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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Steroid cocktails staining baseball

Judging from initial sales, it appears that former slugger Jose Canseco's new book about the use of anabolic steroids in baseball is juicy enough (pun intended) to give the author the financial boost he needs. Finance, of course, is the undercurrent to the entire steroid issue.  




Are Canseco's allegations true? Was 1998's spectacular home run duel between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa simply an artificial display of the effects of human growth hormones? 




Who cares? Certainly not Canseco, whose book is flying off the shelves. He'll have reaped the financial benefits regardless of whether his allegations turn out to be true. Certainly not McGwire and Sosa, both of whom have made millions of dollars since that season. Certainly not Major League Baseball, which nearly destroyed itself during the 1994 strike but was revitalized largely because of the home run boom.  




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And saddest of all, a majority of fans don't seem to care either. Oh sure, they'll spout off their righteous indignation and wail about the integrity of the game. A few may even boo all-but-confirmed juicer Barry Bonds next year, when he will likely break Hank Aaron's all-time home run record. But they'll still buy tickets to do so, and this is ultimately why baseball maintains a largely blind eye toward steroids. 




Fans need to realize that MLB owners don't care about the integrity of the game. They care about selling tickets, franchise memorabilia and especially advertiser airtime. Home runs help sell more of these things. Steroids help produce more home runs. From an owner's point of view, reducing steroids will reduce home runs, and reducing home runs will reduce profits. Of course, baseball prospered for almost a century without a single player hitting 70 homers in a season and only a handful hitting 50. It is certainly possible to formulate a new marketing hook for baseball besides home runs. But that involves effort and risk. If fans are still flocking to see big sluggers like Sosa and Bonds, steroids and all, why should owners risk losing money by cracking down on the substance that bloats their bank accounts as much as it does their players' muscles? 




Similarly, players are also far more concerned with prosperity than integrity. Say you're a young minor league player. You're a decent ballplayer, but you're too skinny and just not as naturally talented as you need to be to make it in the majors. Your minor league career is foundering, and you face the prospect of leaving the luxury of America and returning home to Cuba a failure.  




Then you hear of a substance that will give you bulging biceps and the ability to take those sliders you've been weakly fouling off and launch them over the center field fence. The newfound success brought on by your injections will keep you in America, earn you millions of dollars and shower you with the adulation of millions.  




You know this substance is illegal. You've vaguely heard that it isn't good for you in the long run and may even kill you. Then again, you've also heard that the players who suffer because of it were just the ones who didn't use it right; you're smarter than them.  




So you have a choice. You can work hard, bank on your natural ability and most likely live out your days playing semi-pro ball in Havana with a clear conscience. Or you can take the needle, win boundless fame and fortune and date Madonna. If you are faced with this choice, particularly if you hail from a Latin American country and baseball represents your only realistic escape from a life of relative poverty, would you be concerned with some abstract concept of the integrity of the game? 




It is obvious that baseball's 20-year steroid infestation will join the 1919 Black Sox scandal and the 1994 strike as dark stains on our national pastime. We the fans have the power to heal the game. We can stand up and tell Major League Baseball to give us an honest game because we're not going to spend our money on a dishonest game anymore. We can prod owners to crack down on steroid use among their players by refusing to buy Bonds jerseys and autographed Jason Giambi caps. We can reject the corporate conditioning that tells us that homer-bashing is more fun to watch than the highly-skilled, real baseball exemplified by 'roid-less yet superior teams like the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox.  




Or we can sit back and criticize Canseco while continuing to tune in for every steroid-enhanced slugfest televised nationally on Fox, brought to us by Subway, the new Ford F-150 and our own taste for the phony long ball. 




Nick Barbash is a sophomore majoring in political science and international relations.

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