CHANGING LANDSCAPES IN PROFESSIONAL SPORTS
For much of the first 125 years of professional baseball, one never thought of such things as a player taking days off, a starting pitcher throwing less than a complete game, or there being prodigious power hitters. This was especially true during the dead ball era at the turn of the 20th century, where you could see the league leader hit as few as a dozen home runs over the course of a full campaign.
Fast forward into the last decade, when the game seemingly has exploded, from attendance, to the number of teams, and most surprisingly, the sudden rage of massive power hitters when there was a seeming lack of them not that long ago. For the longest time, only Babe Ruth and Roger Maris ever broke the 60 home run plateau in a season, Ruth in 1927 and Maris in 1961. In the last decade alone, there have been SIX 60 home run seasons, three by Sammy Sosa, two by Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds’ record breaking 73 homer campaign in 2001. In that same time span, there have been a total of seventeen additional 50 home run seasons to go with the previous six of 60 plus. To put it in perspective, before 1995, there were just fifteen 50 homer seasons and the aforementioned two 60 homer campaigns in the history of the league.
So what’s changed over the past decade and a half that has suddenly turned home run hitting into something it seems any journeyman player can do? Certainly, dilution of talent with expansion to thirty teams may play a role in things. You could also throw in the fact that most new ballparks are smaller than their predecessors, and are cookie cutters of one another. However, you’d be overlooking one of the biggest changes of all that has altered the landscape of professional sports, most likely forever: PEDs and steroids.
Players use performance enhancing drugs and anabolic steroids for a myriad of reasons. Some want to gain muscle mass, others to increase the body’s rehabilitation abilities, or to get more oxygen flowing through their muscles in order to push themselves harder for a longer period of time. There are even ones to calm nerves when a steady hand is required, or to mask pain from a nagging injury, in order to try and continue competing.
From a casual fan’s perspective, PEDs and steroids don’t do anything to harm the game, but rather enhance it. They help players run faster, jump higher, and in baseball, hit the ball as if you were playing baseball in your back yard, hitting tennis balls. I know growing up we used to hit some moon shots like that. Imagine being on a major league diamond and driving the ball 450 feet with the subtle flick of a wrist. Talk about a rush right? Diehard fans are not nearly as embracing of the latest “advances” in sport, as it tends to cheapen records and inflate numbers that would have never been racked up in the previous eras.
The biggest problem is that instead of going through proper channels, either team doctors or specialists, more and more players are turning to what equivocates to random people. Take Kirk Radomski as an example. Radomski worked in the New York Mets clubhouse for a decade and pleaded guilty to distributing steroids and human growth hormone to a variety of players. Then there is the BALCO scandal with Victor Conte, who had developed the illegal steroid THG. In an interview back in 2004, Conte made the following statement on ABC’s 20/20:
“The whole history of the games is just full of corruption, cover-up, performance-enhancing drug use.”
If players take the time to actually go through the proper channels, and work with team doctors and specialists, so they know exactly what they’re putting into their bodies and the side effects that can stem from them, then things are better. Major League Baseball does review on a case by case basis if something like HGH or hCG is prescribed to a player by a reputable source. The rampant use of PEDs and steroids that are obtained through questionable means, from people that are not wholly familiar with what the substances can do, needs to be curtailed.
In the past few seasons, big names such as Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro have all been caught by the league’s testing policy or admitted to taking PEDs at some point in their careers. Will it affect their chances to make the Hall of Fame? If Mark McGwire is any indication, it may be a tough sell, at least at the outset, as fans are jaded by the circumvention of the rules as they stand.