Baseball is a game that is constantly changing. Rules change, ballparks change, uniforms change: everything is changing. And as baseball continues to develop and adjust, so to do the players. Pitchers and hitters alike are always looking for ways to get and stay at the tops of their games. Even back to the days of the spitball, or a little Vaseline under the brim of the cap, players have been looking for that edge. So why all of a sudden is it such a surprise and an issue that baseball players are using steroids? Steroids are like anything else; they are used to make players better. At least that’s what users think they are doing. Players still have to put the work in; steroids don’t make better baseball players, hard workers make better baseball players. Many of the guys who have tested positive did so because of substances that weren’t banned at the time they were being taken. It is absurd to think that a player should be punished for doing something that wasn’t even illegal at the time of use.
What’s even more absurd is the notion that the home run king in baseball isn’t Barry Bonds. Barry Bonds is baseball’s all-time home run leader—no asterisk, just 762. Barry Bonds shouldn’t be a Hall of Famer? Please. If Barry Bonds isn’t elected into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot then baseball’s version of the ultimate glory deserves the asterisk. A Barry Bonds-less Hall of Fame is not a true Hall of Fame. How can baseball justify not allowing the greatest slugger of all-time to not be within the game’s elite, when he did nothing that 103 other players didn’t also do, maybe even more? And how many of those 762 home runs were hit off of pitchers who were juicing? Just because Bonds was a better home run hitter than those other 103 doesn’t make him guiltier. How many minor league players are constantly being suspended for performance-enhancers? They’re not out there driving the ball out of the park 40-plus times every season like Bonds was.
Think about why the names of the other 103 positive testers haven’t been revealed; they were told that the tests were anonymous. Players were being tested because Selig wanted to see how many players were taking steroids, not to catch “cheaters.” Barry Bonds wasn’t suspended. Alex Rodriguez won’t be either. When players are determined to have broken rules, they are punished. Bonds and A-Rod aren’t rule-breakers, so why are so many people trying to punish them?
Records like the home run record, hits record, stolen base record and others will continue to be broken as players grow stronger, faster and more coordinated. That’s evolution at work. Athletes today are much more advanced in terms of strength and conditioning than they once were. Sure, there were players 50 years ago who were tremendous athletes, but today it seems as if every single one is a physical specimen, save for Prince Fielder, Adam Dunn, David Wells and the like. But none of those guys will ever break major records. They could have years ago, but not anymore.
To be a record holder, a player must possess tools that only top athletes do, guys like Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson. Yes, Barry Bonds is a great athlete. To deny that notion is to truly not understand the sport at all. Bonds is a member of the 50/50 club, one of baseball’s most exclusive memberships. Not only was he hitting the ball 400+ feet, but sprinting 90 in less than three and a half seconds. And could do this because of steroids? Not a chance. They may have helped prolong his career, but not to help him perfectly time that sweet stroke of his. And, who’s to say that Hank Aaron wasn’t doping? Steroid testing is new to the sport—brand new, in fact. What about Mickey Mantle or Roger Maris? Of course, many scoff at those notions, but it doesn’t make them any less possible. Just because steroids are more prevalent now doesn’t mean they weren’t around back then, and it certainly doesn’t mean that the top players weren’t using. I’m not suggesting that they were, but before judging Bonds, it must at least be considered.
This is the Steroid Era, and everyone knows it. Babe Ruth was the best slugger in his era. The same applies to Aaron. And Barry Bonds is the best power hitter of the steroid era, no question. When he hit number 756, I stood up and applauded. I’ll do the same when he is elected as a first ballot Hall of Famer. If not, it’ll be a black mark on the game of baseball, and that’s more damaging than any asterisk could ever be.