As a kid growing up in the '70s and '80s, I was a huge baseball fan. Back then, baseball was a sport that wasn't dominated by any single aspect of the game. Teams won games with dominant pitching, defense, the running game, the occasional 3-run homer, or a combination of all of these.
Players like Pete Rose, Fred Lynn, Rickey Henderson, and George Brett put every fundamental on display in every game they played. They weren't one-dimensional players, but rather could help their teams win by playing all-around fundamentally sound baseball.
In 1980, Brett did something that is unheard of today. While most baseball fans know that Brett hit .390 that year, they don't realize that he also led the majors with a .664 slugging percentage while only hitting 24 home runs.
In addition, Brett also stole 15 bases and only struck out just 22 times in 449 at-bats, or just once every 20 at-bats. When Brett was behind in the count or didn't get a pitch he could drive out of the ballpark, he punched the ball the opposite field and legged out a double. That ability to make contact and hustle enough to turn singles into doubles was why Brett's numbers were so impressive.
Back then, guys worked to become complete ball players, hitting to all fields, stealing bases, and laying down bunts on a regular basis.
Then came steroids.
The Birth of the Steroid Problem
Fast forward to the late '80s. As a high school baseball player, I grew up trying to emulate guys like Brett or Rose, who did whatever they could to help their teams win. At the same time, many of my friends were trying to pattern their games after two of the big names of the day: Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, aka the Bash Brothers.
Let it be said that the Bash Brothers gave birth to the Steroid Era.
While I was trying to get on base anyway I could, guys on the other team and some of my teammates were going for the fences on every swing, trying to be the next big home run hitters.
Some of those guys were also taking steroids, and you knew it.
You knew it because you heard them talk about it, you saw them fly into absurd rages, and you saw them putting up 30 more pounds on their bench press than they did just a few weeks ago.
Playing with and against guys who were taking steroids, you'd have to be the most naive person in the world not to notice. Our coaches knew something was going on, but no one dug into it or said anything because it was in everyone's best interest to keep their mouths shut.
The team won, the coaches kept their jobs, and some of the players even got drafted or offers to play college ball.
In the end, greed dictated that people look the other way, even those who were supposedly morally and ethically obligated to bring those types of issues to light.
Who's Really to Blame for Steroids in Baseball?
That brings me to why I'm writing this article. McGwire, Canseco, and all the others who have admitted to using steroids can apologize all they want, but the blame goes way beyond just the players.
With the types of drastic changes that occur with even the most fit guys who use steroids, there is absolutely no way that coaches, owners, and the commissioner didn't know what guys were doing.
Bring on the '94-95 players' strike that canceled the 1994 World Series.
Just four short years since the lockout of 1990, which left a sour taste in the mouths of many baseball fans, the strike in August of '94 almost killed baseball. When the World Series was canceled that year, many fans vowed to stay away from the game for good.
That's when Bud Selig, who took over as commissioner in 1992, knew he had to do something to bring fans back to the game.
Selig became the Charlie Finley of baseball commissioners. He expanded the league to 30 teams, added wild-card teams to the playoffs, and looked the other way in the midst of a huge steroid epidemic in baseball.
Just like the old adage that says "chicks dig the long ball", Selig knew that even the fans who had sworn to stay away from the game couldn't help but come back when baseballs started flying out of the park.
And boy did baseballs start flying out of ballparks.
During the period from '95-07, from the end of the player strike until baseball's new drug policy, home runs were being hit in absurd numbers. The average number of home runs for each of the league leaders was dramatically higher than both the previous 25 years leading up to the strike, and the past two seasons since drug testing and enforcement have been put in place.
Here are the average number of home runs hit by each of the league leaders for each of the three periods I'm referencing:
It seems fairly obvious that Selig and the owners knew exactly what they were doing by simply ignoring the growing number of players on steroids. As the number of home runs went up, so did league attendance, revenues, and salaries...ridiculously.
In 1990, then Commissioner Fay Vincent made $500,000 as the top dog of major league baseball. His salary ranked him third of all the major league sports commissioners behind the NFL's Paul Tagliabue ($1 million) and the NBA's David Stern ($3.5 million).
By contrast, after a steroid-induced renaissance in baseball, current commissioner Bud Selig's 2007 salary package was in excess of $18 million. A salary that far and away ranked him ahead of the NFL's Roger Goodell ($11.2 million) and the NBA's Stern ($10 million).
So who should we really be demanding an apology from?
Should we continue to expect apologies from players who did everything they were allowed to do in order to compete for jobs on teams wanting guys who could hit the ball a mile and sell tickets?
Personally, I'm tired of hearing players say they're sorry.
I think it's about time that those who profited the most from the Steroid Era step up and tell the truth. After all, it was the owners and the commissioner who destroyed the game's integrity and allowed baseball's most sacred of records, the single-season and career home run records, to be forever tarnished by an asterisk in the record books.
Of course, l thoroughly doubt we'll ever get an apology from Selig or any of the owners. That would prove that they colluded to hide the problem, which almost certainly they did. Why would they ever risk losing the fans all over again by admitting they ran their own version of professional wrestling for over a decade?
No, I hardly expect these rich businessmen to come clean, especially when they can continue to make scapegoats of guys like McGwire, Canseco, Sosa, and Bonds?
That's way too easy, and they're still way too greedy.