A Brief History of How Steroids Destroyed America's Pastime

Kyle WattContributor IFebruary 12, 2009

If you were to flashback 48 years and turn on a radio station or an analog television set, you might hear talk of a man named Roger Maris.

At the time it was 1961 and he was chasing one of baseball’s most hallowed records, the single season home run record. This record was once held by the legendary Babe Ruth. With every home run he hit there was nothing but cheers and applause.

There was no doubt that he hit every pitch with nothing but god given talent. Roger Maris’s pursuit of the single season home run title eventually became legendary; he ended up passing Ruth’s record by just one.

Things are much different in baseball today than they were 48 years ago though. The emergence of performance enhancing drugs, such as HGH (human growth hormone) and anabolic steroids are to blame.

If you were to go back as recent as eleven years there was still no thought in people’s minds that athletes could be cheating.  37 years after Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s home run record; there were two young ball players on the verge of breaking Maris’s record.

Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa were two young players that were hitting home runs at an alarming rate. For the course of the entire 1998 season they were hitting with extremely consistency.

It seemed as though that a newer, younger, and stronger generation of baseball players had arrived. McGuire ended up finishing the season with 70 home runs, and to the general public he was a beloved hero.

It was not until years after that Mark broke the record that something started to feel wrong. It was 2001 and yet another ball player was making a run at the record, the only problem was that he was in the latter stages of his career. This run seemed very unlikely for the 37-year-old, Barry Bonds.

This was about the time that people were questioning if the legitimacy of each home run. In fact, because Barry was able to go on to break the record for the final time; his record was put into question.

How was this aging and fading star able to make an impact like this? At the time people were not sure what to believe, was he was really getting better with age, or was he able to find a way to maintain his powerful swing?

Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, and dozens of other players each are under investigation for taking a banned substance to help increase their speed, size and strength.

The era of which these players allegedly took steroids and other performance enhancing drugs quickly became known as the steroid era. For baseball, a sport very proud of its history and records, this was a nightmare. Baseball’s records are looked at as extremely well respected and looked up to.

The dilemma Major League Baseball had was deciphering if the records that the steroid users broke were legitimate.

The first official acknowledgement of a player admitting to using steroids was Jose Canseco. Canseco was the self proclaimed “Godfather of Steroids”. After his retirement in 2001 Canseco was able to finally reflect on his 17 year career.

He later released the book “Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, & How Baseball Got Big”. The tell-all book detailed his own use of performance enhancing drugs, and names hundreds of other players in Major League Baseball.

Jason Giambi, and Gary Sheffield were among the elite ball players listed in his book, but it was Mark McGuire and Barry Bonds who got most of the attention.

Each man had his own day in federal court where they were told to tell the truth and nothing but the truth about their alleged use of steroids. Both Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire took different approaches to what they were going to say in court.

Sosa claimed that he did not understand the questions that were being asked to him, and suddenly he lost the ability to speak basic English. March 17, 2005, Mark McGuire appeared before a house committee in federal court. Unlike Sosa, Mark decided to talk, but not about anything people wanted to hear, he repeated a number of times that

“I'm not going to go into the past or talk about my past. I'm here to make a positive influence on this.” (CNN.com) He went on to say that “My lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family and myself” (CNN.com). McGuire has admitted to using one form of a precursor to steroids, androstenedione, but nothing else.

Barry Bonds is on an entirely different level than Sosa and McGuire are though. Bonds is considered by many to be the face of the steroid era. He was not only mentioned in Jose Conseco’s book, but he was one of the dozens of players listed in the Mitchell Report, a private investigation by George Mitchell into performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball.

Barry Bonds is the last player to break the single season home run record and the current holder of the greatest record in sports, the all-time home run record. The suspicion of Bonds possibly taking steroids began in 2001, the year he broke McGuire’s record. Toward the end of his career, Barry’s abilities did not seem to diminish. He seemed to be becoming bigger and stronger every year, and his home run swing was still intact.

Two years after Bonds broke the single season home run record, he found himself, like Sosa, and McGuire, testifying in front of a Federal jury. December 4, 2003, Barry Bonds testified before a federal grand jury.

He made the claim that he never knowingly used performance enhancing drugs, he told the grand jury that he received a “cream” that was “clear” from his personal trainer, Greg Anderson. Bonds continues to praise his innocence saying over and over again to the national media that “They can test me every day if they choose to” ( ESPN.com).

August 8, 2007, was one of the most historic and controversial days in Major League Baseball history. That day Barry Bonds hit his 756thcareer home run, he had passed Hank Aaron's all-time home run record and he had become the new home run king.

For some that day brought joy to see change in baseballs history, but for others it brought anger and disappointment. One thing people could look forward to that day was that Alex Rodriguez, one day would surely break Bonds all-time record. Four or five years from that day baseball would have a clean home run champion.

Not everything happens the way people think it will. In the same year that Bonds testified in front of congress, there was a league wide anonymous steroid test. The results conducted in this test were supposed to remain anonymous.

This was supposed to be a test to check how many baseball players were using and if Major League Baseball should implement a punishment for using performance enhancers.

One name from the anonymous test was leaked though. Alex Rodriguez was one of 104 other players that tested positive for steroids. The man that was poised to be the shining light though the steroids era, is just another all-star player wrapped up in the controversy.

The public’s opinion on steroid users have been extremely critical because the alleged either do not address their situation or deny the allegations altogether. On February 9, 2009, just three days after the report surfaced that he tested positive for steroids, Alex Rodriguez held a tell all interview in his Miami home.

In the interview he did admit to takings a form of performance enhancing drugs "I did take a banned substance. And for that, I am very sorry and deeply regretful." ( ESPN.com)

Perhaps because Alex admitted to his mistakes the public will forgive him, or maybe his legacy will forever be tarnished and he will be seen as just another cheater. Rodriguez made the claim that he only used steroids from 2001-2003 while with the Texas Rangers; he is in a unique situation because of his age.

He still has time to show the public that he does not need to use steroids to succeed, unlike Bonds, McGuire, and Sosa who did. One thing is certain though in an era of confusion, liars, and cheaters for baseball, steroids left a black eye on America’s great pastime.


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