Tag Archives: PEDs

Looking Back at Some Historic Long Balls Tainted by the Lens of Revisionism and Hindsight

The other day I watched the 30 for 30 documentary Long Gone Summer on ESPN. The film chronicles the 1998 battle between Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals, and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs as they battled to break the Major League Baseball (MLB) single season home run record set by Roger Maris of the New York Yankees in 1961.

I always enjoy the 30 for 30 series, and this entry was no exception. As I watched the documentary, I was taken back to the excitement of the battle between McGwire and Sosa during the summer of 1998. I was also reminded of the minor role I played three years later when Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants tied the record of 70 home runs that McGwire set in 1998.

On October 4, 2001, I saw my first baseball game at Enron Field (now modern-day Minute Maid Park). Aside from being my first visit to what was then a National League Ballpark, October 4, 2001 was also the day that Barry Bonds tied Mark McGwire’s home run record at 70.
Photo R. Anderson

On October 4, 2001, I saw my first baseball game at Enron Field (now modern-day Minute Maid Park) when the Houston Astros hosted the San Francisco Giants.

The game had originally been scheduled for September, but was moved to October after a week of games was cancelled following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Aside from being my first visit to what was then a National League Ballpark, October 4, 2001 was also the day that Barry Bonds tied Mark McGwire’s home run record at 70. Bonds hit the record tying homer in the ninth inning off of Houston Astros rookie left-hander Wilfredo Rodriguez.

The home run came after Bonds was walked eight times, and hit by a pitch once in 14 prior plate appearances in the series against the Astros. After Bonds was intentionally walked, the over 40,000 fans in attendance booed Astros manager Larry Dierker. It is not every day that the home team manager is booed for walking an opponent.

Perhaps not wanting to be booed again, Dierker allowed Rodriquez to pitch to Bonds the next time he came to the plate. When the ball left Bonds’ bat, the stands erupted in cheers as that record tying homer sailed over the wall. Of course, it is not often that a home run hit by the opposing team gets such a response, but this was history in the making. Or at least it was history tying in the making.

Bonds made two curtain calls following the home run, and the world of baseball was truly united on that one evening a little under a month since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 shook the nation to its core.

The same thing happened when Sosa and McGwire were battling for the record in 1998. Fans of baseball put aside their team partisanship and rooted for Sosa and McGwire as individuals for the greater good of the game. This fact is even more amazing when one considers how bitter the fan bases of the Cubs and Cardinals can be to each other.

It would be nearly 10 years to the day before I saw the Giants play the Astros again after my first trip to the Ballpark. The return game occurred three years after Barry Bonds last played, and lacked the record setting buzz, and the crowds of my first trip to the Ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

Fast forward to that 2001 October night in Houston, and fans were once again cheering for a player from a hated rival.

Bonds very well may have broken that record as well during the same game that he tied it were it not for Dierker deciding to give Bonds an intentional walk in a game that the Astros had very little chance of winning.

I recall writing at the time that the history denying intentional walk was not in the spirit of competition. Instead, by walking Bonds, Dierker was manipulating records by not allowing the at bat to proceed organically without the interference of a manager refusing to let his pitcher throw to the batter.

At the end of the 2001 season, Larry Dierker was no longer managing the Astros after another early playoff exit. I have often wondered whether his actions of committing a sin against the baseball records played a part in the decision of the team to go in a different direction.

If memory serves, at the time, Dierker called it shameful that the Astros fans had dared to cheer for Bonds the way they did. I guess he just did not understand the gravity of the moment. Or, perhaps he did, and wasn’t swayed by it.

As an aside, it should be noted that Rodriquez, the other key Astros player that night, had only appeared in two games prior to giving up the home run, and he never pitched in an MLB game again after Bonds tied the record against him.

Before going any further, it is important to acknowledge the elephant in the room. In the years since 1998 and 2001, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds have each, to varying degrees, had their career accomplishments overshadowed by whispers of how much of a role performance enhancing drugs (PED) played in their record setting achievements.

Each of the three men are currently on the outside looking in of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, along with many other players from that era who have been tied to suspicion of PED use.

As I have noted many times before, players tied to the PED era should be allowed in the Hall of Fame. I am in the minority opinion in that issue, but I have not wavered in my resolve. The Baseball writers who elect the members of the Hall of Fame have a duty to enshrine the best players from an era. Unfortunately, some writers feel that they can act as the morality police and ban players in order to make a political statement.

This approach can ring shallow since it is entirely possible that players already in the Hall did far worse things on and off of the field than the players being punished for PED use. That is not to say that I condone PED use. I do not. Players from that era should be enshrined with an asterisk by their numbers stating that it was during the era of PED. That way, fans can decide for themselves how much that impacted a player’s ability on the field.

Time will tell whether the tide turns to allow players from the steroid era of baseball to be enshrined in Cooperstown, or if they will fall victim to voters who feel that the inclusion of tainted players would hurt more than a steroid injection in the butt.

