Home > Customer behavior > MLB, not McGwire, should get most of the blame for the steroid era

MLB, not McGwire, should get most of the blame for the steroid era

Today, a not-so-shocking confession came out that Mark McGwire used steroids off and on throughout his career. He confessed that he used steroids in 1998, when he hit 70 home runs, which shattering Roger Maris’ decades-old record.

Pundits, sportswriters, and columnists throughout the country have been discussing this confession. Some say it was time for McGwire to come clean; others that McGwire started the “Steroid Era.” But I haven’t seen any writer actually discuss the circumstances around it.

1994 was the year that Major League Baseball decided that the rich owners and the rich players weren’t rich enough, so they decided to ruin baseball for everyone. The work stoppage started on August 12, 1994, and forced the cancellation of the remainder of the 1994 season and the postseason. MLB was the first sport to lose an entire postseason due to a labor dispute. Afterwards, people were angry. Fans in Cincinnati paid for an airplane to tow a sign reading “Owners & Players: To hell with all of you!” Attendance and TV ratings fell dramatically. Some teams, like the Montreal Expos, never recovered.

Then came Mark McGwire.

In 1998, McGwire started hitting home runs. And hitting more home runs. Then a little known player on the Chicago Cubs, Sammy Sosa, started hitting home runs too. Soon they were both on pace to beat Maris’s record. And soon, they whole country was following the home run race, and forgetting that they had sworn on a stack of bibles never to attend another MLB game again. When McGwire smacked number 62, he circled the basepaths, then hugged Roger Maris’s family in the stands. TV shows cut away to the scene. America loved baseball again. All was forgiven.

A few years later, we begin to suspect that that year might be tainted. Soon, confessions of steroid use–and names of other users–come to light. At first, the confessors are laughed at; soon, however, their stories are found to hold water. But America doesn’t get angry. Some of us don’t want to believe that the players were juiced. Some of us tried to justify it, saying that the players are simply entertainers, and the steroid-fueled entertainment bring in the big bucks. But enough people were angry about it that Barry Bonds eclipsing Hank Aaron’s career record of 755 home runs was not celebrated like McGwire’s record; indeed, many people booed Bonds during his travels. But the fans kept coming, people kept their TVs on the game, and the revenues kept pouring in.

McGwire may have been the first, but he still saved baseball, and baseball owes him–not just for those 70 home runs, but for being a sacrificial lamb. Did MLB know the McGwire/Sosa roided-up race would be the start of an era marked by cheating and deception?

Did MLB care?

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