The Collegian
Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Life before the steriods era

We can't quite say goodbye to cold weather yet, but it is time to say goodbye to the baseball offseason.

The University of Richmond baseball team is beginning its season this weekend, and many Major League Baseball players have already arrived in Florida to start their spring training.

But, as I've been preparing myself for the start of the 2009 baseball season, I've felt more nostalgia for old seasons than I have excitement for the one to come. The one season I can't seem to get out of my head is 1998.

A girl I coach in lacrosse was wearing a sweatshirt from Camp Friendship, a sleep-away camp about an hour from here, at practice last week. I went there for a week during the summer of 1998.

It was my first time at sleep-away camp, and I was nervous about many things. One of my concerns was the baseball I was going to miss while I was gone. I asked my parents to send me scores with the letters they wrote me.

What I remember most about that season is the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Every morning, I would check the box scores from the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs to see whether they had added to their totals.

As most people know by now, McGwire won that race. Sosa's 66 home runs that season constituted his highest single-season total during his career, but McGwire's 70 were the highest single-season total in MLB history.

But then Jose Canseco, McGwire's former teammate on the Oakland Athletics, wrote in his 2005 book, "Juiced," that he began injecting McGwire with steroids in 1988.

McGwire, who had retired in 2001, averted questions about steroid use when he testified at the House Government Reform Committee's hearing on steroids in baseball in 2005. He has avoided publicity as much as possible, but this year even his own brother submitted a book proposal alleging that McGwire used steroids.

Jay, who reportedly hasn't talked to Mark in years, titled the book, "The McGwire Family Secret: The Truth about Steroids, a Slugger and Ultimate Redemption." It is just one of the scandalous steroid stories that have filled the news this offseason.

A Sports Illustrated report earlier this month revealed that Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees' third baseman, had tested positive for anabolic steroids in 2003 when he played for the Texas Rangers and won the American League home run title and MVP award.

Less than a week later, the Houston Astros' shortstop, Miguel Tejada, pled guilty to lying to Congress about using steroids. In federal court, he said he withheld information about a former teammate who used steroids and human growth hormone.

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Some columns I've read about cases such as these suggest that the scrutiny and pressure of sports sometimes lead athletes to make poor decisions. Others think that because they're athletes, they have to be held to a higher standard.

I understand that people make mistakes, but I don't know how many more I can take. I'm still trying to recover from Sen. George Mitchell's 409-page report released on Dec. 13, 2007, after 20 months of investigating MLB players' steroid use.

He linked seven MVPs and 31 all-stars to steroids, which prompted numerous interviews and more congressional hearings. Even now, most people don't know the full ramifications of Mitchell's investigations.

What I do know is that this period is being referred to as the "steroids era" of baseball. Back in 1998, androstenedione, the substance McGwire admitted to taking that season, was legal. In fact, no steroid or performance-enhancing drug was illegal at that time.

But times have changed. The prevalence of steroid use has made people suspicious of both talent and success.

If a mediocre player has an all-star year, or a player in his late 30s has the kind of season he hasn't had since his early 20s, people start to ask questions. It's sad, and it's hurting the game of baseball.

I remember in fifth grade, my class had to do some kind of current events project. Some of my classmates chose to focus on McGwire, picturing him and the number "70" as a reminder of the feat he accomplished that year.

Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants surpassed McGwire with 73 home runs in 2001, and he has also been accused of steroid use. These athletes, the ones that kids like my fifth-grade classmates admired, are ruining the game for those who still play by the rules.

When I read about an athlete's steroid use, I think of all the kids whose opinion of their heroes has been reduced, even if it's just slightly, to a lower level of adoration. If a new generation of athletes dares to reverse today's trends, then young fans can feel like I did in 1998.

At that age, I didn't even know what a performance-enhancing drug was. All I knew, and all I cared about, was that McGwire and Sosa were having one of the best seasons I'd ever witnessed.

Whenever I'm feeling depressed about the latest steroid scandal, I forget about what I know now. I just pretend that I'm 9 years old again, opening up a letter at Camp Friendship to read about McGwire's latest home run.

Contact sports editor Barrett Neale at

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