The other night, I was having a great conversation with a friend of mine regarding the new steroid controversies that have spread in baseball throughout the past week. Two former MVP's, Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada, have admitted their former use of performance enhancers after previously stating that they had never tried these substances. In the society that has shunned steroid users is faced with an unusual predicament. The greatest statistical player of the last decade, a player on pace to shatter records in many power categories, is now a known steroid user. This is the game's most prominent player and baseball cannot hide or shun Alex Rodriguez as they have Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmiero. Rodriguez has another decade on his playing contract and is not going anywhere.
I think that it is time for someone to make a bold statement. In a society that is so numbers oriented, I think that it is time to make it known that the steroid era is a significant part of baseball history and the best players of the steroid era deserve to rise to the top and be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Pushing the Hall of Fame credentials for Mark McGwire would be one way to make this statement. McGwire and Sammy Sosa are responsible for the success and prosperity of the game today. During 1998, the race to pass the Maris home run plateau was a huge part of the game. The dominant power seasons put forth by McGwire were during a time when performance enhancer use was rampant in baseball. The reason for this is that players wanted to perform better, which would lead to earning more. Why would team officials, the office of the commissioner or the players want to hinder this? Higher performance (higher utility) would lend to more productive and successful teams. So for the better part of two decades, the use of performance enhancing drugs ran rampant in Major League Baseball. In 2004, three seasons after McGwire retired with 583 home runs and the legacy as being one of the greatest power hitters of all time, that was the first time that the MLB and the MLBPA agreed to terms on a substantial testing and disciplinary response to the use of performance enhancing drugs based on pressure from the U.S. government and the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Up until 2004, performance enhancing drugs were part of the game. The players who rose to the top during those years still deserve to be recognized for their accomplishments. For purists who like to compare historical players to modern players, I feel that is unfair and impossible. The game changes over time and innovation is always the driving force to that change. Performance enhancing drugs are just one innovation that baseball players used to heighten their ability. This is much like the equipment trends that have happened over the years -- lighter bats, bigger gloves, tighter wrapped baseballs, etc.
It has now been established that the steroid era is over since using these types of drugs is damaging to the body and harms the game. Thus, I find it perfectly acceptable to see a players career tarnished with steroid use post-2004, however before 2004, I believe that steroid use was the product of the system and the great players, who made the late 90's so much fun to watch deserve enshrinement into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
The next time I walk through the NBHOF, I hope to be able to see Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds and remember all of the memories that I have of those players. How McGwire's 62nd home-run in 1998 was the first baseball game I ever watched in its entirety on television, feeling touched seeing two great competitors of different teams and nationalities in the midst of a pennant race hug one another. What an incredible showing of what sport should be. It was in that moment that I became a baseball fan. It was in that moment that baseball revived itself from the 1994 players strike. Major League Baseball owes a lot to its great athletes from the steroid era and it is time that designations are made in favor of the player because they were doing exactly what their predecessors did in switching to lighter bats -- they were looking for an advantage.