However, a case could be made that the offensive fireworks fueled by steroids helped give the game a timely shot in the arm.
The strike of 1994 sucked the air out of Major League Baseball’s lungs. In the wake of major labor disputes between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association, the 1994 season was cut short. As a result, the Montreal Expos didn’t get to play out their best season ever. Players like Tony Gwynn missed their shot at making baseball history. And of course, there was no 1994 World Series. Fans, prevented from witnessing this baseball greatness, were unhappy with both the players and the management. And it showed. Attendance in the 1995 season was 12 percent lower than the 1993 season. Even the 1996 season showed poor attendance, nine percent lower in comparison to 1993.
But something began to happen in 1996 that rekindled the game’s flame. That something was home runs.
So, if home runs helped save baseball, and steroids helped players hit home runs, did steroids help save baseball? For Associated Press journalist Ben Walker, the answer is yes. “Steroids saved baseball. . .” Walker said. “When it came to making baseball popular again and turning it into a booming business, nothing did the job like home runs. Particularly 500-foot home runs.”
But many couldn’t disagree more with Walker. Many view the use of PEDs as detrimental to our national pastime, providing players with an unfair advantage and teaching young players that greatness doesn’t have to be achieved through hard work. “Several professional athletes have wrongly taught many young Americans by example that the only way to succeed in sports is to take steroids,” said Jim Sensenbrenner, a United States Congressman.
Certainly, steroids aren’t the only way to succeed. Great players throughout history – Bath Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Hank Aaron and many more – didn’t rely on PEDs to bolster their play. They played the game clean, and they still entertained fans with their incredible abilities. Even some of those who used steroids look back on their decisions to do so with regret. “I had good years when I took steroids, and I had bad years when I took steroids,” said Mark McGwire. “But no matter what, I shouldn’t have done it, and for that, I’m truly sorry.”
But steroids occupy an interesting place in baseball history. When the game needed it most, balls started sailing out of the park. The question is would the same spike in baseball popularity have occurred if the likes of Sosa, McGwire, and Bonds hadn’t put on such an amazing display of power?
Maybe. But maybe not.
Andrew Bevevino was the 2015 digital strategy intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum