When I bought this issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated in 1997, I immediately noticed something funny — the calm look on Sid’s face and the pair of Band-Aids he is rocking on the cover, one on each arm. At the time, I wondered if it was proof that he was on steroids — after all, the guy was a monster. Now some 13 years later I still wonder if that was the case. Is the proof in the picture? Something tells me he didn’t just get a flu shot.
Archive for Steroids
Let me preface this by saying I have nothing against Mr. Red Faber. Because technically speaking he was not a cheater — he was simply playing within the rules of the game. By all accounts, Faber threw a spitball — now an illegal pitch — en route to winning 250-plus games during his career and guess where he ended up? Yep. Cooperstown.
In addition to his compiled statistics, Faber is credited as being the last American League pitcher to legally throw a spitball, which as the name suggests, is a ball lubed with the pitcher’s saliva in order to give it more movement. The pitch was outlawed after 1920, partly because the pitcher was seen to be cheating. The pitch was also banned because the ball often became discolored and presented a risk to batters. A spitball is what killed Ray Chapman, whom I referenced a few weeks ago in this post.
Faber is not a cheater. He was simply playing within the rules of the game and actually was one of two dozen or so known spitball pitchers of his time, which has been dubbed as the “Dead Ball Era.”
Now let’s draw this parallel to modern times.
Many players from the 1980s through late 2000s are now coming up for consideration for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, an exclusive club to which Mr. Faber was elected in 1964 — a dozen years before his death. A typical discussion nowadays begins and ends with “Yeah, but he played in the Steroid Era.”
Technically, steroids were not added to the banned substance list until 1991, and Major League Baseball didn’t even start testing for any performance enhancing drugs until 2002. So for a good 11 years or so players could have been cheating and there was no real way of telling who was doing what.
Furthermore, the whistleblowers proclaim that a vast number of players were using something to aid their performance, banned or not. So can’t we deduce from that that a good number of baseball players were playing on somewhat of a level playing field?
I understand the argument that some players, particularly superstars like Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas, were never linked to performance enhancing use and that their careers shouldn’t be tainted by the dirty acts of those who have been accused of “cheating.” And I’m not going to sit here and try to justify the use of substances that ultimately can have severe health side effects.
But what I’m saying is there is some precedent on “cheating” and players getting into the Hall of Fame. Whether or not proven to be guilty of using substances to aid their performance, some players from the “Steroid Era” are not unlike those from the early 20th century — they were playing the game within the parameters, or at least were not caught red-handed after said act was deemed illegal. Steroids are steroids, but not all performance enhancing drugs are. And because there was no testing in place to back up anyone’s claims or assertions, how can we seriously make the case that any of these stars suspected of “cheating” from the last two decades should never be in the Hall of Fame?
If a player falls under he umbrella of suspicion and sports writers want to make their opinions known by keeping said player from being elected on the first ballot, that’s fine. But don’t tell me that Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds are not a Hall of Famers. If they don’t get in the first time, they will eventually.
So while continuing my Purge this morning, I came across my Barry Bonds collection. It’s a binder consisting of about 150 cards with some cool inserts like serial numbered Diamond Kinds and the such. But the very first card that caught my attention was this 2002 Upper Deck Vintage Home Run Leaders error card.
This card didn’t exactly catch the same attention as the 1990 Topps Frank Thomas rare version that also lacks the player’s name his name. But in some ways I find this card equally as important, if not ironic in the least.
Did someone at Upper Deck not believe that Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Luis Gonzalez were legitimate homerun hitters? I’m sure this was a simple printing error — there is a corrected version with the players names — but in some romantic way, it’s fun to think that someone at UD had the foresight to eliminate the player’s names, almost as if they were leaving them off the official record. All three players shown here have been linked to performance enhancing drugs or at least been in the discussion.
When news came out Wednesday that Nomar Garciaparra was announcing his retirement, I echoed the sentiment that many others had — didn’t he already leave the game?
Fact is Nomar Garciaparra has been a shell of his former self for much of the last decade, thanks in large part to a string of injuries that led him to be bounced around the league. It seems like forever since we were discussing Nomar in the same breath with Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. Oh yes, those were the times. The holy trilogy of 1990s shortstops, the three baseball youngsters who were going to bring the sport into the new decade.
I’m going to say thing right now: Nomar’s career numbers are not overwhelming. But when you look at a six- or seven-year window, Nomar was a very dominant offensive shortstop.
From 1997 to 2003, Nomar collected 1,260 hits (his average was better than 190 hits per year if you eliminate the 2001 season that ended after just 21 games), 174 home runs, 674 RBIs and a .320 batting average that reached .357 in 1999 and .372 in 2000.
A basic year for him would have been at least .320 average, 25 homers, 95 RBIs and about 105 runs.
His career accolades include: American League Rookie of the Year (1997), runner-up for Most Valuable Player (1998), six all-star selections, a silver slugger award and two American League batting titles.
Is that not enough to get into the hall?
And before you answer and say no because his numbers pale in comparison to Alex Rodriguez; you must consider that Rodriguez is a no-brainer Hall of Famer, regardless of the steroid use. To compare A-rod and Nomar is like comparing a Rolex to a Citizen watch — both are of good quality, only one is considered head and shoulders above the rest.
