Baseball’s “Steroid Era” still echoes in today’s news

Jason Giambi

Rockies veteran Jason Giambi

The news that grizzled veteran slugger Jason Giambi was interviewing for the Colorado Rockies managerial job – which coincided with the horrendous post-season fellow veteran slugger Alex Rodriguez has had with the New York Yankees – got me to thinking about Major League Baseball’s “Steroid Era” once again (of course, with the high-profile suspension of Melky Cabrera this season and the Ryan Braun controversy last winter, perhaps that era continues).

Jose Canseco

Nice shirt Jose!

As we rapidly approach the voting period for the 2013 Hall of Fame induction ceremonies (something I wrote about last October), we’ve seen a lot happen to some of the standout names from that “Steroid Era” in recent months:

  • Mark McGwire is completing his third season as the St. Louis Cardinals’ hitting coach, where he won a World Series ring last year and sees his Cards in the NLCS again this year.
  • Jose Canseco continues to drift into oblivion, posting nonsensical Twitter comments (even including time travel!), failing to show up for autograph appearances at low-level minor league games, filing for bankruptcy, and now reportedly seeking a pro wrestling career.
  • Giambi, once the successor to the original Canseco-McGwire Bash Brothers in Oakland, is now a managerial candidate. This comes after his hard-partying ways were well documented, his admission to steroid use and subsequent suspicion of amphetamine use came and went, and he endured a series of highly unusual health issues, including an intestinal parasite, calcium deposits in his eyes, and a tumor on his pituitary gland.
  • Roger Clemens was found not guilty of lying to Congress about steroid use in a federal court case in June, pitched for the Sugar Land Skeeters this summer at age 50 (sparking talk that he wanted a cameo appearance in a big league game to delay his Hall of Fame candidacy five more years), and appeared at a Red Sox Centennial celebration in late September as he apparently tries to slowly repair his tarnished (rightly or wrongly) image.
  • Andy Pettitte, who has alternately been accused of using steroids himself and been called as a witness against his old friend Clemens in that very trial, made yet another comeback this season with the Yankees. He’s now 40 years old and sat out all of 2011, yet posted a 2.87 ERA in 12 starts this year – his lowest since he teamed with Clemens as a member of the Astros in 2005.
  • Barry Bonds, inexorably linked to the BALCO scandal that rocked all of sports, has also started what would have to be monumental rehabilitation attempts on his image slowly and methodically, appearing in San Francisco on occasion and even serving up niceties with reporters during one interview early this year where he made reference to his desire to get back in the game one day to teach hitters what he knows (a body of knowledge which, steroid-aided or not, is hard to ignore). Though like Clemens he was cleared of perjury (Bonds was accused of lying to federal investigators), he does have an obstruction of justice conviction to deal with; it is currently under appeal.
  • Benito Santiago, another BALCO client, threw out the first pitch for Game 2 of the National League Championship Series at San Francisco. He was the MVP of the 2002 NLCS, helping send the Giants to the World Series before the BALCO story took control of the Giants’ fortunes for several years. This appearance in San Francisco came just over eight months after he was arrested in Florida.
  • And A-Rod’s steady decline continues at an age when, in the aforementioned “Steroid Era,” many players his age weren’t declining much, and in some cases (i.e. Bonds, Clemens) were actually getting better. He’s been benched more than once this postseason by manager Joe Girardi, something unthinkable in past years.
ARod

Alex Rodriguez has found himself on the bench a lot during the 2012 playoffs.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition when one considers some of these key players, and how some have moved beyond the scandals of the past decade and others may never recover.

Jason Giambi in Vegas

Jason Giambi, hanging with Jack in Vegas:  Future big league manager?

“After A-Rod retires, he wants to be a real estate mogul, the next Donald Trump. I could care less. As long as I can have a fast boat and a margarita machine and can light my hair on fire, I’ll be just fine.” – Jason Giambi, 2008

The fact that Giambi is now thought of as a sage veteran and potential field boss is fascinating considering his image 15 years ago in Oakland, or his near-pariah status when the steroids stories broke while he was a Yankee. And his one-time mentor McGwire’s return to the game after living in virtual exile following his infamous Congressional testimony is now almost an afterthought.

It seems Clemens, newly exonerated, hopes for a similar renaissance, though given the sordid accusations that made headlines that may take much more time. And the same goes for Bonds, though his obstruction of justice conviction (now under appeal) makes things a bit dicier still.

Clemens as a Skeeter

Roger Clemens, Sugar Land Skeeter

However, one has to wonder. If McGwire and Giambi can be considered as coaches and managers, shouldn’t this era of players also be considered for the Hall of Fame against their peers? Pete Rose and Joe Jackson aren’t in the Hall of Fame because they were banned from the sport (rightly or wrongly – that’s another discussion entirely). These players – Bonds, Clemens, and so many others whose Hall of Fame candidacies are now questionable at best – were never banned from the game. And no sportswriter who votes on the Hall of Fame knows for certain which players were using and which weren’t, or which players historically drank from the notorious clubhouse coffee pot filled with greenies and which didn’t. These players excelled against others who were also cheating, and they were still better than everyone else. Do we ignore an entire era of baseball history, or do we somehow recognize it in the Hall as a tainted era and allow the best of the best from that tainted era in the door?

Sammy Sosa

Sammy Sosa in 2010. Nope, I didn’t recognize him either.

