Baseball’s shame-The Rocket, McGwire & Bonds
It was announced today that Roger Clemens (R) is going to be indicted on federal perjury charges relative to his testimony before Congress about steroid use in baseball. It’s not surprising to me and shouldnt be to anyone else who has followed this story.
I am against steroid use, but i’m also against ambigious rules. Baseball had no policy in place to govern steroid use. It was a problem of epidemic proportions and several people said so years before the Congressional hearings.
The hitters, pitchers, fielders were all juicing, so my only question is: where was the competitive advantage? The longer that MLB lets this linger and the government selectively persecutes ball players, the uglier it gets for them.

My opinion on this hasn’t changed too much, so i’ll re-post an article I did in 2006 on the subject.

Previously published at, December 2006:


The AP reported recently that Mark McGwire is named on the ballot for the Baseball Writers Hall of Fame. This is the opening of a proverbial Pandora’s box of issues about sports, race and the media. Does McGwire, dubbed by the media as ‘Big Mac,’ deserve to be inducted into the HOF? Based on numbers alone, absolutely.
McGwire finished his career with 583 home runs, seventh in baseball history. Numbers, though, doesn’t begin to tell the entire story of this most devilish of dilemmas and why a debate with some ugly racial undertones is about to reach boiling point.

What makes this decision interesting is the dual specters of race and steroids. In a nutshell, as McGwire goes, so does, or should, one Barry Lamar Bonds. I will note a caveat here: I am and have always been a fan of Barry Bonds. He is surly, petulant, unfriendly and without a doubt the best baseball player my generation has seen. It is debatable if he is the best of all time, but in my opinion, a ranking or list of the players who could be the GOAT starts with him.

What about Babe Ruth you ask? Well, i’ll answer in one word-segregation. If Blacks were allowed to play when Ruth played, everyone would be looking up in the record books to Josh Gibson’s home run total, Ruth included. Do the research if you don’t believe. And Bonds has erased Babe Ruth’s name from the record books over the past few years, passing him in every statistical category-further adding to the ire of so-called ‘baseball purists.’

But back to McGwire. He is the ultimate one-dimensional player-a limited fielder who struck out a lot but with a big home run bat. That bat hit over 500 home runs, a phenomenal amount. Anyone who thinks his achievements are tainted is right, but when healthy, throughout his career going back to his rookie season, he put up consistently good power numbers. His first year with Oakland, he broke the AL rookie record of 31 home runs that had stood for over a decade by hitting 49. Was he on steroids then? Doubtful, but no one knows. He carried a lot less weight and bulk then in 1987 than he did when he hit 70 in 1998. But for that matter, so did I, and most likely, the same goes for a lot of people, athletes and regular joes alike.

Mark McGwire, unlike Bonds, is very likeable, and while he is considered ‘a private person’ (media speak for someone who politely declines interviews,) he is viewed favorably by the media. The same media has never, not for one second, liked Barry Bonds. And it’s a mutual hatred. Yes, they are the ones that vote for MVP, and yes, Bonds has won the award more times than anyone in the history of baseball, but that’s more of a testament to his incredible talent that yearly separated him from his contemporaries than an urge on the part of voters to reward him. The years where it was a close choice, the media voted for others (Terry freakin’ Pendleton? c’mon.)

And now Mark McGwire is on the Hall of Fame ballot. His numbers says he is a lock. But if McGwire is elected, how do you not elect Bonds when his turn comes up? Or Sammy Sosa? How about the other ‘Great White Knight’ that amazingly no one is talking about, Roger Clemens? His name was brought up as a frequent steroid user by an indicted ballplayer/supplier this year-what about him? Where do you draw the line?

The reason there is no public uproar is that this is not about them. It’s not even about steroids, since nothing has been proven, can be proven and at the end of the day, it wasn’t against the rules of baseball to use steroids.

Even if they all used steroids, the use of steroids was not banned by Major League Baseball until 2005. Yes it was banned throughout most of the country, but the organization that employed him, Major League Baseball, banned other substances but not steroids. They had no rule in place for it and that analomy makes it, or should make it, a non-issue. What Bonds did, if anything, was make a leap from being the greatest player of his generation to the greatest player of all time. McGwire on the other hand, went from a good slugger with decent but not mind boggling numbers to a hall-of-famer.

The other fact that needs to be considered is that steroids never helped anyone hit a baseball. Did it make these players stronger? Yes. Recover from injuries faster? Yes. Improve hand/eye coordination? Unlikely. Most of the players who were busted under the drug testing program had middling careers, proof enough that taking performance enhancing drugs in and of itself s not going to make anyone turn into Superman overnight.

As someone who used to participate in sports and specifically the sport most tainted by steroid use over the last twenty years, track & field, I am against steroid use and all in favor of banning it. It’s cheating, plain and simple. You cheat, you’re out. Forever. But I also believe in a clear set of rules. Major League Baseball had no rules about steroids, even after a former MVP turned crackhead, Ken Camminetti, stated ten years ago that ‘most’ baseball players were on steroids. Nothing was done when an even more famous player, Jose Canseco, blew the lid off the problem, detailing how it was done, why, and who did it. Nothing was done until the federal government stepped in and threatened to put rules in place for them. Even then it was a halfhearted attempt that was more mockery than punishment in comparison to other sports rules and punishment for steroid use. This would lead me to believe that MLB knew full well what was going on and chose to ignore it. Considering how the sport was losing fans to other sports, especially after the strike/lockout in the early nineties, its not a stretch.

Remember this; the entire BALCO/MLB investigation was started by an IRS agent Jeff Novitzky, who was a baseball fan and disliked Bonds and his pursuit of the homerun record. According to the very first interview/story about BALCO that was published three years ago (in Playboy magazine,) Novitsky “thought Bonds was an asshole and a steroid user and wanted to bust him.”

People like Novitsky are very basic and very transparent. They don’t like black people, especially don’t like black men, and absolutely do not like arrogant black men making millions of dollars. Give them a bully pulpit and sit back and listen to the vitriol.

So here we are, the greatest baseball player of the last 50 years and most likely ever, about to break the single most respected of American sports records. The reporters cannot stop his quest, although they have tried; railing daily about Bonds alleged grand jury testimony and standing on soapbox about how the Commissioner of baseball ‘must stop him.’ But these same writers, the ones are the ones dismissed and shunned by Bonds for his entire career, they are the ones that hold the key to the kingdom; they decide who goes into the HOF. This is their chance to exact some measure of revenge on Bonds for what would have been openly called ‘uppity’ behavior not so long ago.
As a fan, I would like to see McGwire in the HOF. He deserves it based on what he has accomplished. But make no mistake, Bonds is even more deserving when he retires and his moment of truth comes. I may be in the minority here, but when he does break the career home run record, which will most likely be sometime next year, I will stand and applaud. He may have taken steroids, but his greatness was evident a long time ago, years before BALCO, and he deserves the accolades he receives.
Keeping McGwire, Bonds, and their contemporaries out of the Hall of Fame is not so much celebrating cheaters as much as acknowledging what they accomplished. They deserve to be elected to the HOF and MLB should learn from this.