Barry Bonds went on to break Hank Aaron’s career home run mark. Steroids or not, when one does that a collectible is made in their honor.
Photo R. Anderson

Personally, I would much rather see a player in the Hall, who may or may not have used PEDs, than a player who was tipped off on every pitch by a tell-tale trash can. Talk about a performance enhancer.

In addition to breaking the single season home run record with 72, Bonds also broke the career home run record with 756. Both records have detractors who question their validity. However, both records will stand until another player breaks them.

While I did not get to see history made, getting to see history tied while visiting only my second Major League Ballpark at the time was a pretty cool way to spend an October night.

With the hindsight of the nearly 20 years since that October 2001 night, I have often wondered whether the experience is tainted at all by the accusations against Bond that followed. Given the chance to be there again for that night, I would do it all over again and would probably have cheered even louder.

Now if you’ll excuse me, this trip down memory lane has me craving some nachos.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire

Conventional wisdom would say that this should be a column about the massive hammer that fell down Monday in Major League Baseball regarding the 12 players who were suspended for performance enhancing drug (PED) use.

After months of buildup, and names being leaked to the various media outlets, it finally became clear Monday who the accused were and what the penalties would be for their transgressions against baseball. Under the collective bargaining agreement the players were given penalties ranging from 50 game suspensions all the way to the granddaddy of all suspensions a 211 game one.

While the suspensions were a long time coming, and I agree that the game of baseball needs to be as free of cheaters as possible, the thought of giving the cheaters any more press really does not appeal to me.

One could go so far as to say that I have lost the passion for the PED story.

And as one of the players caught with their hand in the banned substance cookie jar plays through his appeals process it is clear that the start of at least one of current suspensions will drag out for the remainder of the season meaning that the PED story will not go away any time this season.

So while my passion for the PED story has left me, there was another story in the news from Monday involving an athlete getting injured while following his passion that caught my attention.

Tony "Smoke" Stewart is a three-time NASCAR Champion and ambassador for all forms of racing. But as owner of a million dollar racing empire some mat question why he still races on dirt and risks injury or worse.  Photo R. Anderson
Tony “Smoke” Stewart is a three-time NASCAR Champion and ambassador for all forms of racing. But as owner of a million dollar racing empire some might question why he still races on dirt and risks injury or worse.
Photo R. Anderson

I am of course talking about three-time NASCAR Champion Tony “Smoke” Stewart.

Stewart broke the tibia and fibula of his right leg in a sprint car crash in Iowa Monday night and will need a second surgery on his right leg in the coming days.

The injury will force Stewart out of his NASCAR ride for the first time since he joined the Cup Series in 1999. How long he stays out of the car remains to be seen.

I have been a Smoke fan pretty much ever since he entered the Cup Series for Joe Gibbs Racing.

While he has certainly had a bumpy relationship with the media at times, I enjoy his passion for the sport and the fact that he speaks his mind and seems to genuinely care for those around him.

Those are the same traits that I find in Kyle Busch who is a former teammate of Smoke and another driver that I follow.

I certainly wish Smoke a speedy recovery from his recent injury since I think the garage area and racing in general is certainly better off with him there than not.

As is the case any time an athlete is injured away from their main sport, there are those who say that athletes should not compete in areas other than their main job because of freak injuries just like this.

Tony Stewart broke is leg in two places Monday night putting the rest of his current season in jeopardy.  Photo R. Anderson
Tony Stewart broke is leg in two places Monday night putting the rest of his current season in jeopardy.
Photo R. Anderson

I don’t really share that particular point of view. Athletes by their nature, especially the ones who make it to the highest levels of sport, are highly competitive people.

That competitive fire cannot be turned off and only show up on game time or in Stewart’s case whenever the green flag drops.

And yes that is the same competitive fire that causes some athletes, such as the suspended PED using ballplayers whose names shall not be named here, to break the rules to gain any advantage that they can in their quest to be the best.

The competitiveness needs to be fed and for Stewart and many other drivers that fuel comes through racing on dirt tracks like the one he was injured on. Race the same course hundreds of times and there are likely to be no injuries but roll the dice, or the car enough times, and injuries will occur.

That does not mean that people should never take chances or feed the passion and the competitive fire that burns within.

A few years back Stewart’s teammate at the time, Denny Hamlin, blew out his knee playing basketball. While Hamlin’s injury occurred on a court and not a track it still meant that he missed time from is “day job.”

The competitive spirit that drives Tony Stewart to risk his career on the race track is described in his biography. Stewart, like many drivers on the circuit simply put were born to race. Or has Ricky Bobby would say, "They wanna go fast." Photo R. Anderson
The competitive spirit that drives Tony Stewart to risk his career on the race track is described in his autobiography. Stewart, like many drivers on the circuit simply put were born to race. Or as Ricky Bobby would say, “I wanna go fast.”
Photo R. Anderson

The world of sports is full of stories of athletes missing time due to freak injuries so saying that NASCAR drivers cannot race in other non NASCAR sanctioned races, as some will likely suggest, is clearly not the answer since injuries can happen anywhere.

