|The End Of An Era||| Print ||
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on February 24, 2008
Let me state unequivocally the “Steroids Era” is officially over. No, I don’t mean that the story is officially dead. There will be plenty of details still to come on who did what, when, and who injected who. There will be penalties, new measures to try to prevent access to performance enhancers and of course there will be plenty of questions, and eventually there will be new drugs to wage war against.
While there are still plenty of details left to work out, mainly involving MLB’s ability to police itself, and whether it really can, as well as details involving the transparency of the system - but those are just details. For the first time since I started writing about this topic, almost a decade ago, I can look at the sport of baseball and say the war that we, the fans and the sportswriters, fought has essentially been won, even if some battles still need to be fought.
When we started our anti-steroids campaign, those of us in the community of sportswriters wrote a lot of articles that the powers that be didn’t want to read and didn’t want published. They cast baseball’s executives, owners and the players union as villains in a scandal that no one wanted to acknowledge. And all of them had their own agenda, an agenda that didn’t go beyond the petty bickering over dollars flooding in from steroid enhanced players, which made the owners happy and it was money that the union wanted their players to get a share of.
The attitude about steroids only changed because the fans cared. When the union and owners denied that there was a problem, writers like ours here at AHP persisted in following the true story and the fans kept listening. Eventually ownership began to realize that none of us were going to go away and that the game wasn’t just tainted by steroids, but by the fact that they, the owners were being held complicit in the conspiracy to deceive us with bulked up athletes. By doing so the fans forced them to address those concerns and they in turn tried to bring a drug policy into being, if for no reason but to clean up the image of the game.
The MLBPA (the players union) resisted strongly – almost certainly with knowledge of how many player were using and with the knowledge of just who some of those players were. Union leaders showed scorn for our concern, and fought against the creation of any drug policy. But between the fans and sportswriters the issue came to the notice of governmental officials and fear of an outside force coming to bear things began to change.
And so a weak drug testing policy was enacted, without penalties but with ramifications that were the harbinger of real change. The relentless pressure brought about by articles, news pieces and the fans themselves didn’t allow the issue to be swept away and buried like everyone involved in baseball had hoped. Instead we howled because the testing had no penalties and the drug policy was a paper tiger with no teeth. It was little more than a public relations move on the side of both ownership and the union – and the fans again listened and made noise of their own.
That pressure forced the evolution of the drug policy to continue – especially once Congress took notice and started commenting on the problem in public and called into question the practices of MLB and the MLBPA. Even before the first Congressional hearing significant changes to the drug policy – including more severe penalties and more testing came into effect. Afterwards, when faced with the fact that the two sides could either come up with an adequate policy or one could be legislated for them, baseball got its act together and come up with the core of the current policy.
In truth we hadn’t wanted the Mitchell report, or the names of players who used steroids. Nor was it even for retroactive penalties to users, nor even the investigations and trials of players such as Barry Bonds, Miguel Tejada or Roger Clemens.
No, what we all wanted was a fair game, where all of the players on the field got their through talent and hard work, not via chemistry, and where heroes were to be pure of body, and ideally of heart too. We wanted a world where management could not deny the problem of performance enhancing drugs, nor could the union stymie attempts to keep the game at least somewhat clean. In short we wanted baseball to be the ideal nostalgic game of simpler days.
And while we may not have all the answers, or even the perfect testing policy, we can all be proud of ourselves for caring and for the difference that we made. No one within the game can ever again turn a blind eye to the use of steroids and the potential to damage it can do to the integrity of the game in the future.
With that accomplished we can officially call the steroids era over, despite the details and fallout still to come. We can look forward to a game that is cleaner, and where cheaters, will be looking over their shoulders knowing that teams, owners and even the union will no longer be a part of the conspiracy of silence that covered for them for so long.