The Steroid Era’s Stain on Baseball

Barry Rothbard

Yankees fans have every right to boo Alex Rodriguez next season when he inevitably comes up short in a pivotal situation. If and when he chokes in the playoffs, he deserves all of the animosity that Yankee fans can muster up. Simply put, A-Rod has not been the savior the Yankees thought they were paying $250 million for six years ago. Watching A-Rod try to perform in a clutch situation is one of the most painful experiences in the life of a Yankees fan. It seems like he is simply destined to fail. But when the Yankees are up or down five or more runs, you know that A-Rod is about to smack a bomb, padding his misleading statistics. But no one can deny that A-Rod has a natural, sweet stroke and a cannon for an arm.

Unfortunately, A-Rod also has become another enemy of MLB’s witch hunt on steroids. Unless you have not turned on ESPN or opened a newspaper in the past week, you are well aware of the fact that A-Rod tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2003. Additionally, he has admitted using performance-enhancing drugs for three years while with the Texas Rangers. However, he claims that he has been clean since joining the New York Yankees in 2004. In a interview with Katie Couric in 2007 A-Rod claimed that he had never taken a performance enhancing drug, and as a result this story has come as a shock to many. And so now the questions arise: should A-Rod be chastised and shunned for his steroid use? Should he now be excluded from Hall of Fame?

A-Rod has already come out, admitted his folly and taken full responsibility for his actions. First of all, steroids were a part of the baseball culture; they were not technically banned by Major League Baseball when he was taking them. Like his peers, A-Rod played in an era when taking steroids was more or less encouraged. If you were a member of any sort of team (whether it be on a field or in an office), and all of your peers were doing something to give them an edge, to help them gain prominence and wealth, would you not try to gain this same edge? Steroids in baseball were like cocaine in the 80s-everyone was doing it. At this point, it should not come as a shock anymore to hear about any player who took steroids during this era. In fact, it would be more shocking if a player didn’t take any sort of PED. If the likes of Chuck Knoblauch and Ron Villone (the scrawny second baseman and mediocre relief pitcher respectively), were taking steroids, then who wasn’t?

A-Rod was an excellent baseball player in the years before he took steroids, and he has been one of the best players in the game since he has been clean. A-Rod has been a very consistent baseball player throughout his career. In those three years (particularly in 2002 when he hit 57 home runs), A-Rod did put up some startling numbers. But in reality, would his numbers have been that much worse if he were not on the juice? No. He’s a great baseball player who will always be a phenomenal hitter. And when considering A-Rod for the Hall of Fame, it is vital to note that his numbers have been steady and superb even when MLB’s testing became much stingier. Plus, even if those three years are taken out of his career, A-Rod will still end up with Hall of Fame caliber numbers.

Additionally, it is absurd and suspect that only A-Rod’s name surfaced from a report that was supposed to be confidential and destroyed. Yes, A-Rod is the most well known ballplayer, but why should he, and only he be exposed like this? What about the other 103 players on that list who tested positive for PEDs in 2003? It seems like no coincidence that Alex Rodriguez is the only player whose name the MLB allowed to surface in this report. Those who broke the story chose the name that would create the most stir. If the only player whose name surfaced from this report had been, say, Wilson Betemit, the story would by no means be front-page news. With A-Rod’s name, however, MLB takes up more than half of the space on the front page of the New York Times and baseball is now the main focus of all sports talk shows. And the timing of this is particularly interesting. A week ago, the papers were littered with feel good Super Bowl stories as the climax of the NFL season approached. Baseball’s Hot Stove was on the backburner-the sports world’s focus was elsewhere. Leaking this report at the dullest time of the year in sports (when the NBA and NHL are at boring midpoints and March Madness is over a month away) makes perfect sense for baseball. Now all of the columnists on ESPN are writing about A-Rod, talking about baseball, and hyping the upcoming season.

The steroid era in baseball will never go away. Thus, it should not be erased from the record books, as some sportswriters want Bud Selig to do. WWII and Vietnam were atrocities, but they cannot be erased from the history books. Sure, it’s a shame that ballplayers were doing something illegal and had an advantage that those before and after them didn’t, but it was part of the game. It was just as much the league’s fault for turning a blind eye as it was the players’ for taking steroids. Erasing the records set by steroid users is foolish, as it will suggest that this era did not take place. The damage has been done, and there is no going back. Putting an asterisk next to the players’ names is fine, but to rob the future and history books of some of the best players to ever play the game would be a crying shame. Steroids and baseball should be linked together in ink. And Alex Rodriguez’s name should viewed as even more proof that while steroids did pad stats, they did not create talent.