August 9, 2009 by David Gillaspie
Like comic book collectors seeking treasures from the Gold and Silver Age, baseball fans collect facts and figures from similarly defined eras. Not to be confused with a pitcher’s Earned Run Average, the history of baseball falls into certain time frames. The media calls the current period the Steroid Era.
Other eras have more traditional names. The Dead Ball Era named for the sort of ball used, the Golden Years, the Boom era. The Steroid Era is a sub-set of the Modern Era, with an even smaller sub-set called the Corked Bat Era. Steroids and corked bats saved baseball from itself.
Why are the players in the era suffering unfairly from the fallout?
Steroids use didn’t begin after the canceled 1994 World Series, it just seems that way. Here’s a sport played through World War Two without missing a World Series, but it stops for a players’ strike. No World Series doesn’t mean the end of the world, it just seems that way.
For baseball to regain its rightful place in the pantheon of big time sport it had to come back bigger and better than ever. No one voted for Mark McGwire to get bigger and better, he did it himself. He did it for MLB.
What happened when the NBA found itself slipping out of the mainstream on coke mirrors in the late-Seventies? Magic Johnson and Larry Bird came to the rescue. What happened when the NFL had too many Pittsburgh Steeler Super Bowls? SanFrancisco made The Catch. These are not votes, agreements, or conspiracies, but naturally occurring events, without which leaves major sports foundering.
Big Mac got bigger. Sweet Sammy caught up. The long ball went further. The pitchers figured it out. From there it was an Arm’s Race of biceps bulging like wrestlers after a match. It looked weird because baseball players were famous for their lack of physique. Take a look at Ted Williams; he wasn’t called the Splendid Splinter for his gym work.
Healing baseball meant opening wounds that still fester. Does the Steroid Era harbor cheaters or saviors? The player strike in 1994 didn’t kill baseball, and neither did the Steroid Era. A corked bat isn’t evidence for lack of caring about the sport. Stronger players swinging lightened bats fanned the stench off baseball for dropping a World Series into the outhouse.
One hundred and three guys will answer questions the rest of their lives, but they have a few of their own starting with ‘how does a confidential list from 2003 go public?’ It’s not hard to imagine the leverage the list might have on players. Full disclosure means another round of finger pointing and denials; semi-confidentiality means waiting for the other shoe to drop. Since it is baseball it’s more of waiting for the other glove.
I’m not worried about the list of players on the dirty list, or the players not on it. Baseball finds a way, except in 1994. That year I found a way. Instead of getting a World Series, the wife and I got new mitts, the sort of mitts I dreamed about growing up. Mine is a Wilson A2000.
Every time baseball news drags the game down I bring out my mitt and pound the pocket. I think Teddy Ballgame would approve. The only performance enhancer in the top photograph is the stuff they put in his hair.
Ted Williams took one for the game by flying combat missions in WWII and Korea. It changed his career. Mark McGwire took one for the game, too. It changed his life. It will continue to change his life as he ages. Baseball needed Mark McGwire after 1994, now he needs baseball to own up to it. He made us care about the game when the game didn’t care about us.
A tip of the hat to you, Mr. McGwire, for stepping up to the plate when no one else could. Some of us get it.