Safe At Home


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.




4 thoughts on “Safe At Home

  1. David Gillaspie says:

    Major League Baseball didn’t get it together enough to play the 1994 World Series, an event last skipped in 1904. They managed to play through WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Gulf War I and II, and Afghanistan, but not through a strike. Interest in baseball dropped.

    I am saying Mark McGwire became the face of steroids after he helped bring the crowds back to the stadiums. He isn’t the first steroid guy, but while he juiced he did help baseball regain some status. Did those who followed, the 103 on the confidential list, help baseball, their team, or themselves most?

    It’s too convenient to lump all steroid guys into one ball. By the way he’s stayed down after retiring I get the feeling Mark McGwire is a real guy, not a ‘look at me’ guy. He deserves the same asterisk on his numbers as Barry Bonds, but McGwire performed a service that goes beyond his sport. He made baseball matter again.

    Now about that sunscreen for my scalp….thanks for writing.


  2. zendog3 says:

    Let me see if I understand you. You are saying that McGuire is a hero because when baseball was boring he had the courage to cheat. By sacrificing his honor, he saved the sport.

    I once knew a guy who was morally opposed to the Viet Nam war. He said he thought it was unjust and an evil enterprise. He said he knew he should either object and go to prison or go to Canada but he had a family so when he was drafted he went to Viet Nam and fought. He claimed the some measure of heroism for sacrificing his honor and fighting a corrupt war for his family. While it is a torturous logic those were difficult times.

    I find this argument even more duplicitous. I do not recall McGuire ever claiming he forced himself to cheat for the good of the game, nor do I recall him turning any of the many back. I think he was just another cheater who go away with it for a long time. Anyone who takes his hat off to him deserves a sunburned scalp and not much more.

  3. OldMack says:

    Sometimes you surprise me, as if you were reading my mind. My interest in baseball flagged when the Di Maggio brothers left the game and opened a restaurant on Fisherman’s Warf.

    But I happened to glance at the tube while the camera lens was focused on a Big Mac slammed ball that was heading for the second balcony–not merely over the fence.

    Maybe I’m genetically predisposed to root for baseball players; my old man, only 5’6″ tall and with muscles that bulged when relaxed, played for the Army when Dizzy Dean still had both legs and played for another camp. The old man could zing that ball from the centerfield fence to the Catcher with astounding speed and power; I dreaded it when he said: “Grab your glove and let’s play catch.” (my mitt was less effective than the kitchen gloves used to handle hot plates).

    Excellent piece.

    • David Gillaspie says:

      You see the grip baseball had from old pictures of guys in hats and suits who filled the Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field, and Yankee Stadium. It seems the game meant everything to them.

      After the canceled 1994 World Series baseball wasn’t everything it used to be. Was Mark McGwire nominated to bring it back? He took the needle in 1988, according to Jose Canseco.

      A convicted steroid dealer arrested as part of the FBI Operation Equine that began in 1989 named McGwire.

      My take is that Mark McGwire did something for baseball that baseball couldn’t do for itself. He made people take another look. The casual fan tuned in to see what he might do. It doesn’t make him cleaner or dirtier than other steroid hitters, but he was the right guy at the right time for baseball.

      Thanks for the comment Mack, your old man sounds like a fireballer.


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