The steroid era has forever changed Major League Baseball. What was once known as America’s pastime is now known as America’s doormat.
Major League Baseball (MLB) has moved on from the “steroid era” and is currently portraying their product to be better than ever. The problem with this notion is that baseball is currently in the midst of a streak of its lowest ratings ever for both the All-Star Game and the World Series.
The 2010 season has been dubbed “the year of the pitcher,” and this media-driven phenomenon has turned the average fan away due to a lack of runs being scored. Although the elite hitters in MLB continue to drive out great numbers the standard has become significantly less than the days of Barry Bonds hitting 73 home runs in a single season.
As MLB moves forward they have the unenviable task of un-tarnishing America’s pastime and returning it to the proud tradition it once was.
The “steroid era” has unquestionably changed MLB, and the ability its viewers have to appreciate the game they once loved so passionately. The underlying factors involved begin and end with the use of anabolic steroids in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
The offensive spike at the end of the 20th century created a great deal of fans. The backlash in the 21st century lost twice as many. It is impossible to accurately say exactly how many fans were won and lost through the tug-of-war that was the steroid era; however the TV ratings help to create an idea of how important the time was to the game.
When considering the fact that MLB baseball is now entering its 142nd professional season, it is hard to overlook the statistics that show in no span were more home runs hit than during the “steroid era”. Stadiums continued to fill and signs began appearing that read “chicks dig the long ball”.
Today that slogan represents somewhat of a foreshadowing into what would happen once the “long ball” disappeared. Home run numbers started taking a turn for the worse in the mid 2000’s, and TV ratings followed suit. MLB was stricken with a self inflicted virus that was now in its bloodstream. With stadium attendance also plummeting, MLB was in a free-fall the likes of which no other sport had witnesses in recent history.
MLB writer Bill Chastain recently wrote an article describing the ever-present lack of fans at major league ballparks. Among the most interesting things he wrote was the statistics regarding 2008 World Series losers Tampa Bay Rays:
“Despite coming off a season during which the team appeared in its first World Series in 2008, Tampa Bay enjoyed an average attendance increase of fewer than 800 fans per game at Tropicana Field last season”.
Not even a club's first-ever trip to the World Series could produce an influx of attendance in the post steroid baseball world.
With the loss of home-run races that draw epic ratings, MLB and its media have begun focusing on what it hopes will be the future of the sport. MLB is not implementing some fancy technology to boost ratings, nor is looking to overhaul the sports rules or the way the game is televised. Even baseball purists have called for the use of instant replay, much like the National Football League and National Hockey League uses.
Instead MLB is focusing on the cornerstone of its sport for more than 100 years; the pitchers. The 2010 season has been appropriately dubbed “the year of the pitcher” by media and even some players. The 2010 season has witnessed five no hitters and two perfect games. Last season only two no hitters were thrown through the entire season, and only twenty perfect games have ever been thrown in almost a century and a half.
The pitcher has returned with dominance, and it is not necessarily the C.C Sabathias of the baseball world throwing the fire that seems to be unhittable. Not only are pitchers dominating on the field, they are also dominating all headline off of it. Stephen Strasburg is a rookie pitcher that has garnered as much attention as Lady Gaga, Eminem, or Taylor Swift.
But one player will not turn around an entire sport, and save it from the TV ratings or stadium attendance disaster it is facing. To make matters worse for the “Strasburg effect,” the star pitcher was diagnosed with an arm injury that required Tommy John surgery, and will keep him out through the 2011 season.
The 2010 season's TV ratings are plummeting to new all-time lows, and many experts attribute “the year of the pitcher” and MLB’s low scores as a reason why. According to an article by USA Today “Entering Thursday, there had been 56 games in which the final score was 1-0, putting baseball on pace for 62 this season, which would be the most since 1976 when there were 72 games with one run scored, according to Elias Sports Bureau.”
