Despite the fact that many baseball fans and members of the baseball media want to ignore the issue – or want to wish it away – steroids, human growth hormone and other performance enhancing drugs will be part of the discussion of baseball as long as the names Bonds, Sosa, McGwire and a few others are in the record books. These guys did what they did and regardless of who people want to blame, the fact is that guys have used drugs to get an edge. The reality is that the stats and records that have been attained over the past 15 years need to be viewed through the prism of drug use.
Sammy Sosa hit his 600th home run Wednesday night, and that clearly makes him the second best home run hitter of the Steroid Era. Certainly he isn’t better than Barry Bonds, and while the argument can be made that Mark McGwire could the second best slugger of the Steroid Era, Sosa has been more consistent, will have a longer career and has come back to face scrutiny and criticism to be a somewhat productive player.
The qualifier “Steroid Era” needs to be attached to Sosa and his accomplishments because clearly his home run numbers came during the era where performance enhancing drug use was prevalent in baseball. At the same time, no real baseball fan/observer can seriously consider Sosa to be in the same category as Aaron, Bonds, Ruth, Mays, Mantle, Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, Willie McCovey, Ernie Banks, Harmon Killebrew and the rest of the sluggers who played before PEDs affected player stats.
As an aside, even though Bonds is the best home run hitter of the Steroid Era, he was considered to be the best player of this generation until he became seduced by the power of the “Juiced Side,” and sold his soul to hit home runs. Without the juice Bonds would have still been considered to be the best ballplayer of the past 50 years and one of the best – if not the best – players ever. In an ironic twist, the accomplishments of the players of the Steroid Era served to devalue the home run. The homer became an ordinary event, which brings us back to Sosa. Did you ever think that 600 career home runs would have elicited so many “big deal” responses?
After all, we acknowledge the “Dead Ball Era” and the “Live Ball Era” so to address the players from the current day as members of the “Steroid Era” doesn’t break from protocol, and isn’t meant as an insult or to impugn anyone’s reputation. Calling Sammy Sosa the second best home run hitter of the Steroid Era just puts his accomplishments into context. This isn’t casting aspersions, it’s dealing with reality. Pitchers have been using PEDs just as the hitters have, and pitcher’s stats can be viewed with the same jaundiced eye as the stats of their bat-swinging counterparts.
The argument can be made that using the term Steroid Era unfairly tarnishes those players who didn’t use PEDs. However, this doesn’t change the fact that Major League Baseball and the player’s union did nothing to discourage the use of the juice, and if anything encouraged players to bulk up and hit more home runs. Maybe that’s the price that baseball will have to pay – historically – for not acting sooner to deal with the steroid issue. Perhaps as time passes and as we learn more about what went on during the Steroid Era the accomplishments of less-heralded players will garner the appropriate attention and there will be recognition of those who excelled without the aid of pharmaceutical preparation.
Congratulations to Sammy Sosa, the second greatest home run hitter of the Steroid Era.