How steroids saved baseball

With steroids out of the game, it might get a bit boring



As the Alex Rodriguez revelations touch off another round of shockedness and appallitude over baseball’s steroid problem, there’s one thing you probably won’t hear many people mention: the steroid-enhanced baseball of the ’90s may have saved the game.

Following the strike-shortened 1994 season, fans were angry and didn’t return when the players took the field the following spring. According to Baseballchronology.com, attendance during the entire 1995 season was the same as for the shortened ’94 season. But the seats filled up again in the late ’90s. What brought the fans back? That’s easy: Power hitting. Steroids were tolerated, in part, because they made certain that the big hitting stats of 1993 and 1994 would get even bigger. The steroids-for-everybody era made 50, 60 and even 70 homers almost commonplace. And the fans loved it. The 1998 home-run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa restored America’s faith in the sport.

It was similar to what happened in the early 1920s. Following the “Black Sox” scandal of 1919—in which eight members of the Chicago White Sox were tossed out of baseball for taking money to throw the World Series—there were serious concerns that fans would abandon pro ball as a hopelessly corrupt, untrustworthy sport. But along came Babe Ruth. The New York Yankee slugger revolutionized the game by showing that it was possible to hit 50 home runs in a season (the previous record, his own, was 29). The fans loved Ruth and they loved the new, home-run-heavy brand of baseball. To compete, other league owners followed the home-run model and for the next 15 to 20 years baseball abounded in high batting averages and inflated power numbers. The public loved it so much that even the Great Depression couldn’t detract from the fun of Hack Wilson’s 190-RBI season in 1930. Fans didn’t care about the rumours that the ball was juiced or that players might be using corked bats; they just loved to see the ball fly out of the park.

As Bill James wrote in his Historical Baseball Abstract: “Fans like hitting. Fans have always liked hitting, and they always will like hitting. Throughout the history of the game, almost every significant increase in offense has been accompanied by an increase in attendance, and almost every decrease in offense has been accompanied by a decrease in attendance.” So you can sort of see why the players might be wondering what they did wrong. Sure, they violated a rule, but it was a rule that had never been seriously enforced. And unlike gambling or cocaine use, which detract from the quality of the game, steroids turned baseball into a hitters’ paradise. Steroid-enhanced baseball gave fans what they wanted. If we go back to a juice-free game, we might wind up with a situation like we had in the early ’90s, when 30 home runs was a good season and .280 was a high batting average. With steroids out of the game, it might get a bit boring.


How steroids saved baseball

  1. The oft overlooked problem with the steroid era are the players that never made it to the bigs because they didn’t use performance enhancers. Scouts were only looking for bigger, muscle bound guys and many amazing young players were overlooked. Anyone who has seen pics of a young Mark Mcgwire – scrawny but 49 home runs in 1987 rookie season, knows that muscle doesn’t make a ball player. The problem is the teams were looking for players built like the 1998 version of Mcgwire.

    How many Joe Carter + Robbie Alomar kind of players were overlooked? Remember when we were so excited to have 1 30 home run hitter (Joe Carter) in the line up. Steroids and human growth hormones took the excitement away. Short term gains for MLB.

    The steroid era prevented some of the greatest ball players of the generation from getting a shot. The game was artificially enhanced when the overlooked players may have brought it further along.

  2. steroids did not save baseball. yes fans like to see hitting, but steroids ruined the integrity of the game. you are not a true baseball player if you take steroids. you are not a true baseball fan if you condone steroid use in baseball. not only do steroids break down an athletes body after use has stopped, but it is just straight up CHEATING!!!!!!!!!


  3. You are being Naive, sports is a show a form of entertainment fans don't give two hoots about what or how a player becomes great. They go for the show. It is only the people within the sport and people who believe that the sport means something in their day to day lives that care. The average fan goes to watch the show. Give me a break cheating, there were no rules to govern this and even now that there are they are not being enforced. If you have a speed limit and no one polices it does it really matter. Baseball is like watching actors act they have talent. Or singers sing we don't really care what they are doing so that they sound good we like to listen to their music or watch their moves nothing more. Get over it already. Mike VIck will be back and be a hero, look at Manny Ramirez. People are more interested in the show with Clements becuse they want to see him go down not because he took the roids.

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