By no means am I saying Nomar is a first-ballot kind of player. Hell, I don’t even think he is a fifth-ballot kind of guy. But somehow, someway I think Nomar gets into Cooperstown. And I think the fact that much of his achievements came with one of the most beloved franchises in the game will only help him.
My jaw dropped, my heart skipped a beat; for a few seconds I wondered if someone had sent the Associated Press a false statement reportedly on behalf of Mark McGwire. But within minutes, it became increasingly clear. This was not a joke: Mark McGwire was admitting to using steroids.
Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Mark McGwire was absolutely one of my favorite baseball players. Before he even stepped into a St. Louis Cardinal uniform, McGwire was a baseball hero to me. I had the Jose Canseco-Mark McGwire “Bash Brothers” poster on my wall; I emulated his swing when I played sandlot ball; I rushed home after school to catch the last inning or two hoping that Bill King, who announced the A’s games over the radio, would call another of McGwire’s homers. All of this was before the 1998 season, the one that turned McGwire into a figure that transcended sports.
The fact that McGwire used steroids is not what shocked me; it’s the way the news came out. There wasn’t some reporter who broke the story, it came from McGwire himself in a statement to the Associated Press, and then the rest of the world. And it happened on a Monday, not some Friday afternoon as these things usually go down.
And on the same day, McGwire agreed to an hour-long interview with Bob Costas — who is a baseball fan like you and I — but also a damn good broadcast journalist. This wasn’t an Alex Rodriguez moment where he threw on some lip gloss and had a sitdown with softball thrower Katie Couric in prime time. This was Bob Costas, who McGwire knew was going to pelt him with real question after real question.
I watched that interview three times Monday night, and each time I winced at what I was hearing. If you ask the big-time baseball writers, they’ll tell you McGwire failed because he didn’t confess to everything. There were no details about where, when and how much. But rather some vagueness to the amounts of performance enhancing drugs. McGwire says he experimented with them in 1989, and then started using them in 1993 to help recover from injuries. He then used them on and off throughout the rest of the decade, and added in some Human Growth Hormone, as well as the then over-the-counter supplement Androstenedione.
To a person looking for every little detail, the answers were not enough. In fact, even if he had told us tons of details, many would still be dissatisfied with his confession because a person who has lied rarely tells a complete truth; they always hold something back. At least that is the perception of many.
For me, and many fans, I do think McGwire has given us what we needed to hear. We needed to know that he used performance enhancing drugs; that he did so early in his career, and that he did so during his single-season home run record-setting season. What no one is buying is that he used them solely for healing his injuries à la Andy Pettitte; so that “my body can feel better.” I’m calling B.S. I mean it’s not like people play the lottery just to feel the thrill of winning, they love the prizes that come with it too. I digress.
What McGwire did do though, was tackle this problem head-on, even if it was several years after it really started to boil over. I believe the timing of his answers were in-fact linked to a perceived legal issues about his non-statement statement to Congress five years ago. But the timing was also strategic in the fact that it came still two and a half months before the baseball season started. Sure the issue will crop up at different points in the future, but it will, for the most part, die down unless someone unearths some stunning fact that will need yet another confession.
What we did learn on Monday, though, that I think is telling is that McGwire still believes there is a shred of credibility in his career statistics. There is no way we as fans can simply look at McGwire’s home run and walk-rate totals and say he is qualified to be a Hall of Famer; I don’t think McGwire would argue that. That is why he ducked that question at the end of the interview: “I’ll let those with votes decide.” We can remember him as being one of the best of his generation, and I think that’s about as far as we can go at this point. His achievements of the 1998 season are already commemorated in Cooperstown, I think that is good enough for now.
As news of the McGwire confession broke on Monday, I did start thinking that if anyone else was going to confess to using performance enhancing drugs, then that would have been the best day to do it. What better way to end the years of suspicion than to have some of the biggest names suspected of using enhancers to admit their guilt all at once. It would have been a massive pill to swallow, but we all could have moved forward. But the problem is that some of the suspected cheaters — including a guy who is my favorite all-time player — are facing legal troubles linked to their deceitfulness. They’ve dug themselves so deep in a hole that it is impossible for them to get out of it unless they are granted immunity … and we all know that’s not going to happen.
As far as collectibles, I really am not sure what bearing this will have on McGwire’s items. They’ve pretty much already hit rock bottom. I remember giving a speech during college as an assignment discussing the increasing price of Mark McGwire’s rookie card. I spoke about how the card went from $15 to more than $250 during the 1998 season. I almost feel like I should go back and do another speech given that his rookie can be had for about $10 now. I digress.
I do wonder if interest in McGwire’s items will pick up a bit. In the short-term, people may go nuts for his autograph just to say they have one. But long-term I wonder if his confession will resonate with collectors, who may find themselves again interested in the items they had once abandoned as suspicion of guilt built around the slugger. Will McGwire’s rookie ever reach the heights they once had? No. But that does not mean that some collector’s can’t find it in their hearts to pay an extra couple of bucks for good condition McGwire cards. I do think he still has a following, even if much of his achievements were built through the ingestion of a pill.