The Mark McGwire talk has faded completely into oblivion. Rafael Palmeiro? It is as if he never existed. Gary Sheffield? Nobody really seems to care anymore. Andy Pettite and Jason Giambi appear to have been forgiven by the fans. Roger Clemens, who was once thought of as the hardest working man in the Major Leagues seems to have disappointed and hurt his fans more than make them angry. But this is all old news; news that Major League Baseball and its fans have begun to put behind them. The healing process was underway, and slowly, people started to talk about the games again rather than who was named on the Mitchell Report. People were once again designating baseball “America’s Pastime.” Then, the bombshell hit. Sports Illustrated senior writer, Selena Roberts, claimed that she had evidence that Alex Rodriguez, MLB’s golden boy and biggest attraction, had tested positive for steroids in 2003. Bud Selig, Major League Baseball’s commissioner, must have truly considered finding one of those holes in the ground in which Saddam Hussein used to hide, to stay in until this story was long past. Therein lies the questions. When, if ever, will this story pass? Not just Alex Rodriguez’s story, but the story of performing enhancing drugs in baseball.
Fans were able to forget McGwire and Palmeiro, but A-Rod? Major League Baseball’s lightning rod? The man who baseball fans either love or hate, but have to respect because of his “natural ability.” Now, we find out that maybe this ability was not so natural after all. It also begs the question: “Who else?” Rumors have begun swirling about Albert Pujols; a man who has yet to hit fewer than 32 homeruns or drive in fewer than 100 runs in his eight seasons in the Major Leagues. These rumors are unfounded, and in a sense, completely unfair. Albert Pujols, as far as we know, has never failed a steroid test, but how can we, as fans who have been lied to so often, and made to believe that our favorite players are such great role models, really trust any player anymore? Can we trust that David Ortiz had those monster years when the Red Sox finally broke the curse without a little help from some human growth hormone? Should we believe that Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Dustin Pedroia, or any of the other up and coming future Hall of Famers are steroid free? If you say yes, then why? What makes them any different than Roger Clemens or Jason Giambi?
Jose Canseco wrote in his book, Juiced, that over fifty percent of baseball players were taking steroids. We, as loyal, somewhat naive fans of our “heroes” or “role models” wrote Canseco off as being a bitter liar. Whether at the water cooler at work, the dinner table after a long day on the job, or in the cafeteria of a nearby high school, Canseco was being ridiculed and laughed at. Then, the accused players started to talk. Sammy Sosa all of the sudden forgot how to speak English, Mark McGwire appeared to develop a case of amnesia as he was “not here to talk about the past,” and Rafael Palmeiro furled his eyebrows, stuck his index finger in the air, and pointed (as a father would do to his son after he had just been caught underage drinking) towards the congressmen and bellowed “I have not taken steroids! I repeat, I have not taken steroids!” Not long after, Palmeiro failed a steroid test. With all of this new evidence, including Alex Rodriguez’s failed test, Canseco looks like the only truthful person throughout this whole ordeal.
There is no doubt that the mandatory steroid testing, and the subsequent penalty for a failed test have diminished the number of players who are taking steroids, but has the era really ended? Players continue to fail tests and receive suspensions, but when you are stuck in the minor leagues, and your age starts to creep towards thirty without even receiving a cup of coffee with the big club, there is really noting to lose. The player feels that it will either finally get him to the big leagues, or send him home early with a fifty game suspension. The suspension is not as scary because these players may have been released at the end of the year, anyways, so they really do not have anything to lose but their pride and dignity, which for many of these players who have grown up poor and homeless overseas, is not nearly as important as the possibility of a multimillion dollar contract to play in the big leagues.
Like the McGwire, Clemens, Giambi, and Sheffield stories, Alex Rodriguez’s will pass. The American people will forgive him, and he will be given a standing ovation when he hits his 800th homerun. While this is happening, numerous other players will test positive, or stories will come out that they have tested positive in the past. Years from now, Rodriguez will be five years removed from retirement, and he will begin knocking on Cooperstown’s door. The question is, will he be allowed to enter, or will the door get shut in his face like it did for Pete Rose? This will most likely be around the year 2030, some twenty-two years from now, and when Alex Rodriguez’s name first appears on the ballot, the talk of the Steroid Era will begin all over again.
Baseball fans all over the world continue to plead for the players to stop cheating, to stop injecting their rear end with Human Growth Hormone, or Testosterone, or Stanozolol, or any other steroid that may be on the market, but the ugly truth is that it will not stop anytime soon. Unfortunately, the Steroid Era is not over. It is not even close, because until five years after the last proven steroid user retires, talk of steroids will dominate many, if not all baseball conversations.