April 7 - Roid Rage
I am wondering if it’s not Jason Giambi who has been taking steroids, but Bud Selig. The baseball
commissioner seems awfully pumped up when he says, again and again, his sport can’t go back and
erase the records of those suspected of using illegal substances. But it can, and it should, or else
America’s pastime is going to retain all the dignity of Courtney Love in her underwear.
Jumping on his critics like Bonds on a fastball, Selig argues that records are made to be broken - even
if the record breakers are Frankensteins using “the clear” or “the cream” and even if the feats are stirring
cheap gossip, innuendo, or grand jury proceedings.
Swinging from his heels like Canseco, the commissioner says that baseball must be guided by
evidence, not by the Superman physiques of former string-bean outfielders, opposite-field dingers by
175-pound shortstops, or home run totals that are starting to read like zip codes.
Selig doesn’t think baseball can turn back the clock, but it’s been done throughout history whenever
people wanted to get the time right. Olympic medals have been stripped - or restored - long after the
closing ceremonies because of a judge’s error. Racehorses have been disqualified and their victories
over-turned because of the presence of performance-enhancing drugs. Once, the entire outcome of the
Indianapolis 500 was in dispute for days, although (if you have ever been around the endless roar of
racing engines), the delay must have seemed like months.
And so I think that all these suspicious home run records ought to be out in a box and stored in
baseball's stuffy attic.
Here’s why: from the beginning of the century and for about 90 years, two players in history hit 60 or
more home runs in a season. Then in the space of four years, 1998-2001, that milestone was eclipsed
six times. Nutrition? Weight-lifting? Juiced baseballs (and not juiced baseball players)? All good
The weight-lifting and nutrition craze actually began in the 70s—almost 30 years before the
Bunyonesque feats of today’s power hitters. The baseballs have been lively for a long time now, or else
you wouldn’t have had Tom Paciorek going yard 15 times in 1980. The difference is the chemicals that
are now available to anyone famous, greedy, and stupid enough to inject them.
Hank Aaron, who has more home runs (at least for now) than anyone in baseball history, hit 38 home
runs at the age of 36. Babe Ruth, arguably the greatest slugger of all time, had 46 at that age. I looked at
the home runs totals at some of the people named by Canseco in his book as having used steroids.
One had 47, another had 73 (guess who). While I am not accusing anyone of steroids - yet - it would
seem like a perfect storm of factors has made the increase in home runs so dramatic, and suspect, that
the records ought to be thrown out with yesterday’s chewing tobacco.
The 90s should be considered an era until their own, much like the Dead Ball Era. The records that
were earned without all the advantages, legal and illegal, available to today’s players should stand,
preserving baseball’s special place in the history and culture of American sport. Its particular reliance
on the record book for its identity and its integrity make this necessary.
When I was growing up in the Jurassic Age, I could not have told you who held the record for most
touchdown passes in a season or points in a hockey game. But everyone knew that Ruth had the
cherished single-single homer run record of 60. Its legacy was steeped in the fact that he held the
record for such a long time, as Roger Maris eventually did with his 61. If baseball home run records are
going to keep leapfrogging over one another, then baseball will become nothing more than track and
field, or swimming.
As far as I’m concerned, Maris still has the record of 61 home runs in a single season, and Aaron will
remain the all-time home run leader with 755, unless someone can explain to me how these new
sluggers all turned into the Terminator, seemingly overnight.