Before I get too deep and serious, I thought I’d depict my feelings using a video of Arrested Development.
As silly as it may seem, we (baseball fans) were Buster, and little did we know, the juice was actually steroids – steroids cleverly disguised as home runs. We did nothing to stop our fix, we were full blown juice-aholics, we nearly murdered our brother, baseball (shown on screen as Michael). We feel bad now, but we are still addicts, we try to fend off our juice cravings, realizing what that it is nothing more than a lie, but then a buff new juice-model comes up, convinces us that it’s sugar-free, all-natural “juice”… But as time goes by, stories start to be told, we slowly grow cynical, until finally the juicer is outed. We swear that none of us were fooled, but none of us did anything to stop him. Sure, the actions are ultimately the fault of said juice-aholic, but where did we go wrong? Aren’t we at fault MANY times along this juice-train?
As the title of this post suggests, I, along with many other baseball fans, must apologize to the future generations of baseball fanatics. We were wrong. Every generation has been wrong to some degree; we all hurt the game we love, but usually it’s quickly corrected. Steroids, on the other hand, have been addressed and rules have been placed, but we still have not solved the actual problem at hand.
We have had TERRIBLE things happen in baseball, from organized crime (mainly, but not limited to, gambling) to shameful racism; but we chose not to ignore those black-eyes in order to not only show how much we’ve grown, but to make sure to show future generations the mistakes made in hopes that we do not repeat them. But what about steroids?
Well, it seems to have all started in the 1980s; this was a time where body-building and action movies reigned king. The icons before us looked something like this:
Did we not stop and think that this body image may have been the result of something synthetic? Well, yes and no. Yes, because we thought that steroids were only used by body-builders, and no because we were not fully educated on what steroids were or what kind of harm it did to the body. These were actors, showing their athleticism on screen, in a fake world; surely this could not be applied to the world of REAL sport!
Enter the Bash Brothers (Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire) – a duo of young Athletic athletes, men that would join the 40-40 club in the same year on the SAME team. They were not human! Even though they were reaching such non-human achievements, we did not question. Maybe it just happened that there were TWO hall-of-famers on the same team, at the same time, and both muscular specimens that could also win body-building competitions.
Fool me once, shame on you.
We let this love of long-ball-hitters fester, until it all reaches a head in 1998 – Sammy vs. Mark, who will set the new Maris-number, and how long will that record be unreachable? We didn’t question the feats of these Lou Ferrigno-wannabes in the 80s, we let them become multi-millionaires in the 90s, and quite honestly, they saved our sport from the blunder of the 1994 strike.
Mark and Sammy’s chase to 61, then 62, and finally “THE MOON?!” gripped the nation. What many thought was baseballs black-eye – the 1994 strike which prevented a World Series from being played – was erased with 5,064 swings of the bat (with a special emphasis on the 136 that a certain Cub and Cardinal were hitting come August on). Read that again… 5,064 home runs! The 5,000 home run mark had never been reached until 1998! In fact, since we’ve started eliminating these “cheaters” in the last decade, the home run total has gradually been falling. But I digress…
It wasn’t until 2006 (!!) that Major League Baseball finally put steroid use into its drug policy. I believe that the only reason it was even included was because of the rather damaging Mitchell Report (read the link for more background) – in short, this report listed a long line of names in baseball tied to steroids, sure hall-of-famers down to guys that were utility players at best.
Baseball and its fans were in the same boat, we did not want to believe that there was such a huge case of cheating, and we did not want to admit that we had been had. If anyone now thinks that the strike of 1994 was the biggest black-eye for baseball in the past 25 years, you are flat out WRONG.
To understand where the need to cheat started, you must know the competing forces that drove the athletes to such desperate measures – their motives.
1. Money – Simple. Baseball players’ salaries moved from 6-figures to 7 in 1979, when Nolan Ryan signed a $1.17 million/year deal. Sure, 6-figures was huge back in the 70s, but 7-figures? Seven figures and you were a king, set for life and working on allowing your future generations to live comfortably (as long as you didn’t spend it all on that designer drug COCAINE in the 80s).
But who controls the money? Sure, it’s the management of the team who writes the contracts that fit within their budget, but who dictates their budget? Yep, the fans. As much as we have griped at the increase in players’ wages, concession prices, apparel prices, and exclusive network coverage, it’s only because we keep feeding the troll. Trust me, I know how hard it is to stay away from baseball and how much it can/could hurt, but expressing your feelings to other fans and collectively working towards your goal COULD work. The wisest thing that my dad did, when it came to baseball, was making a point to not go to games after the events of 1994. Sure, I annoyed him and broke him down a few times (Kirby Puckett is really to blame), but he held strong compared to the number of times we had gone before the work stoppage – going 2-3 times a year compared to 5-10 is quite a cut.
