1998. A summer to remember forever. Maris. McGwire. Sosa. The Great Home Run Chase. It seemed like balls were flying over fences every other at bat for the two sluggers. The back and forth race had everyone watching to see who would go yard next. Who would be the first to catch Maris? Who would ultimately end the season on top as the newly crowned home run king? Big Mac or Slammin’ Sammy? Baseball fans everywhere loved it, including me.
I was 8 years old. Baseball is always described as a “kid’s game,” and I was mesmerized by the game, and the chase. As a young Chicago Cubs fan, the chase took on personal meaning—I loved Sammy Sosa. Since my favorite player of all time, Ryne Sandberg, retired, Sammy was the perfect bridge into a new era for the Cubs. I followed the news everyday, waiting eagerly to see who had gone yard the previous day. It was an exciting time to be a baseball fan, and I was glued to the action. McGwire and Sosa were a charismatic duo that played off each other in handling the daunting pressure of the record. They instantly became American heroes, and then the truth slowly began to surface. Steroids had been a huge part of the game.
With Mark McGwire’s admission to steroid usage for nearly a decade, that summer and the era continue to fall apart more and more. While I always thought McGwire and Sosa were juicing as more and more came out on steroids, part of me wishes it were all a bad dream. McGwire’s announcement piles onto the painful reality that my entire life as a baseball fan has been tainted. Most of the greatest players of my generation and childhood were dirty. The realization hurts.
Unlike the earlier generations that had Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, and Ozzie Smith, I can only name in Derek Jeter and Chipper Jones as clean Hall of Fame worthy players. Based on the Hall of Fame voting last week, we may see quite a few years without electing any Hall of Famers. After Alomar and Blyleven go in, times could be tough. Barry Larkin may have to wait a few years and the rest will struggle to earn the needed 75% to get in. After Craig Biggio goes in, Cooperstown could be without an induction ceremony periodically.
Think about it: McGwire? Sosa? Barry Bonds? Roger Clemens? Rafael Palmeiro? Even Kevin Brown and Juan Gonzalez? All juicers and all the elite of the era—the steroid era. Later, there will be Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez. Two of the all-time greats to ever play the game. Normally, they would be locks for the Hall of Fame, but that was before they were linked to steroids.
I don’t believe anyone who used steroids should be allowed in the Hall. They cheated the game, the fans, their teams, and themselves. They ushered in an era of not only cheating, but also one of lost values. With steroids came an obsession for home runs, statistics, and money. Overall, Major League Baseball became a game run and controlled by greed. The hustle and love for the game were distant memories. For me, the only memories were ones of steroid use and cheating. It is sad to think that steroids define the entire era.
As we move ahead, steroids linger. It may be that way forever. Until blood testing is adopted, the suspicion will remain. I trusted the stars of my childhood, where did that get me? Why should I or any other baseball fan trust today’s superstars? With HGH and no blood testing, cheating may be easier than ever. I look at the stars today and still see the same hulking bodies roaming the diamond. McGwire and Sosa were supernatural beings, with huge arms and muscles to match. In hindsight, we all realized the two had artificial support. Today, the suspicion should remain with even more technological advances sure to keep the athlete stronger than ever.
Even with that approach, the era cannot be erased from my memory. My childhood was spent watching and cheering cheaters, and it gets tougher to take with each admission. I feel cheated to think that the so-called greats of my time are frauds. 1998 is now a bad memory for me. Little did we know that the summer that saved the game was really destroying it.
It destroyed my faith in the game, too. Hopefully someday, the faith can be restored, and we can wander the hallowed halls of Cooperstown with pride again.