How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Steroids and Love Baseball Anyway

Harry How

In which I ramble and rant a little about steroids in baseball and not being able to care anymore because they don't actually hurt me or my enjoyment of baseball in any way.

I've followed baseball for as long as I can remember, and I don't think I ever realized how polarizing steroids actually were until a fan at Petco Park threw a syringe at Barry Bonds in 2006. I remember watching along with my dad as Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire chased down Roger Maris' record in 1998, and it didn't ever occur to me at nine years old that anything out of the ordinary was going on. It was just two guys I'd barely heard of because they weren't Yankees who were suddenly capable of hitting a lot of dingers. Home runs were exciting and that was what people seemed to care about at the time.

Since then, there's been more hand-wringing than imaginable over steroids -- the guys who used them, the guys people think used them, how very awful those people all are, and what should be done about them, since apparently we aren't allowed to kick them out of baseball immediately or send them off a cliff somewhere. The fact that it's gotten to a point where a guy just has to be guilty of steroid use because he had a lot of muscles or did better than someone expected him to do kind of speaks to the steroid hysteria that has consumed fans of baseball for the last decade or so. People don't even need actual proof anymore. It's so bad that the assumptions can even keep someone out of the Museum of Only Very Good People.

The thing is that I just really find it hard to care anymore. That hasn't always been the case, of course. Alex Rodriguez had been one of my favorite players since coming to the Yankees and I felt a little heart broken to know that he'd screwed up badly and likely ruined his chances at the Hall of Fame by breaking the rules in order to gain a competitive advantage he probably didn't need. Anyone can speculate on just how long A-Rod took steroids for, but steroids alone won't make a man as talented at baseball as A-Rod has been. They have their benefits, certainly, but they don't make you destined for the Hall of Fame like Bonds or A-Rod were before they decided their natural gifts weren't enough to get by. Now, unless a lot changes over the course of the next few years, they and many others will never get to Cooperstown, and an overwhelming amount of people see no issue with that.

The perceived sanctity of a museum has become more important than the inclusion of some of the game's best players. Pay no attention to the guys in the Hall of Fame who made their living throwing spit balls or played constantly hopped up on amphetamines. They don't count. All that matters is we keep those blasted steroid users out of there so we don't have to tell the children about what big meanies they were. Baseball was always so fair until those guys came along and ruined everything. Maybe if the negative reaction had always been the media's stance, I'd feel differently. It wasn't. The media knew what was going on in '98 and they didn't care because they were selling newspapers to fans who were eating up every minute of the home run chase after they had become disenchanted with baseball during the strike. Suddenly, the media that had no problem exploiting the chase for all it was worth when it was convenient for them has started singing a different tune and taking some strange moral high ground on an issue they willingly overlooked when it was profitable to do so.

It's not that I don't agree with MLB's steroid testing policy or suspending those who continue to use PEDs now that baseball has actually attempted to shut it down. Cheating is a bad thing, obviously; but I actually care more about the harm it does to the human body than most any other reason to try and keep young players away from using steroids. Unfortunately, I don't think it's going to work. The fact that players continue to test positive proves that people are still using. The fact that the positive tests are relatively few and far between likely indicates that the drugs they are using are just better at avoiding detection. Minor league players are getting busted as well, so it's not something that will magically disappear once all the Steroid Era guys give up baseball in favor of retirement and tee times. Players are going to continue doing anything they can to get an edge, now and forever.

Until we know a complete list of every player in the last however many years to ever inject something, take something, or rub something into their skin to help get a leg up on the competition, I can't get too upset over it. We'll never know that information, though, and that makes it a rather unfair playing field that people are attempting to judge without all the facts. I'm fairly convinced that guys will get into the Hall of Fame who are as guilty as A-Rod or Bonds while gettting the chance to live their entire lives without the constant criticism that comes with being one of the unlucky souls who wasn't able to go undetected. Fans, even of the teams that these guys played for, freely admit to hating them for what they did. Hating! I can't comprehend expending enough energy to hate someone that I don't know for doing something that baseball itself turned a blind eye toward when they needed to re-energize their fan base. Maybe everyone is guilty, there is certainly no way to know for sure; but that doesn't seem to have stopped people from acting as if some of these players repeatedly ran over their dog and refused to even apologize for it. I just can't find it in me to get that worked up about something I'm not personally impacted by.

Athletes are given life changing amounts of money because of their physical abilities, and it shouldn't be a surprise that each talented athlete wants to be the most talented out of all their talented competition. I can view steroid usage for the chance to get ahead as an unfortunately unpleasant part of the human condition without feeling it necessary to condemn them all to hell for a lapse in good judgement. I cared for a moment when it all hit very close to home with A-Rod, but I've managed to move past it. It's been too long and maybe I've just become desensitized to all of it. The fact that this person or that person used steroids at one point or another doesn't take away from my enjoyment of baseball one bit and that's all that matters to me. MLB's testing policy is working and that's good enough in my mind. I love the game more than I ever have, really, and all the steroids in the world likely wouldn't be able to change that fact.

It will be interesting to see how the future looks back on the Steroid Era once everyone is a little farther removed from the situation. Maybe time will allow more fans to be a little less emotional, making the facts a little cloudy when the whole situation is oversimplified to evil cheaters who cheated and nothing more. I still consider A-Rod one of my favorite players and I'm still absurdly impressed by Barry Bonds -- what he did, even without steroids, is barely human. They absolutely did something they shouldn't have, but both of them are two of the greatest baseball players I will ever see play the game and steroids cannot undo that any more than steroids alone could have completely created it. I can't view them as bad people because I don't know them beyond the television screen and I wouldn't want some complete stranger judging my entire character based off of my worst mistake. They are hardly the first people to put a black mark on the game of baseball and they will almost certainly not be the last. If only baseball fans and MLB cared half as much about ripping apart those who are charged with DUIs or domestic abuse as they do with steroid users, all that negative energy could actually be used for good. That would at least make more sense, because those transgressions actually endanger and/or harm other people. Why are these players getting a free pass that steroid users have never been afforded? If we want the game to be morally sound, that seems like the one of the most basic levels to start with.

People have a right to their feelings, and I know that I'll probably never live to see the two sides seeing eye-to-eye on the subject. I can't pretend to understand how someone could let something so insignificant in the grand scheme of things interfere with their love of a great game; but I also know that they wouldn't be able to understand why I'm okay with cheaters tainting the sacred Hall of Fame and why the fact that steroids happened at all is such a non-issue to me at this point. Maybe it all boils down to the absurdity of citing a character clause as reason to keep these guys from the Hall when it seems like the policy of including only good role models ship sailed a long, long time ago. Create a steroid wing in the museum if you really can't sleep at night any other way, but excluding those players entirely seems like trying to ignore a very real part of baseball history that cannot be undone. If the bad guys are actually included, perhaps the people who managed to play during this era and not fall for the temptation of steroids will shine brighter by comparison...if you can figure out with certainty who those people actually are. Spending any time trying to figure those facts out or even complaining that steroid use is still happening after all this time is not something I am worried about or interested in doing anymore. There's too much baseball to enjoy watching right now instead, and that seems like a much better use of everyone's time.

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