Baseball deserves better than this. With spring training beginning this week, coming off perhaps the greatest playoffs in the sport?s history, all the talk is about a former player and his allegations of steroid use. Jose Canseco was a circus freak during his playing days, a man so bulky that it was always surprising when he could extend his arms far enough to get the bat head over the plate. There?s no denying his incredible talent ? during his early days with Oakland, he was the best player in the game. But he became more famous for his idiotic antics ? bouncing a fly ball off his head and over the fence for a home run, for example ? than for his batting accomplishments.
But Canseco?s latest antics are no joke. According to press accounts about his new book, ?Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ?Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big,? Canseco alleges that he personally injected former home run king and teammate Mark McGwire with steroids, and states that he used steroids with Jason Giambi, Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez, and Juan Gonzalez. Palmeiro and Rodriguez are surefire Hall-of-Famers for their statistics. Canseco also mentions Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Miguel Tejada, and Bret Boone.
The question on everyone?s lips: is Canseco believable? In a word, yes. Anyone who doesn?t believe that McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds were on the juice is living on a different planet. Just look at old pictures of these players. Bonds used to be a string-bean ? now he looks like he could play linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers. His head has changed shape and size dramatically. Sosa, too, went from beanpole to bulky behemoth. McGwire was always large, but he played with Canseco early in his career.
It isn?t just the major players, either. Remember Brady Anderson, formerly of the Baltimore Orioles? In 1996, he hit 50 home runs while looking like a mini-Schwarzenegger. The year before, he hit 16 home runs. The year after, he hit 18. Is that a coincidence?
In 2002, former Most Valuable Player Ken Caminiti (who would subsequently die of a drug overdose) admitted his own steroid use and said that he believed over half of the players in MLB were using steroids or human growth hormone. Current Red Sox hero Curt Schilling told Sports Illustrated, ?I?ll pat guys on the a--, and they?ll look at me and go, ?Don?t hit me there, man. It hurts.? That?s because that?s where they shoot the steroid needles.?
This scandal threatens the very integrity of the game. Baseball personifies the American vision: an idyllic field of green, a game that glorifies the individual within the team context, the reverence for history. Baseball is a game enmeshed in history. From Ruth to Mays, from Aaron to Gehrig, from Walter Johnson to Sandy Koufax, from Honus Wagner to Cal Ripken Jr., baseball?s past makes it what it is today.
Now its records are under attack from cheaters. As Schilling stated, ?When you add in steroids and strength training, you?re seeing records not just being broken but completely shattered.? To allow cheaters to hold records gained legitimately is to pervert the history of the game.
There?s no way to evaluate what players like Bonds and McGwire would have done had they not been on the juice. The truth is, we shouldn?t have to consider those calculations. It pains me to write this ? the 1998 season, when it masqueraded as reality, was pure magic ? but Bonds and McGwire and anyone else who is found to have used anabolic steroids and/or hGH should be banned for life. This isn?t unprecedented, and it isn?t unfair. In 1919, the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, and Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis banned eight members of the team from baseball for life. Incredible players like Shoeless Joe Jackson and Eddie Cicotte and Buck Weaver are still prohibited from ever entering the Hall of Fame. But it wasn?t until after the scandal that Major League Baseball instituted a rule prohibiting gambling ? when the Black Sox gambled, they weren?t formally breaking the rules.
Juicing up is no less reprehensible than gambling on the game. Just because the rules didn?t explicitly prohibit it at the time doesn?t mean it wasn?t wrong, and that the players didn?t realize it was wrong. The only way to recover what was lost is to ban the players who participated, and wipe their records from the books. Give the records back to Maris, Ruth, Aaron, and the rest. And let a new generation of players learn that there is honor in baseball.
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