by Joe Giglio
When the official word came down at 2 p.m. on Wednesday that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America had failed to vote any candidate into the 2013 Hall of Fame class, the reaction was instant. From shock to outrage to acceptance, baseball fans realized that a message had been sent to the Steroid Era.
Unfortunately for the game of baseball, fans, and business in Cooperstown, NY, the voters punished the wrong people. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens may be the faces of what went wrong with the sport in the 90’s and early 2000’s, but they aren’t to be blamed for the culture. Same goes for Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa or Alex Rodriguez.
The Strike that hit the game in August of 1994 and vitriol from fans in the aftermath put baseball in a very precarious position. People were angered, seats were empty, and apathy towards an athlete-fan disconnect started to grow by the minute.
What brought baseball back? The Steroid Era. Specifically, the great home run chase of ‘98. Nationally televised games, Chicks Dig The Longball commercials, and booming attendance numbers were too much for baseball owners to turn away from. Even if they knew exactly what was happening.
In Joe Torre’s book, The Yankee Years, there’s a moment where former Rangers pitcher Rick Helling stands up during an off-season Players Association function and tries to open everyone’s eyes to the drug problem in the game. Obviously, they didn’t take him seriously. It’s only when the media and Congress changed the tide that baseball began caring about a performance-enhancing drug epidemic that had existed for years.
The anti-steroid crowd rejoiced on Wednesday because Bonds and Clemens were “taught a lesson” and voters “took a stand” on their respective potential inductions into Cooperstown. If that’s the narrative you want to accept, so be it. But it’s hardly the truth. The BBWAA took a stand against the wrong people. It’s not the players -- who were competing among themselves in a drug culture -- that were wrong. It was the governing bodies that watched it happen while counting the cash.
None of this is meant to condone steroid use or take the individual choice out of the hands’ of these former stars. According to what we know, Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, and McGwire were users. According to what we don’t know -- but some decided they think they know -- Bagwell and Piazza fit the profile of users.
Here’s what we all do know: Baseball knew. They didn’t care. They were never punished. Instead, the best players of a generation and a museum that relies on tourism in upstate New York took the hit.
Joe Giglio is a sports talk host at WFAN in New York, former intramural coordinator at DeSales University, husband, and baseball fanatic willing to argue Jeff Bagwell's Hall of Fame candidacy at a moment's notice. Follow him on Twitter @JoeGiglioSports and check out his blog at joegiglio.blogspot.com.