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The Innocence Of Baseball Lost In The Steroid Era

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America's most beloved and successful professional sport until it alienated many fans during the players' strike of 1994. However, nearly all of those fans returned to the game, and countless new fans discovered a love for the game as the unforgettable Home Run Chase of 1998 captured the hearts of millions of Americans. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa hit home run after home run that season, and as they closed in on Roger Maris' single season home run record of 61, few people were suspicious of the means by which they gained the strength to hit balls over 400 feet with ease. But many people within the Major Leagues knew that the statistics of McGwire and Sosa were tainted, as were the numbers of many other successful players. A potentially staggering percentage of the players of this generation were relying on steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs that were not available to the heroes of earlier years, such as Roger Maris, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. This clearly unfair advantage modern day players used to easily surpass the standards set by players from previous generations who had earned their success without the benefits of performance enhancers. Although nutritionists and baseball writers emerged as "experts" on the issue of steroids, and Congressional hearings in 2005 began to focus public attention on the issue, fans did not grasp the impact steroids had on the game until a player who had used them and experienced their positive and negative effects wrote candidly on the issue and enlightened the country. In his 2005 memoir, Juiced, baseball slugger Jose Canseco recounted his use of steroids and the widespread use of performance enhancers in Major League Baseball. In doing so, he sparked a national obsession with finding the truth behind the tainted records and accomplishments of the guilty players and punishing those who had cheated.

Jose Canseco had achieved fame as a member of the Oakland Athletics in the late eighties and early nineties, combining with Mark McGwire to form the one-two power hitting tandem known as the Bash Brothers. After one of them hit a home run, he would celebrate by banging his forearm into the other's forearm, an act that was emulated by young ballplayers across America. McGwire and Canseco seemed like worthy role models. However, Canseco's story fueled the suspicions that the Bash Brothers were not just successful because they were young and talented. They were experimenting with performance-enhancing drugs that were not yet detectable by Major League Baseball because a testing program had not yet been implemented. In fact, it would be many years of astonishing ignorance and hesitation on the part of the MLB before testing would take place. By the time the two sluggers had retired, Canseco's book and the accusations brought forth by other individuals and other written accounts had left an indelible mark on the game of baseball that will take many years of hard work from the MLB to reverse. In the early stages of Canseco's career, the media had begun to speculate about his drastic increase in body size while McGwire's growth was almost unnoticed. In Juiced, Canseco is bitter over this: "It started circulating a little bit that I might be doing steroids, and more and more reporters were criticizing me for gaining all this weight and stacking up the home runs. McGwire just kept getting bigger and bigger, but he was always protected by the media and by the (Oakland Athletics) organization. And me? I was left out to dry (Canseco 80)."

Statements such as this in Canseco's memoir indicate that he may have held grudges from his playing career that remained in his mind in 2005, but this bitter attitude should not be totally held against him when evaluating the accuracy of his accusations. Canseco believed that he had been "black-listed" by Major League Baseball for his frankness concerning steroids and his willingness to drag many of baseball's heroes through the mud. Therefore, he believed that he had no chance of being hired as a coach or hitting instructor or holding any baseball-related position, for that matter. Therefore, with nothing to gain from writing the book except money, fabricating events and circumstances would not be necessary. Canseco believed that the truth was important and shocking enough to sell, so in his opinion, embellishment would not increase sales or gain him the respect of readers and critics, as well as Major League Baseball itself.

As a retired player, Canseco did not have a career to protect, so he could be very forthcoming about his steroid use. His willingness to divulge embarrassing and incriminating information about himself has not yet been matched by any of the active or retired players that Canseco named in Juiced. While the book's disclosure of inside information was itself significant, the events that were sparked by the book were more important.

The hesitance of Major League Baseball to admit its mistakes and pursue a serious testing program drew the attention of the United States Government. There were already steroid investigations underway in the California, where the Bay Area Lab Co-Operative was being exposed as the central piece of an extensive steroid conspiracy that spread to several sports, including baseball, football and track and field. The details of that scandal would not be made public for several months, and the government was anxious for progress. Arizona Senator John McCain was one of many politicians who wanted MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to be held responsible for his negligence, and for the many players suspected of steroid use to be forced to come clean. Less than two months after the release of Juiced, the nation turned its eyes on Washington, D.C., where several high-profile baseball players had been asked to testify before Congress on March 17, 2005, for a special hearing regarding steroids. Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Curt Schilling and Frank Thomas were all sworn in and asked several questions each about their involvement with performance-enhancing substances. While all of the players either denied steroid use or refused to provide useful answers, progress was still made in this hearing. The American public had an official forum in which steroid use was being confronted, and many peoples' eyes were opened to the issue as news reports of the Congressional testimony circulated. Many people familiar with the steroid controversy believe that if Canseco had not written Juiced, there may not have been any hearing. The fact that a book written by an insider, a steroid user, was available to the public, confirming that the steroid problem was real, put the pressure on Commissioner Selig and Congress to fix the problem immediately.



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