By Tom Semioli
The people have the power to redeem the work of fools, upon the meek the graces shower, it’s decreed the people rule … Patti Smith
Despite their often holier-than-thou behavior, the owners do not “own” the game known as Major League Baseball. Nor do the players “own” the game of baseball. Nor do the agents “own” baseball. The game of baseball, in particular the professional versions, are owned by “we the people.”
If the we the people, some of whom are actually baseball fans, do not pay the taxes to fund baseball stadiums, the games are not played. And, if we the people who are fans do not attend the games, listen to the games on radio or internet, witness the games on television or via the internet, or purchase billions of dollars worth of baseball merchandise from replica jerseys to hats to key chains and more– the games do not exist, period. Baseball would still be an amateur sandlot and scholastic level sport.
The greatest honor for any Major League Baseball player is induction to its Hall of Fame in Cooperstown – which, incidentally, is not the birthplace of baseball. Debates over who should be immortalized or who should be excluded are as entertaining and timeless as the action on the diamond. (Where is Marvin Miller? Jim Katt? Dale Murphy? Fred McGriff? Edgar Martinez? Pete Rose?)
Now the mighty winds of controversy are swirling over the eligibility of induction for the Major League Baseball lifetime home run record holder, Barry Bonds: heir to baseball icon Henry Aaron who achieved his home run record under the torrent of racism. In all of sports, there is no record more glamorous, more recognized, more widely acknowledged than the all-time home run record.
Though he has never been convicted, nor confessed to steroid use, Barry Bonds has become the de-facto “poster boy” of the Steroid Era of Baseball. Major League Baseball, along with its fawning press have all but erased Bonds from history. Yet now that he is officially eligible – Barry Bonds is back, sort of.
If you participate in most sports surveys to cast your informal, un-official citizen fan vote for the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame – you’ll fast discover that the percentages of “no to Barry” far exceeds “yes to Barry” despite the fact that Barry Bonds never failed a steroid test. All the evidence against Bonds remains anecdotal.
The steroid era – usually gauged as 1990 to the time of the Congressional Hearings of 2008 – was not relegated to the baseball fields. Steroid use was evident at your local gym, in your office, and on your suburban and city streets from New York to San Francisco, from Dallas to Detroit. What marijuana use was to the Woodstock Generation, steroids were to the 1990s.
Yes, America was a nation of “juicers.” It still is. So how did baseball fans not know that their heroes were juiced? Scores of players in their late 30s – the age frame wherein a major league player’s skills naturally decline – were belting 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 home runs! Baseballs were routinely flying out of stadiums! Baseball players were twice the size of an average American human being! The anecdotal evidence of steroid use was everywhere.
For those of you too young to remember the 1990s, check archival video on YouTube.Com and compare the size of players in the Steroid Era to players in the 1980s. No amount of legitimate nutrition and exercise could achieve such super-human results.
I’ll give a pass (this time) to the media and teams which profited from the astronomical ratings (“Chicks Dig the Long Ball”) and box-office. But where were the fans who love the game more than life itself? Where were the fans that refer to their teams as “we?” Where were the fans that mark the most important days of their lives in correlation with World Series victories? Where were the fans which inspire their kids to follow the righteous path of baseball stars? Where were the adult fans who dress up as their favorite players - even when it’s not Halloween? Where were the fans who spit vitriol at opposing players? Where were the fans who knew more about the minutia of the game more than they knew about their own government? Why did they not speak up?
The Steroids Era happened because the fans allowed it to happen. The fans took no action, the fans did not speak out, the fans did not demand “justice” -despite the fact that the fans are the most powerful players in the game of Major League Baseball. Since the fans – the true owners of the game – allowed it happen, the Steroid Era is therefore legitimate.
Enter Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmerio, and Jose Canseco, among the others who have been accused into the Hall of Fame. Need a scapegoat for steroids? You can start with baseball fans!
Addenda: Incidentally, performance enhancing drugs in baseball are not new. Players of previous generations routinely took amphetamines to survive the long grueling seasons. Read Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” or Jim Brosnan’s “The Long Season” for further education on the subject. Do we need to remove the Hall of Fame inductees who took uppers? And where is the competitive advantage when juiced pitchers, juiced batters, and juiced fielders all compete against each other?