look upon the game there will forever be an asterisk next to the statistics and the records that fell in the era. The latest revelation unfortunately tweaks that asterisk.

While it is easy to say that the fans are the real losers in this whole debacle, it is easy to overlook the ultimate losers.

These are players who were actually clean. As if making it to the Major Leagues isn't hard enough, these players who respected their body had to compete with natural athletes who were unnaturally making themselves bigger and better.

If they wanted to compete and keep a job, the clean players were forced to overcome athletes who were unnaturally stronger and faster than them. Before A-Rod's admission many would have believed that a minority of players were using banned substances but now it is believed that everyone was using.

When these players put up numbers, whether good or bad, they will be graded with a curve. A curve that suggests they were on steroids. The unfortunate thing is that these players should be graded on the opposite curve. One that says they did as well as they did without drugs, in a drug-filled league.

That is why I argue that the identities of the other 103 players who tested positive should be unveiled. While unfortunate for them, as they were told it would be anonymous, the public needs to know whether their heroes are actually heroes or just con men.

This move would exonerate the players who were clean throughout the era, and give them and their fans something to be proud of.

Todd Helton, who could be guilty, seems to be the victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Helton spent the majority of the first seven years of his career feasting on National League pitching. He struck fear into opposing pitchers and managers. He could hit for power, hit the ball in the gaps, and drive runs in at will.

Regardless of the Coors Field factor, his numbers were eye popping, and Cooperstown worthy. Helton, who owned a .339 career batting average going into the 2007 season, had never hit below .315 in his career, and had three seasons in which he hit .347 or better.

As if that was not good enough, Helton remains the only player to hit at least 35 doubles in each of his first 10 seasons.

Todd Helton's name has recently been popping up on blogs and comment sections of on-line sports pages as a steroid user. People point to his recent decrease in productivity. Because the era is so synonymous with steroid use, it is easier to suggest steroids rather than any other factor.

In 2006, at the age of 33, Helton had flu-like symptoms that put him out of the lineup for a couple of days. Helton lost over 15 pounds and was not recovering. When the problems continued to get worse, the team took him to the hospital. Helton spent almost a week in the hospital before being diagnosed with acute terminal ileitis, a sickness similar to Crohn's disease.

Helton, being the competitor that he is, rushed back to the lineup, despite never gaining the weight back. He struggled to a career low .302 batting average with only 15 home runs and 81 RBI.

After the season Helton admitted to not being fully ready to return to big league action.  He gained all of the weight back and vowed to be in game shape for the 2007 campaign.

In 2007, the year in which the Rockies won the NL Pennant, Helton hit .320, and drove in 91 runs, but hit only 17 home runs. The other shoe finally dropped in 2008 when Helton finally landed on the disabled list with back stiffness so bad it was making his left leg numb. 

It was revealed that Helton had been dealing with this issue since early in the '07 season, but played through it until the pain reached a crippling point in early July.

This past October he received a surgery that fuses discs in the lower back to relieve pressure on the nerves.  It has been successful on Randy Johnson and most recently on Dodger shortstop Rafael Furcal.

Health issues come with age, but they also come with steroid use, which is why so many people lump Helton into that category.

Despite Helton's out-of-this world numbers, or maybe because of them, he will forever be linked to the "Steroid Era." History will not recall him as a great hitter and all of his numbers will have an asterisk next to them due to the actions of those around him.

If Helton was not using steroids, it makes one wonder how good his numbers would have been if he was on the juice. Would he have hit .400? Would he have hit 60 home runs? 

That is why it is so important for the rest of the 103 steroid users to be named. It is for players like Helton, and so many others who could have their names cleared by their negative tests. So that when history looks back on the era, it can erase the asterisk from the innocent names.