Written by Jonathan Leshanski
Published: 30 July 2007
On HBO’s “Costas Now” show this week, Curt Schilling stepped forward and spoke once again against steroids. “This,” he said, “will be the steroid era forever.” And he’s right.
This could, maybe even should, be baseball’s golden age. We have a generation of ballplayers who are perhaps the greatest ever seen and we’ve seen playoff races as good as any in the history in the game. We’ve been privileged to see Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, and Tom Glavine - the last 300 game winners that the game is likely to see for a long time, maybe even ever. We’ll have seen more players surpass 500 and 600 home runs than any other single group of fans in the history of the game. We’ve watched baseball’s single season home runs record crumble not once, but three times, and we’re about to see the all-time home run record set.
And none of it, not a single bit, will ever have the historical credibility of baseball of eras past. What should have been a golden age has been tarnished. And the cause has been steroids.
A cloud hangs over the game - and even if the majority of players are innocent, it’s the taint that hangs over the game’s biggest names which will be remembered. And in the mind of the fans, not to mention the sportswriters, that cloud is as dark as the one which spawned the “Black Sox” scandal.
While fixing games certainly was more detrimental to the integrity of the sport, we are more inclined to be forgiving of those players of yore. They were less educated, they were cheated and lied to, and they had no rights or medical care. In short they were exploited. They in some ways were little more than children being manipulated by owners who could tell them what they would be paid, where they would play, and when their career was over.
But we can’t understand the cheating of today. Not when the league minimum salary for a player is roughly 18 times the average annual salary of the American worker. Not when stars and superstars can earn upwards of $20 million dollars per year for playing a game. Not when the cheating isn’t about winning, but about greed and adding an extra few million in the next contract. No these aren’t the exploited stars of yesteryear, who had no one looking after their rights. This is about greed.
Maybe we could forgive if we thought the players were doing it for us - for the hometown fans, for a ring, for a championship, but it’s not. I think mentally we can even forgive the little known players from the third world who are desperate for money to ship home to better their family’s lives, but we can’t understand the stars who make money in such ungodly amounts that we can’t even fathom it, and still want more.
And for that we can’t forgive. We don’t believe that Mark McGwire didn’t use, we can’t believe that Sosa broke Maris’ single season mark of 61 home runs three times in his career, and we can’t believe in Barry Bonds’ career numbers more than we can believe in the Easter Bunny.
Compared to the Black Sox scandal, steroids are big stuff. The Black Sox were just 8 men, not all who may have been in on the fix. All of them were kicked out of the game not because they were proven guilty, but because they had compromised the integrity of the game. It forced baseball to clean house and get rid of the cheaters and enact its one immutable law.
Steroids involve a much larger number of players. It’s also a mess which many, including players like Schilling, don’t believe has been cleaned up. There hasn’t been a resolution - many players who’ve used steroids have never been identified and never will be. The cloud of suspicion still lingers.
Commissioner Bud Selig knows something should be done - the lack of any official MLB Barry Bonds hoopla is clear evidence of that. The beaten down market for Barry Bonds’ record breaking baseballs is evidence of that. Fan polls are evidence of that. The stonewalling of the George Mitchell investigation is evidence of that.
There are some courageous players who’ve come forward and spoken on the issue but that isn’t enough. Because of the way that the Commissioner's powers have been eroded by collective bargaining, even if the guilty were all exposed, no real cleanup of the game would be possible. Nor is one forthcoming.
Schilling may have been right - this will be the steroid era forever.