The 2010 MLB All Star game featured some of the best young pitchers in baseball, so it should be no surprise that the NY AP reported through Yahoo Sports that “The National League’s 3-1 victory Tuesday night on Fox earned a 7.5 fast national rating and 13 share. That’s down 16 percent from the 8.9/15 for last season’s game, a 4-3 win by the AL. The previous low was an 8.1/14 in 2005. Ratings represent the percentage of all households with televisions, and shares represent the percentage of all homes with TVs in use at the time” (Yahoo, 2010).
Aside from a sports championship game like the Super Bowl, NBA Finals, or World Series, the All-Star games usually generate the second highest TV ratings and revenue for major sports leagues. MLB has tried very hard to promote the pitcher in a way that allows fans to appreciate the skillful beauty behind the art of pitching and the mental ability it takes to play that position.
Unlike sluggers, who get so many plate appearances, and can strike out 100 times so long as they hit 40 home runs or more, pitchers are not so fortunate. Pitchers may pitch once every five days, which totals around 30 games a year. This inconsistency is another reason why the average fan is having a difficult time embracing the idea of a pitcher driven league.
Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire are two of the biggest names in MLB because of their appeal to the average fan. During the 1998 MLB season, McGwire and Sosa began a two-man race for the single season home run record that capture an entire nation.
At the time it was unknown to most people that both McGwire and Sosa were using anabolic steroids, however many have questioned if it would have even mattered. By season's end McGwire would break the record for single-season home runs with 70, and Sosa would tie it with 66.
What many people do not remember is that 1998 was not only about McGwire and Sosa, but about all of MLB's elite hitters. The NY Times recently reviewed the 1998 season, and had this to say:
Sosa and McGwire set the stage for MLB to have its greatest season ever, with record-breaking TV ratings and stadium attendance. As the NY Times article mentioned, a whopping 13 players eclipsed 40 home runs in 1998. In 2009, only one player broke the 40 home run mark.
Lost in that year was the pitching dominance of Roger Clemens. Clemens had been widely regarded as a dominant pitcher of the era, however because of the rampant offense, his notoriety was minimal at best. Fast forward a decade and Clemens would be arguably the face of the league.
News-Sentinel in Illinois was one of the first outlets to break the story in 2007. “Roger Clemens agreed to return to pitch for the New York Yankees for a $28 million contract which will pay him approximately $1 million per game. Broken down further, he'll earn about $150,000 per inning, $10,000 per pitch and $1.25 per fan expletive if he pitches in Boston.”
While fans of the late 1990’s enjoyed some of the best baseball they could have ever dreamed of, the fans of today are suffering the ultimate punishment. Roger Clemens is now wrapped up in a perjury case for lying to the Federal Congress about steroid use. 1998 is widely considered the start of the steroid era and the place that MLB began to die.
In 2003 the last steroid-related event took place on the field as Barry Bonds broke McGwire’s single season home run record of 70 by hitting 73 for the San Francisco Giants. Barry Bonds has since been linked to steroids, and the general consensus is that he used them for more than three years.
For a long time a silver lining was thought to be in place in the form of Alex Rodriguez, who many felt would recapture the home run record. However, in 2008, Rodriguez also admitted to steroid use.
It is unclear who else used steroids in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, and the public may never know the full truth.
As MLB enters its 142nd season it faces many questions regarding the sanctity of the game and its overall direction. Major League Baseball is facing a tumultuous time, and is in dire need of its average fans to return to stadiums and turn on their televisions.
The people that insist MLB needs high scores and home run races like the one they witnessed in the late 1990s are only serving to destroy an entire sport. MLB is determined to return to a form that once allowed them to dominate the Unites States of America in ratings and merchandise sales, and it is determined to do so without the aid of anabolic steroids. MLB is doing everything it can to repair their breach with America, and they deserve all the credit in the world for that.
Robert Muller said “To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness.” It is now up to the fans to return to a game that was so good to them for so many years.
Although baseball can sustain with its hardcore fans returning year after year, eventually a new generation will account for its core audience, and that audience will not be so loyal. So for the future of baseball in America, MLB needs to start considering ways to return fans to America’s pastime.