It may be hard but think back to 2005 and 2006 when performance enhancing drugs and baseball became forever linked. The image of the game’s best players like Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa being grilled by Congress has been cemented in the minds of millions over the image of them being celebrated after a record breaking home run at home plate. Mark McGwire, the all-American, home run champion who “saved baseball” in the summer of 1998 when he and Sammy Sosa broke Roger Maris’ single season home run record after the strike of 1994 led to a drop in attendance. Sosa all of a sudden needed a translator to answer his questions. Curt Schilling was there for some reason (honestly, his name has never been connected with PEDs, so why was he there?) Rafael Palmeiro, doing his best Bill Clinton impression and definitely pointing his finger at the committee and saying, “I have never used steroids. Period!” And like Big Willie, he was eventually caught later that year.
The steroid and PED era in baseball is said to have lasted only about 15-20 years, from the mid ‘80s to the early 2000s, yet it’s affect on the game was clear. Roger Maris’ single season record of 61 home runs in a season was topped six times by McGwire, Sosa and Bonds. Between 1990-2005, twelve different players hit at least 50 home runs in a season, some multiple times, while that feat was only reach by ten players prior to that time. In a sport where numbers and records are so important, the steroid era of baseball muddy up the numbers and put a metaphorical asterisk next to the many records that fell during that span.
Today, baseball is in an almost post Cold War era of its fight against PEDs. Players from the past who were caught have been publicly shamed. A new sprout of home run hitters have entered the sport, and we seem to have moved on. Today, one of those new home run hitters, Miami Marlins Giancarlo Stanton, is flirting with hitting 60 home runs this season. As of today, he has 54 with more than enough power left in his massive, 6’6, 240 lb frame. The question now becomes whether Stanton should be considered the single season home run king if he breaks Maris’ mark of 61.
The current mark is held by Barry Bonds’ 2001 campaign where he hit 73 homeruns in his 37th season. Bonds’ career has been marred with alleged PED use. Bonds’ former trainer, Greg Anderson, was arrested in 2003 for supplying steroids to professional athletes. Bonds himself has said he’s never knowingly used any performance enhancing drugs, though he said in leaked grand jury testimony to have use “a cream and a clear” which has since been identified as tetrahydrogestrinone, an anabolic-androgenic steroid. All that said, does Barry Bonds’ 73 home runs still count as the single season record? Does his 762 home runs count as the all- time record, surpassing Hank Aaron’s 755 mark in his final season?… Yep.
Yeah, they still count. Sorry guys, but they still count. McGwire’s mark, Sosa’s mark Bonds’ mark, they all count. That single season record is not being broken any time soon.
The ugly truth is this: We will never know how dirty baseball was in the 1990s when PEDs were at their peak. But we can have an idea based on people who were there. Former All-Star and steroid user Jose Canseco, the man whose book “Juiced” really put the spotlight on the sport back in February of 2005, said in the book about 85 percent of the league was doing it. The Mitchell Report, a 20 month investigation led by former Senator John Mitchell, discovered at least 82 former players who had used PEDs, ranging from stars like Roger Clemens and Miguel Tejada to average, journeymen players.
So unless we want to completely throw out 15 years of baseball history, we have to accept that it was not just a few bad apples using steroids, but instead many players and that the numbers produced during that time should be accepted as they are. Do we throw out all of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig’s records because they happened prior to integration? In the modern baseball game, with hitters swinging for the fences every at bat, pitchers throwing faster than ever before, more hitter friendly ballparks and strikeouts becoming more accepted, maybe a player will get hot enough to hit 74 home runs in a season. But the mark is 74, so Stanton needs to get really hot this last week.