Swinging on Pins & Needles

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Being early in the season, my mind is still on baseball. I likely would have slopped together some rant regarding how bad my beloved Cincinnati Reds once again are this year, but fortunately, Mark McGwire gave me some alternative and more interesting material to chew on tonight.

In a recent interview with The Athletic sports website, Big Mac said he would have “definitely hit 70 home runs” during the 1998 season even without the use of performing enhancing drugs. The report has since gone viral as they say, being reprinted in newspapers and discussed on sports talk shows across America.

We haven’t talked about PEDs in baseball for years now. Sure, a few folks brought it up last season as home runs seemed to return in more prominent fashion. Most stuff I listened to or read seemed more sceptical of the ol’ “juiced baseball” than PEDs however. No, for the most part, the “steroid era” feels like the bygone days of baseball’s past.

Hearing McGwire talk about that year brought back memories. For those who remember, right or wrong, it was an amazingly exciting season of baseball.

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Record-breaking HR #62! Oh if only we “knew!”

If you’re a millennial, or born in the 1990’s for that matter, you didn’t experience baseball’s darkest days: The season-ending strike of 1994. Sure the boys eventually returned a slight bit into the ’95 season, and everything was back to business as usual, but a lot of fans didn’t buy back in. We were pissed. Go ask a White Sox fan or Montreal Expos (if you can find one) fan what they thought about the ’94 season. That year those two teams were hands-down the best two teams in baseball. They were on what appeared to be a sure-thing collision course showdown in the World Series….except….there was no World Series that year. Baseball fans in general were in no hurry to forgive the players or the owners for stripping them of “America’s Pastime.”

So what changed? We all know what brought baseball back: The Great Home Run Chase of ’98! Fittingly, 1961 was the year the Yankees’ Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record by hitting 61 big ones. His record stood for 36 seasons. Some guys hit over 50 a handful of times, but to be honest, it was never really in major jeopardy of being eclipsed during that time. Yet in 1998 the Cardinals’ Mark McGwire blasted 70, and the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa notched 66 himself. The fame and attention Mac & Sosa received caught the attention and jealousy of Barry Bonds. He was fed up seeing two guys who weren’t half the ballplayer he was go out there and hit twice as many home runs. So, as we know, Barry became the biggest juicer of them all, eventually hitting 73 HRs to break McGwire’s record, and even going on to break Hank Aaron’s career home run record.

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“Can you guess which one is non-roids Barry?”

The steroid era, as far as we know, is long gone. The smoke has cleared. The dust has settled. The superstars of the steroid era gained increased fame, fortune, and baseball records, but it came at a cost. To date, none of the most notorious admitted or assumed users of that era have received enshrinement into the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

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This subject has led to heated debate. Over the years I’ve listened to counter arguments, and there are things I agree with on both sides. For one, I find it interesting/convenient/hypocritical that MLB now turns their back on most of these guys. After all, these guys and their performance enhancing drugs are what pulled MLB out of the dump in 1998 and won back the hearts and minds of baseball fans worldwide. In some ways, they’re now shamed by the game they saved. To further that point, MLB knew exactly what they were doing and was all too happy to turn a blind eye at the time. Ratings were up. Attendance was up. Hence, profits were up. Atta boys!

Secondly, many folks I know point out how we have no idea just how many players were in fact juicing back then. If the majority of the players were enhanced, then it was a relative equal playing field. People on this side of the argument usually say, “Put ’em all in the Hall!” As I’ve said, they make some valid points.

On the other side of the coin, these guys cheated the game. They broke records they had no business breaking. And if 80% of the players were juiced, then it wasn’t an equal playing field for the 20% of guys playing the game straight up. It’s also not fair to the guys who did it the right way and either had to wait years for enshrinement, or never made the cut at all. One of my favorite players from my childhood was Andre “The Hawk” Dawson. Now yes, Andre eventually made it to Cooperstown, but it took him a long time. Could you imagine what his numbers would have looked like if he was putting the crap in his body Sammy Sosa was? Talent-wise, Sosa was a complete bum compared to Dawson.

End game…….here’s my solution:

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Plug your nose and put these two in.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. I know. Two complete jerks. Yet, of all the headliners of the PED steroid era, these are the only two I’d put in the baseball Hall of Fame. However………..I wouldn’t allow either one of them to give a speech in Cooperstown, and there must be an asterisk noting that their enshrinement is not based on their overall career numbers or records, but rather the body of work they compiled prior to their suspected use of performance enhancing drugs. There’s the difference. That’s the only reason I’d put these two in. Bonds and Clemens both had 10 or more years of service before the vast majority of people (myself included) believe they started using. During that pre-steroid period, I personally believe both already accomplished Hall of Fame status. I wouldn’t penalize their greatness because of their selfish stupidity, but I wouldn’t recognize their entire body of work either.

As far as all the others from that era? No way. Why? Because none of them were capable of being Hall of Famers without PEDs. Palmeiro. Sosa. Canseco. McGwire. None of them. Oh there’s more, and I think a few already slipped through the cracks of Cooperstown (hello Piazza, Bagwell, and maybe Thome), but other than Bonds and Clemens, none of these guys could have been Hall of Famers without the juice.

So keep telling yourself you would have hit 70 without the drugs Mark McGwire. Truth is, without the juice you would have been about as good as another fellow first baseman from my childhood, Leon “Bull” Durham! And in respect to Leon, even he’d tell you he couldn’t hit 70 HRs!

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-Vic

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