Giambi won’t be a serious Hall of Fame candidate, nor should he be. But I’m curious where Alex Rodriguez will wind up in the minds of those voters who discount McGwire, Bonds and Clemens (as well as Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, and even Jeff Bagwell, who received less than 42% of the vote last year despite never testing positive or being charged with a crime).

Because Rodriguez is still active, have his past transgressions been forgotten more easily than the accusations against those three, whose careers ended under clouds of suspicion? Because he admitted steroid use (when caught), will he be voted in while others are denied? And what about Ryan Braun, whose career certainly is on a Hall of Fame trajectory. Will a technicality that canceled his positive test and subsequent suspension be enough for voters 20 years from now to vote him into the Hall?

Rafael Palmeiro

Rafael Palmeiro: His finger wag at Congress was followed by a positive steroid test. Oops.

I wonder how many years – or decades – it will take for some of the image rehabilitation to occur in the minds of the voters who select Hall of Famers. Perhaps it never will. It’s hard to imagine anyone forgetting Palmeiro wagging his finger at a Congressional panel and then later testing positive and blaming teammate Miguel Tejada’s Vitamin B-12 shot, effectively ending his career. But it’s hard to imagine an entire era of baseball history – and some of the most prodigious record-holders in the sport’s history – never being acknowledged in Cooperstown, particularly if those who have either outlasted the scandal (like ARod) or have come along more recently (like Braun) eventually make it. Enter your vote below…

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4 thoughts on “Baseball’s “Steroid Era” still echoes in today’s news

  1. It’s hard for me to say any of these players deserve a HOF nod. However, I don’t believe it is completely their fault. Bud Selig is the worst or best thing to ever happen to MLB, depending on how you look at it.

    People may remember the 1994 strike shortened season. If not, the season ended early and there was no World Series played. Fast-forward to the 1995 season, where MLB was scared that no fan’s would support baseball. I’m sure MLB Commissioner, the owners and several other big wigs (maybe including leaders of the MLBPA ), got together to discuss how they would get fans back to the game.

    Consider, what is the most exciting play in baseball? A no hitter? A perfect game? A triple play? Hitting for the cycle? All of those are incredible feats that can be accomplished in a game, but the average fan doesn’t know squat about these feats. For most people, the most exciting part of baseball is a home run.

    So I ask, what could MLB do to create more home runs in a game? Without raising suspicion too high, steroids were the simplest answer. McGwire raised suspicion of steroids, but many of the other players using them didn’t.

    Remember the home run race between McGwire and Sosa and how exciting that was? Remember Bonds shattering the single season home run record? Remember the 1995 strike shortened season?

    Fast-forward to the Congressional Hearings on Steroid Use in MLB. I too didn’t care for the hearings at this time. Looking back, I think they are one the best and most important events in MLB history. During these hearings, Bud Selig argued that Congress had no right to conduct the inquiry. Bud Selig also said that he didn’t want steroid testing in MLB.

    Why was he so worried and so overprotective? Was he covering his own butt? I suspect yes, he was covering his own butt. What harm would steroid testing bring to MLB, unless Bud Selig had knowledge of rampant steroid use in MLB?

    I would make the case (I did make the case) that Bud Selig and MLB knew that there were many players using steroids and did nothing about it because MLB saw their best ratings during these steroid years. The question I can’t answer, but should be posed, did Bud Selig and/or MLB encourage players to use steroids? By not saying anything or allowing it to happen, Bud Selig and MLB are as guilty if not more guilty then the players that used steroids.

    Personally, I’ve been striking MLB since about 2006 and have only seen maybe a few outs. Prior to my strike, I use to watch about a game a day. I was an MLB faithful. I collected baseball cards from a young age and loved numbers and stats. It killed me to hear Selig say he didn’t want steroid testing in MLB. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

    While writing this, I came to a new conclusion; all players of the steroid era should be eligible for the Hall of Fame, unless they were found to use steroids after MLB banned steroids. MLB was at best indifferent in the use of steroids and more likely happy, while they profited from the use of steroids. I know that precludes the likes of Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez, and I believe Barry Bonds, but by no means is this a complete list.

    I will not watch baseball until Bud Selig is removed as commissioner, and prefer that he be banned for life from MLB. I also feel that all players should be tested regularly for steroid and amphetamine use.

    • Thanks for your post! I tend to agree with much of what you said. I’m no fan of Selig at all, dating back to when he forced his will on the game to move his old club the Brewers to the NL…and now the other shoe has dropped with the move of the Astros to the AL next season. I despise teams switching leagues – it messes with the traditions of the sport, and it just simply wouldn’t have been considered until Selig came along. That along with the steroids issue and others (that tie All-Star game debacle, etc.) have made me wish for a new commissioner for a long time now.

      I tend to think all these players should be eligible for the Hall (and they are currently eligible). I have issue with sportswriters determining in their own minds who’s worthy and who isn’t based on rumors or hearsay or even hard evidence of steroid use prior to the current testing program…and that (and their unpopular personalities) is about all that will keep people like Clemens and Bonds out of the Hall. I just think that’s hypocritical given that people Gaylord Perry (admitted cheater), Ty Cobb (despicable personality), and so many others are in the Hall. That said, if Bonds and/or Clemens warrant admittance (and I believe they do), it’s hard to know where to draw the line…Sosa and Palmeiro – based on numbers alone – would’ve been HOFers if not for their problems otherwise…but as you point out, Palmeiro did in fact test positive under the MLB testing program, so there’s a case to be made for keeping him out over the others.

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