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It’s no secret to anyone who pays attention to sports that Major League Baseball’s popularity has steadily declined in recent years. There are plenty of suggestions as to why, but no one seems to be able to put their finger on it. There’s no denying that baseball has had a dark stain on it since the wake of steroids in the late 90’s and has been struggling to recover. However, if you push aside all the negative press and backlash that the MLB has received since then, the question becomes; “Was the game better during the steroid era?” The simple answer is yes.
Before we go any further, it’s important to point out that the MLB knew there were steroids and performance enhancing drugs in their sport and chose not to do anything about it; that was until it became “public” knowledge. Once that happened, Bud Selig knew that the only way to save face was to make drug testing more prevalent; hence the dawn of the steroid era.
Major League Baseball hasn’t been as exciting as it was during the steroid era. Thinking back on all of the home run chases that took place during that span, it was as exciting as it was polarizing. It started in 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had their epic home run battle and climaxed when Barry Bonds became the all-time home run king in 2007. It was a time where the term “slugger” really took a whole new meaning. Most teams had at least one hitter that was considered their “slugger”; those that could afford it had multiple. The point being, there was always an opportunity for the fans to get an offensive show at every game.
Just to gain some perspective, I looked at the “steroid era” which lasted arguably ten years, the ten years prior to the beginning of the steroid era and the six years following it (current baseball season not included). During the steroid era (1998-2007) there was a total of 52,802 home runs hit and an average of 5,280 per season. From 1988-1997, there was a total of 37,020 home runs and an average of 3,702 per season. That means that during the steroid era there were 52,782 more home runs hit then the previous ten years; which averages out to roughly 1,578 more per season. That’s an astonishing difference. From 2008-2013 there has only been one season with more than 5,000 home runs (there was all but one year during the steroid era when the total was less than 5,000) and a total of 28,680. (Baseball Almanac)
It’s clear that home runs are steadily declining since Major League Baseball has amped up its drug testing. In doing so they have cleaned up the game but at what cost? June, July and August used to be the three months of steady baseball highlights and coverage on SportsCenter. Now, June is the month of the NBA Finals, July is the month of baseball (because there’s nothing else on) and August is all about pre-season football. The sport that was once the centerpiece of summer has now become the red headed step child of the two other major sports. The biggest joke in all of this is, it’s the other sports that are interfering with baseball’s coverage but you’d think it was the other way around.
The media alone has shown that their interest in baseball is only in the post season and even then it’s limited. Baseball is no longer America’s Pastime and it hasn’t been for years. Taking homeruns out of the discussion, baseball has ignorantly refused to implement changes that would help not only keep fans interested but make the game better. Instant replay is the best example of this. Selig and his minions were adamant that there was no place for replay in baseball; that changed under constant pressure and scrutiny from the media and fans alike. The stubbornness of baseball executives/officials to make changes that will improve the game is baffling. It’s long been understood that baseball is very much about nostalgia and that’s lovely, but when you’re beloved game is plummeting in popularity clearly not everyone is as sentimental as you.
Moralistically speaking, steroids and other performance enhancing drugs have no business being a part of baseball; realistically speaking, baseball needs steroids. The homeruns were what drove fans to the seats and to their couches. In an era where everything comes at high-speed, baseball is still in the “dial-up” frame of mind. With games that last for more than three hours and pitching duels at an all-time high, baseball fans are itching for some excitement back in a game that they grew up loving. There’s that old saying “chicks dig the long ball”; well, clearly they’re not the only ones.