The Steroids Era In Sports

By Tom Donelson
Updated: February 11, 2009

IOWA CITY — With the admission by Alex Rodriquez that he used steroids during his days as a Texas Ranger, baseball has seen an entire era totally devalued. Baseball over the years managed to adapt a series of objective standards to value the greatness of their players.

Win 300 games, hit 500 homers or garnered 3000 hits, your trip to Cooperstown was ensured. Other sports don’t have similar standards but baseball at least had goals if reached guarantee immorality but the steroid era inflated many numbers and it is now hard to determine who’s truly a Hall of Fame baseball player and who’s not.

In the past, Mark McGuire’s 583 homers assured first ballot entry, but now he’s no longer a serious candidate for the Hall of Fame. Much of this is due to the anger of baseball writers toward McGuire but another reason is simply would he have actually reached the 500 mark much less 583 homers marks?

Many voters can’t be certain which marks are legitimate.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are two examples of this dilemma. Bonds was on his way toward a Hall of Fame career when he began the use of steroids. It is acknowledged that Bonds began using steroids in 1998; at least a decade after his career began.

He noticed the publicity that Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire and decided that he should use steroids and what followed were some of the greatest example of hitting ever seen in baseball.

Bonds’ power numbers went up as he hit homers at a rate never seen. He was unstoppable and all of this occurred after he turned 35; an age when most baseball players saw their careers starting to slide downward.

It was if Bonds cheated age, but he was not the only one.

Roger Clemens left the Red Sox after 1996 and there was a belief that he was definitely on the downside of the career but his career would continue for another decade and again, he was throwing bullets when most pitchers became pitching coaches.

Most baseball writers are in agreement that Barry Bonds would have been Hall of Fame material as he was on his way to garnering 500 homers but would he have passed Hank Aaron?

On the other hand, Roger Clemens may have struggled to reach 300 wins and without that to his credit; he may not have been Hall of Fame candidate or a borderline candidate.

His strikeout numbers would not have been enough.

The problems with ranking Rodriquez is how many of his numbers were steroids related and how many were not? While there is no evidence that he used steroids as Yankee or even as a Mariner but there is no doubt that he used them as a Ranger.

The one problem with the steroid era was that not only did it inflate numbers for one group of players, but it also set up false comparisons to previous eras. Players like Andre Dawson and Jim Rice never reached numbers obtained by Sosa or McGuire and for many years, these great players never had the same opportunity when many voters viewed their numbers through the prism of the steroid era.

In the 1980’s, 30 or 40 homers were considered significant but in the 1990s until 2003, 30 homers were just routine numbers; hell, 50 homers became routine.

Once baseball began routine testing in 2004, home run numbers declined. 60-homers seasons has resulted and home run leaders have now retreated back to pre-steroid era.

The question for Hall of Fame voters is how did steroids affects stats of a particular player? This is not easily answered. Some players would have been Hall of Fame players in any eras; others reached numbers simply because of the pharmacologic aid.

It is hard to tell and even worse, we simply don’t know who took steroids and who didn’t. What we know that the steroid era spanned from late 80’s to 2003 when baseball instituted drug testing.

Players will have to be evaluated in a different light and their statistics viewed in a different light. As for Alex Rodriquez, most of his career will be conducted in era in which using steroids become problematic and risky.

This may be enough to stamp his ticket to Cooperstown but for players like Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa or Roger Clemens — a different standard will be needed to apply.

Baseball owners and players association preferred the increase fans going through the turnstile and increased revenues and never looked behind curtain. So anxious to remove the stench of the 1994 player strike, the Sosa-McGuire home run race renew interest in baseball but by refusing to acknowledge the reason behind the chase.

They devalued the sport they supposedly loved.