Monday, May 4, 2009

Baseball Post Steroid Era

With the economy in the tank, ticket sales down, and baseball season in full swing, one story has more or less flown under the radar. Through just the month of April, Home Runs have been noticeably down... hmmm I wonder why. Could it be that players are worried about getting caught for taking steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. Maybe it's because A-Rod is out with a hip injury (secret suspension from the league if your a conspiracy theorist) and isn't hitting home runs. Maybe the steroid witch hunt did work. Whatever the case may be, my perspective on steroids in baseball is unchanged.

The honest truth (or should I say Stark Truth)is that I couldn't care less about the implications of steroids on history, records, cheating, or players health. I'm not Mike Lupica, George Mitchell or my Poppy. I'm not going to go on the sports reporters and cry about it, I'm not going to go around the country on a witch hunt for steroid users and I'm certainly not going to deduce that Barry Bonds is a worse hitter than Larry Walker or Todd Helton just because his numbers were skewed by steroids. The history of baseball just isn't that important to me. I'll concede that it will be sad when the next generation doesn't learn 61 and Roger Maris or 745 and Hank Aaron like I did growing up but rather 73 and whatever meaningless number Barry Lamar Bonds is currently at. However, what I do care about is how steroids devolved the strategy of the great game of baseball.

When the steroid era was beginning, the league needed to bring the fans back after the strike in 1994. As a result, the commissioner, the owners, the organizations, and the players all turned a blind eye to steroids. Players were hitting home runs, fans were coming back to the game and everybody was happy.

Not so fast. Because of this steroid use and home run focus the entire complexion of the game was changed and would be for years to come. Teams began to rely on the long ball instead of manufacturing runs with small ball. Need proof, look at the total home runs hit per year from 1993 to 2007. In 1999, arguably the height of the steroids era, the league total in home runs was 5,528 while a year later it rose to 5,693. Home run totals in 2000 were up 42% from 1993 when there were only 4,020 total home runs hit. Just seven years later in 2007, home runs league wide were down to 4,957. That is a decline of 13% in just seven years. It would be unfair and illogical to reason that this trend was only a result of steroid use because there were certainly other factors at play. Newer hitter-friendly ball parks were being built and the overall pitching was on a decline; however, steroid prevalence was clearly at the center of the increase in home runs, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize this.

I'm not one to cry about home run hitting; home runs are about as American as watching a game with a cold beer and a hot dog. However, I enjoy all aspects of baseball, not just home runs. It's fun to see the cat and mouse game between speedster at first, pitcher trying to hold him and catcher trying to throw him out at second. I loved watching the Florida Marlins in 2003 not only because they are my favorite team but because they we're able to achieve success with small ball. Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo wreaked havoc on the bases and along with great pitching, the Marlins were able to overcome the Yankees in the World Series. This victory was even sweeter because they took down the Bronx Bombers who had known steroid users A-Fraud and Roger Clemens on their roster. They displayed that there still can be so much subtlety and strategy to baseball besides hitting the long ball which for years it had become. I won't name names but certain players could take half swings and muscle pitches out of the park to achieve historic offensive seasons with .609 OBP, .812 SLG, 45 Hrs, 232 BBs and a .362 batting averages while they shouldn't have even be elite hitters to begin with; all the while letting their trainers rot in jail because they supposedly didn't knowingly inject themselves with anything and the cream they rubbed on their body that caused their feet to grow 3 shoe sizes and head to grow 5 hat sizes was flaxseed oil. Sorry for the rant but I mean Come On.

But that brings me to my next point. Steroids had an effect on pitching too, especially with power pitchers. Power pitchers used to have a no fear attitude when going after hitters but facing roided up power hitters changed this: effectively erasing their cocky, no fear demeanors. Nowadays, most power pitchers no longer have the confidence to blow the ball past hitters and just throw strikes. Instead they have developed a new technique in which they try to hit perfect spots around the plate like control pitchers, becoming what my friend Bill Simmons would call a power nibbler. I have no statistics to back up this trend, rather general observation and analysis these past couple of years. Some may say power nibbling is an independent event that would have come up with or without steroids but I see a causal relationship. For a number of years pitches that for the most part should have worked to get strikes and outs did not get cheaters/steroid users out. As a result, pitchers developed new mind sets to get out cheaters that carried over to now. They didn't adjust back to the present day where every batter in the lineup isn't capable of hitting a hard fastball into the gap or out of the park. Rather, they come in from the bullpen or start an inning with the mindset that they have to make perfect pitches. I'm sorry but a player like Juan Pierre couldn't even hit a home run off of Susan Boyle let alone major league pitching... so please, do not let walk him or players like him when the worst he could do is hit a double. I'm sick of pitchers who are too afraid to pitch to contact and think they have to throw the perfect pitch (I'm especially looking at you Marlins Bullpen). Pitchers have yet to readjust and realize that they're better off making hitters hit it into play then putting runners on base, especially with three run leads.

The problem with the steroid era is that there is no real way to realize the impact it had until we wipe out this generation of cheaters. Even though players don't cheat anymore (or cheat less), there are still players like A-Roid and many unnamed others who used steroids at one point or another and are stronger and still hitting beyond their natural abilities. When this generation of cheaters is phased out and a new generation of players who were thoroughly tested comes we will be able to see the true impact of steroids on the game. We are like the Israelites wondering in the dessert awaiting our trip to the promise land. When the steroid users and cheaters have all retired and left this great game we will be able to enter the promise land where baseball will be pure again. Until then, all we can do is look at history and guess the impact that steroids had and will continue to have for years to come.


  1. great article on the need for strategy

  2. I usually use the network because i like to know all about land, so i am interesting in costa rica homes for sale because is a beautiful country.