The fact is people are injured all of the time in day to day living so risks are not limited just to the track and other “high risk” scenarios.

I could just as easily turn an ankle by tripping over something on the way to the fridge to get some iced tea.

Granted that is an extreme example, but I would much rather be the type that has a cool story to share about any potential injury incurred than being the type to say, “I tripped over my cat and sprained my back.”

I have little doubt that once the leg is healed Smoke will go right back to racing on dirt tracks across the country since it is in his nature to do so and it fuels his passion for racing.

We should all be so lucky to find things to be passionate about in our daily non dirt track racing lives.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to attempt an injury free walk to the fridge to get some iced tea, wish me luck.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Braun First Player to Face New Era of MLB Punishment

The other day it was announced that Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers agreed to a suspension that will last until the start of spring training next year.

By most accounts the suspension will be for 65 games since it is unlikely that the Brewers will make the postseason this year. Since he is suspended without pay it will cost him around $3.5 million in salary.

The suspension comes as a result of Braun being linked to the use of banned performance enhancing drugs, or PEDs and other suspension for several other players implicated in the probe of a South Florida clinic are expected to follow.

Braun was first facing a suspension of 50 games in 2011 when he failed a random drug test. He was able to get the suspension overturned on a technicality by blaming the way the sample was handled after it left his body so to speak and before it reached the testing center.

A few stern denials and a rooftop proclamation of his innocence and the former National League MVP was welcomed back with open arms and the man responsible for delivering the sample to the testing facility was considered public enemy number one in Milwaukee and even received death threats.

The fans embraced Braun again following his successful appeal of the suspension and none other than Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers staked a year’s salary on the fact that Braun was innocent of the charges against him.

Now it appears that Braun was guilty in 2011 and 2013 and the world waits to see if Aaron Rogers will give up a year’s salary to the fan on twitter that he made the wager with.

While the fate of Ryan Braun has been settled, at least for the remainder of this season, the jury is still out on what the rest of the implicated players will face. There are even rumblings that perhaps Alex Rodriguez who has been found guilty of steroid use time and time again will actually face a lifetime ban of some sort as a result of this latest breaking of the rules.

The recent round of suspensions, while much more wide in its scope, is also interesting in that many of the players being implicated do not have the “steroid” physique of some of the previous tainted players Like Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. In each of the previous cases it was fairly easy to look at the player and assume that they were on something since they were so much larger than the rest of the team and their offensive numbers were through the roof.

In the more recent cases the implicated players do not look that much different than the rest of the team making it less obvious that they were using banned substances. This could be the result of players using less of a substance or could also be the chemist merely staying one step ahead of detection and getting production gains without massive muscle gain.

When the Brewers and Astros were both members of the National League Central Division I had many opportunities to see Ryan Braun play. In all of those games never once did I think he was a steroid user.

With Braun having so many games each year against the Astros and the Pirates, with neither one really knocking the cover off of the ball, it was easy to think that Braun’s numbers were simply based on talent and the fact that a quarter of his opponents had losing records.

Of course now with his apology and veiled admission of guilt it has become obvious that Braun’s numbers, while still aided by a weak schedule, were also helped by PEDs.

Players are always looking for an edge that makes them better than their opponents. Most players stay within the rules and merely work harder at their craft to be the best they can be.

Unfortunately there is a small set of players that abuse the system and can also make clean players look dirty by association since the current assumptions seem to be that any player having more success than the rest must be using something illegal to gain that mush of an advantage.

Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles is on pace to hit over 60 home runs this season. And despite never showing up on any lists of steroid users there is a small set of people convinced that the pop in his bat has to be the result of some sort of PED. Davis denies the allegations of PED use and I tend to believe him.

Of course there were those who believed Ryan Braun as well so I guess one never really knows which players are dirty or clean but I don’t get the PED abuser feel from Davis and think that there are times when a player is simply in the zone and hits more home runs than anyone else. And from his days in the Rangers farm system Davis was always projected to be a power hitter so the recent production is not that odd when that is taken into account.

So baseball will look to make a statement with the latest suspensions and hope to restore some credibility back to the game while the chemists of the world will continue to work on making undetectable drugs that boost performance for their clients.

It is a cat and mouse game and the stakes are too high for both sides to stop now. Sometimes the Commissioner’s office wins in detecting the abuse, and sometimes the players win in keeping the abuse a secret. The only constant loser in all of this is the fans who lose a little trust in the sanctity of the game with use passing admission of guilt.

Of course there are those who say that there were always performance enhancers of one kind or another in the game. And if you think about it Gatorade, Energy drinks and caffeine can be considered performance enhancers as well when used to excess.

So there will probably never be a way to totally clean up the game but I applaud Major League Baseball for trying and showing that no player is above the law not even a former League MVP.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it is time for me to enhance my performance with some more Dr. Pepper.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson