Thursday, March 03, 2005


Steroids: A new golden age or the fall of an empire?

Since everyone else who at one point or another had an opinion about baseball has weighed in on the steroids debate, I think it's time I weigh in on the controversy surrounding the game that I love.

In the age of super size, the information super high way, and super computers, everything is bigger, better, stronger, faster, smarter; it's a defining generation of superlatives for America, and for baseball.

After the strike in 1994, baseball needed ways to attract the fans again. I know I felt betrayed by the players, the greed, and all the politics. Baseball is something pure to me, transcending any form of description I could possibly think to give, and for the first time in my lifetime, it's purity was tainted. When baseball came back, I was cautiously optimistic. My trust had been betrayed, but I was so willing, so eager to give it back. Baseball reached out to all of us with a bang, with the huge numbers, the stats, the thrill of records of yonder, thought to be untouchable, produced by a pantheon of men greater than that we'd ever been fortunate enough to see, being closed in on. We all got lured back, slowly but surely, and then it happened. 2 men touched one of the most heralded records in baseball, and once again all our blood collectively flowed with that purity of yonder.

In 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa began treading on the land that only some of the greatest names in baseball had ever walked on. Can any of you remember that summer, the excitement, the intensity? I can remember waking up every morning to read the paper, to watch sportscenter, to hear the numbers, to see the balls leaving the bark. I was so taken in by the magnitude of what they were doing, how could I possibly think there may have been darker intentions behind it? The asterisked record of Maris, the 60 home runs of Babe Ruth, not Joe Schmo, one of the greatest names in the greatest sport ever played, was broken. The 2 men were so likable, so perfect for the game; we all watched, we all waited, we all celebrated. It was baseball at it's height, and we were all back, the strike was forgiven, and we'd fallen in love all over again with the nation's pasttime.

Then 2001 came, and Barry Bonds. The excitement was there again, reliving the days of McGwire, watching a living legend tap on greatness once more. Who thought about that Bonds had only hit more than 45 homers in his career once before 2000? This was someone threatening to break a record we thought would never be broken once before, and now here it was, 3 years removed, broken again. Baseball was in a new golden age. Fans everywhere were tuning in to see the balls fly out of the park, and none of us thought to ask the question. We didn't want to ask, we didn't want to know.

I'd always been suspicious, but I never wanted to admit it, to myself or to other, that the game I loved could be corrupted. I revered these men, respected them with the kind of fervor and dedication cult leaders wish they're kool-aid drinking shells would give them.

When BALCO finally hit, when Giambi's testimony leaked, when Caminitti came out, when Canseco came out, when Bonds's testimony got leaked, and now everyday when I turn on SportsCenter, I'm confronted by steroids, and it pains me more than I can describe. I feel ignorant for not seeing the obvious, for not asking the question. I feel even worse for not caring, for so mindlessly taking in the lies being spoonfed to me.

The outcry now is that records should be asterisked, that the players should be punished for what they've done, and I ask why? We the public went right along with it. Where was your outcry when Sosa hit 66, when McGwire hit 70, when Bonds hit 73. Why didn't you complain then? It's so convenient to hop on the train now, to say you'd always suspected, and you'd always known. I suspected, and maybe deep down I always knew, but until the day I see a picture of Barry Bonds taken live, rubbing a big bottle of the clear on his chest, that has a label that says ANABOLIC STEROID on it, I'm not going to believe.

A great era tainted, or a bad era forgotten, there 1000 ways to remember the Age of what will most assuredly be called Steroids. I'll always remember the feeling I had watching Mark McGwire hit his 70th home run in his last at bat, trotting around the bases, bashing forearms and hugging Sammy Sosa at the end of it all. I felt like I was witnessing history, for better or for worse. I live and die for that feeling, steroids or not, and that, I can never apologize for.

Maybe I can't believe, maybe I don't want to, and maybe I never will, but the damage has been done. They can keep their records, their trophies, and their asterisks too. Those didn't damage the game, our ignorance and the desire for which we clamored for these records, and gave these men every reason to risk their lives, their dignity, and the very love they had for this game did. I forgive them, for what they may or may not have done, but I cannot forgive myself.

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