Fifteen years ago, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa lit up baseball by chasing down Roger Maris’s home run record, a mark that had stood since 1961. McGwire hit the record breaker on Sept. 8, 1998 in St. Louis, ultimately finishing with 70 bombs, Sosa on his tail at 66. Three years in the wake of the McGwire-Sosa show, Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants hit 73.
Baseball won't put an asterisk on prodigious feats accomplished during a time now known as the steroid era, when drug testing was not taking place as it is being conducted today.
Baseball needed McGwire, Sosa, Bonds et al. to blast fireworks back then. The sport had to recover from a debilitating labour dispute in 1994-95 that had resulted in the cancellation of the World Series and damaged the sport’s credibility with fans.
Baseball is more comfortable in its own skin today, confident that baseball as meant to be played is entertainment enough. If Mighty Casey is at the plate, let him be free of human growth hormone, steroids, chemically produced testosterone, and every other banned substance that falls under the banner of performance-enhancing drug.
On Tuesday, ESPN reported that 20 players could be facing harsh discipline, up to 100-game suspensions, because Tony Bosch, the founder of the Biogenesis clinic in Miami, has made a deal to help baseball investigate whether his clinic supplied players.
The only news here is that Bosch is cooperating.
Given Bosch’s dubious credibility, baseball would likely need corroborating evidence from the likes of players such as Melky Cabrerra, and plenty of it, to levy such harsh fines. No matter that some players are fully supportive of the war on drugs – one Blue Jay said "good" when informed of the news – the Players Association needs to be highly protective of due process.
Meantime, the leaked news allows baseball to huff and puff, anonymously. Commissioner Bud Selig, the commissioner during McGwire’s romp, is chasing a polar opposite legacy now.
The investigation’s primary targets appear to Ryan Braun of Milwaukee and Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees, who have denied wrongdoing.
If successful, the investigation would be the largest drug scandal ever in American sport, and yet, likely to produce a shrug among its fans as old news. But baseball is demanding accountability, these days.
Using is one thing, lying about it another. Reportedly, the 100 games would be levied on two counts – 50 for taking a drug, 50 for not coming clean verbally.
Ironically, Tuesday’s report surfaced just after Cabrera of the Blue Jays had apologized to Giants fans through Bay area reporters for his suspension last year. Cabrera, who is suspected of receiving a type of testosterone via Biogenesis, got dinged for 50 games last August and was left off the postseason roster as the Giants won the World Series. Signed in the off-season, Cabrera indicated at the beginning of spring training that he was cooperating through his lawyer with baseball’s investigation.
After the ESPN news broke on Tuesday, he issued a no-comment. There’s no telling whether he would be liable to further suspension.