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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tracing the Growth of Steroids and Baseball's Blind Eye To It

Steroids have probably been around for decades, and the current explosion probably had its roots in the 1980's at the earliest. Still, to appreciate the explosion of steroids in baseball I would start with another year, 1994. That year the player's strike ultimately ended the season and there was no World Series played. By the time baseball came back the next season, attendance and ratings were down. The next several years the sport was in a spiral down. Interest was down and fans seemed to refuse to forgive the sport for cancelling the World Series.

The sport seemed to be spiraling into oblivion and no one in power could figure out how to regain interest. All of this continued until 1998. That's when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa began their monumental chase for Roger Maris' single season home run record. The rumors were out there but no one fans, players, or management wanted to face up to the realization that this race was chemically induced. Instead, everyone wanted to idealize and pretend as though two players chased a near forty year record through merely a remarkable athletic achievement. By the end, not only was a monumental record broken but baseball was back in favor.

Following the 1998 season, attendance grew again and so did ratings on television. The problems caused by the work stoppage were all solved by the home run race. That both competitors, McGwire and Sosa, cheated to create this race was overlooked and dismissed. Baseball had found its golden goose. With baseballs flying out of ballparks at remarkable rates, attendance and ratings were also finding new heights.

With this baseball was creating a monster. The attention that Sosa and McGwire received was contagious and steroid use was exploding at rates that were alarming. One baseball writer once surmised that he believed that 90% of MLB was on steroids.

Now, MLB was facing a new crisis. The attendance crisis was resolved by the homerun race. Yet, the home run race was created by cheating. Now, the cheating was out of control. Baseball was in a very tenuous position. Records were being broken all over the place and no one knew who cheated their way to the record. For years, baseball simply refused to do anything about. Only in 2003, did baseball finally test. Yet, this test was anonymous and only to guage how prevalent it was. Baseball refused to do anything of substance until Congress finally stepped in. Only under the threat of Congressional mandate did baseball finally institute policy that had some teeth.

That's what adds insult to injury. Baseball screwed up the sport because millionaires couldn't agree with billionaires how to split up the pie. As such, we had no World Series in 1994. The fans rejected the game. In order to get the game back in favor, homers started flying out at record rates. Yet, they were flying out only because the hitters were cheating. Baseball looked the other way because it was bringing fans back. Now, baseball has no easy answers. Records are falling and no one knows who is clean. There is no way to punish fairly. Yet, this systemic cheating was allowed to go on because that's what brought the fans back.

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