Here is a staggering stat: check out the minimum salary throughout the years.
2. Ego – This one on the surface is again on someone other than the fans, but we’ll look closer. Everyone has an ego, but not everyone has their ego fed by millions of onlooking eyes. Barry Bonds is a great example of this. Everyone accused him of being an arrogant jerk, a man whose ego-size would be to blame for his huge head if steroids didn’t stake that claim first. Who was responsible for feeding the second trolliest of all baseball trolls (A-Rod being number 1)? As you can deduce from point #1, the fans. We were the ones that not only lined this man’s pocket, but we fed his narcissism to epic proportions. We somehow simultaneously hated him – for being a jerk AND shattering all home run records – and loved him. Yep, we loved that man. We loved how much we hated him, we tuned in to watch the home runs, and we spent millions on his merchandise, even if it was to turn around and burn it.
Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and even Jamey Carroll (not saying he has ANYTHING to do with steroids) have their egos stoked by the fans. Every baseball player is essentially in the marketing business; they are showing athletic strength in order to get a few bucks thrown towards their employer or sponsors, in hopes of getting a bigger payday. Every professional athlete is marketing themselves for their paycheck, and the more that player can impact a franchise (set of fans), the more they are worth. Yes, they need large egos in order to get more money; those egos being fed by us, the fans. If we stop cheering/paying, their ego decrease (sometimes shatters) and this affects their bank account.
3. Glory/Immortality (Hall of Fame) – No one can live forever, not even baseball players or the richest of men… but their memories can be stored and viewed even after they have reached the holiest of baseball fields. The place: Cooperstown. I made the case that Money and Ego are factors that may influence a player to use steroids, and those two are tied together quite closely. Ego was rewarded with wealth, and likewise, the most wealthy probably have the biggest support for their ego, but what else can drive an ego that isn’t kept in a bank? The most holy of baseball, the Hall of Fame.
Cooperstown is the defining point of any baseball player’s individual career. Sure, he could have won a World Series, but so did Junior Ortiz! Being a team player is great for the here an now, but building a career that rivals the greatest who have ever played will get you remembered for more years than any number of World Series trophies could.
A player’s ego is not solely monetarily driven, it is also driven on the fact that they can be remembered and celebrated AFTER their death, for seemingly EVER!
The blame a fan can have in this process is two-fold:
- A player may try to cheat in order to put up big numbers to join the exclusive club. The fans are the ones who can speak up if they realize something is fishy and they can demand certain rules be put in place and if not, they don’t show up to the park.
- At the end of a career, non-baseball players (writers) are asked to vote for the Hall of Fame. These writers are basically super-fans, they’ve dedicated their life and made their living covering these athletes. These super-fans are the gate keepers, but us regular fans can be the noise, the opinion that may sway their judgment. Here’s a picture that describes our responsibility best:
In the three main areas I listed above, can you see the potential “why” that drives some athletes to cheat? Sure, it is sad that we don;t live in a world where everyone takes responsibility for their actions and where people have to lie, but does that mean that we just keep quiet and do NOTHING?
In a backwards way, I have been supporting the steroid players attempts to get in the Hall of Fame. To me, what is done is done. These men put up huge numbers worthy of the Hall, and at the time we had little to no rules in the books to prevent them from doing this. We lauded these men for their accomplishments in 1998 (while ignoring any suspicions) and then shun them once we finally wake up less than 10 years later. We basically WANTED them to do steroids because it was entertaining, but then we realized it was wrong AFTER the fact; in court, this would be called “ex post facto law”, and it is not allowed. You cannot punish a person for a crime they committed when they did the action while no law prevented them from doing it at the time.
In short, clean up the game from here going forward. If we white-wash history then why not do it across the board? Why not erase the racists, the sexists, the criminals, the bigots, and the other “cheaters”/”unethical” from the Hall of Fame? I am sure that many of the men that were voted it had a well-known background of being racist, but that “immoral character flaw” was deemed OK? We do not have to celebrate everyone in the Hall, but we should tell the story of the greats (the record holders) by telling it like it was – “great accomplishment by aid of ___”.
Let’s show our black-eyes, show the scars, otherwise, have we really learned anything?
I am sorry, baseball fans of 2013 and beyond. I was a part of the problem, but I am also determined to be part of the solution. There will be other forms of cheating that come up in the future, so it is with hope that we are able to take a look at this poorly handled mess and learn from our mistakes, swiftly fixing the game of baseball.
Remember: If you see something, say something.