On this, the opening day of Major League Baseball, I am harkened back to the days of my youth. The time when I lived, breathed and bled everything baseball. It wasn’t only the impending start of my own season; it was also the time that the new baseball cards were coming out from a variety of companies. Being the budding entrepreneur that I was, I kept close tabs on all of the star players like McGwire, Canseco and Strawberry, with the hopes of my baseball cards gaining value.
In retrospect, this was a somewhat innocent time, circa 1987-88, long before steroids and PED’s became commonplace jargon. Had these recent revelations of the past few years occurred in my youth, I might have taken it quite personally and have felt an emotional “crushing” to know that my “idols” were somehow cheating the game that I loved. This was the time of the Oakland A’s dominance and I worshiped the so-called “Bash Brothers;” Canseco and McGwire. I had their posters, collected their baseball cards and persuaded my parents to buy me anything related to the A’s and to the Bash Brothers. In essence, I was simply a young and naïve child who bought into the hype machine, desperately seeking heroes who I could someday emulate.
As time passes, and we grow older, perhaps wiser, we realize that such forms of juvenile idolatry were nothing more than a media and capitalist-perpetuated machine aimed at making children (and even adults) want to idolize and consume the products endorsed by these great athletes. But when these “idols” are exposed as being merely mortal, and perhaps even “cheating” the game, the hype machine implodes and then begins vilifying the same people they were marketing as heroes. This is typical of the sensationalist society in which we live. It seems inherent to build up these men into something greater than us, and to tear them down when it is “shockingly” revealed that they are just like us: humans who make mistakes and often take shortcuts to gain an advantage in their life pursuits.
This brings me to my next observation: does it really matter if all of these great players of the past few years were using PED’s in order to get an advantage over their competition? Does this detract from the fond memories I have of following and idolizing these athletes? In my opinion, no, it doesn’t. Or at least it shouldn’t. Despite the media-generated hysteria, using PED’s in professional baseball dates back to at least the 1940s, if not sooner. Following WWII, returning soldiers (many of which were players as well) had discovered the benefits of amphetamines as a means of fighting fatigue and sharpening focus and concentration. It is common knowledge that amphetamines have been a clubhouse staple up until two years ago, when they were officially banned by MLB. Obviously, the biggest stars of the 1950s, 60s and 70s were using amphetamines before steroids and HGH became the norm. Has this changed our historical perception of the star players of those eras? For the most part, no, it hasn’t. This is rarely mentioned or is brushed off as being “just a part of the game.”
So why is it that so much focus and hysteria is placed on modern icons who used PED’s, especially considering they had no incentive not to use them for many years, and another PED, amphetamine, had been a widely accepted means of performance enhancement for over fifty years? I simply refuse to vilify any player for doing what was the norm, considering I, as well as many others, would do the same thing if put in the same circumstance. I still look fondly upon the powerhouse A’s of the late 80s; the chase to break 61 by McGwire and Sosa. Truth be told, it’s just a game. The fact that men are paid millions of dollars to play this game is what leads to such scrutiny. If the Cubs ever win a World Series, I could truly care less what was in each player’s system while they were accomplishing that.