Juiced up: Did steroids actually save baseball?

04/15/14 by Rennie Detore

Bruised, battered and beleaguered, baseball was teetering on the brink.
The entire 1994 season was wiped out due to a strike between the players union and owners, a true farce of an argument in the eyes of fans across the nation. Players making millions battling owners, most of whom were likely worth billions of dollars.
All the while, fans who made in the thousands were left without the national pastime for an entire summer and season.

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Those same baseball purists quickly transformed into pundits and boycotted games once play eventually resumed the following season. The strike left a bad taste in everyone's mouth, and you could easily hear a plethora of disgruntled fans call out in unison that they'll never watch baseball again and that those same owners and players "owe us a World Series."
Fast forward to 2014, and baseball is in full swing and bottom lines and revenue couldn't be better. Even payrolls of the so called small market teams, thanks to television deals through revenue sharing, are reaching the unbelievable 100 million dollar mark. Owners are reaping in tons of cash thanks to television, and players are being paid almost as handsomely as a result. Miguel Cabrera and his 280 million dollar contract as plenty of proof that baseball is flourishing.
So how did the game that everyone despised 20 years ago turn into a profitable and potent money for owners and players and a source of remarkable entertainment for fans again?
The answer to that question is irony personified. Everyone associated with baseball in 2014 is doing everything possible to diminish, deter and eventually eliminate steroids and performance enhancing drugs from their sport.
Alex Rodriguez is currently serving a full season suspension, and plenty of so called superstars like David Ortiz and Ryan Braun either were implicated or admitted to using performance enhancing drugs. Baseball isn't interested in mitigating this behavior and isn't showing signs of wavering or excusing anyone, even if you are one of the faces of the game like Rodriguez.
But before baseball started to pay closer attention to steroids and PEDs, the sport piggy seemed to indirectly endorse it in 1998 when herculean heavyweights Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire teed off throughout the entire season and became entrenched in a home run duel that captivated fans, raised attendance and renewed interest in the sport.
Did baseball and its hierarchy look the other way in 1998 when Sosa and McGwire clearly were genetically enhanced with every towering blast? Given that people packed ball parks to get a glimpse of Sosa or McGwire, and the sport started to crawl back into the good graces of fans, it's hard to argue that point.
Anyone who caught a glimpse of McGwire's bulging biceps or Sosa's hulking forearms knew something seemed a bit off. Sure, McGwire was one half of the highly touted "Bash Brothers" in Oakland alongside Jose Canseco, but neither he nor Sosa ever looked like bodybuilders until their polarizing run of home runs in 1998.
Baseball didn't mind the back and forth competition between Sosa and McGwire. And the sport certainly didn't want to quell this friendly fire between the two sluggers since those two men may have saved baseball four years after the strike sent baseball into a popularity tailspin.
Now, baseball is back, and McGwire and Sosa are afterthoughts or the butt of jokes when it comes to PEDs and steroids. Neither of them seem destined to reach the Hall of Fame, while baseball is booming.
You almost feel sorry for McGwire and Sosa to some degree, given their friendly rivalry rekindled fans' love of baseball, but their lure and luster quickly vanished once their marquee names began surfacing on reports linked to steroid and PED use. Baseball hardly backed these two and didn't really care so much about either McGwire or Sosa and their subsequent legacies becoming tarnished.
Baseball already had its fans back, and didn't need Sosa or McGwire any longer. This isn't to suggest that baseball is the root of all evil. McGwire and Sosa knew what they were doing, although Sosa still denies the claims of PEDs, while McGwire admitted he had used them throughout his career, and they'll have to live with the bad decisions they made during their playing careers.
Maybe they don't care. Maybe they should. Or perhaps the money and notoriety they earned at the time is enough to satiate any ill will or negative feelings that were projected onto them in the years after their then heroic home run chase.
But baseball should care, and not look at the 1998 season as a black eye for the sport as it seemingly does. That season saved baseball, even if it isn't necessarily worth remembering after the fact.

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