The year was 1994. Major League Baseball had a 232 day work stoppage. And the 1994 World Series was the first canceled World Series since 1904. A work stoppage that lasted into the next season, shortening that season from the normal 162 games down to 144 games.
The next season 1995, play resumed, and baseball went on. The fans however didn’t come back. Attendance was down, ratings dwindling and the fans showed their discontent by hitting MLB where it hurt most, their pockets. In fact, only one man was able to regain some fans, bring some back… Cal Ripken Jr. His streak, passing Lou Gehrig’s Iron Man streak and overall good guy image temporarily saved baseball.
But once the streak passed, October came, Braves won, no one cared and baseball ratings plummeted once again.
1996 came and went, and without much surprise now, looking back, Ken Caminiti was the MVP that season, a player who became the first to admit publicly he used steroids. Once again, attendance dropped. Yankees won with little to no fan fair and the game was struggling to regain their image, their fans and their income.
1997, a year dear to my heart, as it was the year my beloved Florida Marlins won their first World Series was an exciting year. But still fans stayed away for the most part. World Series had an exciting 7 game finish. Ken Griffey Jr had a huge year, and Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens dominated to win the Cy Young awards in the NL and AL.
Then it happened. See die hard, traditional baseball fans never left the game. Mad, but still watched and came out. Every league knows one thing, you make money when you can get the non-traditional fan to watch. When the game just has to be on in the sports bar, so you don’t miss a thing. Like the NBA when Jordon is playing or the NFL every week. A can’t miss event that even the casual fan will look up and watch.
1998 provided that spark. Everyone loves the long ball. Famous line in baseball that never was more true. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa lit the world on fire. And the summer of 1998 had every sports fan, baseball fan or not, watching and reading the morning paper to see if McGwire or Sosa hit a home run that game. It was the unofficial start to the “Steroid Era.”
McGwire and Sosa, jointly wiped all memories of the 1994 work stoppage away. Their magical chase of Roger Maris’ 61 home runs became not only the talk of their respective cities, St Louis and Chicago, but around the country and even around the world! ESPN would cut away from any and everything every time McGwire or Sosa came up to bat. Major news networks were tuned in. EVERYONE WATCHED! And like that, they saved baseball.
In the years to follow, the so called “Steroid Era” exploded. And players that were or weren’t doing steroids slammed homers left and right. Barry Bonds went on to break McGwire’s 70 with his own 73. And every ball that splashed down in the bay was an instant souvenir. Baseball was on fire and if not for that era, baseball would be like the NHL is now.
Hockey is struggling to regain what was a very hot sport before their last work stoppage. And even with young emerging stars such as Sydney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin ratings and fans are still not watching the way they used to.
What the point of this all is this… Professional sports are one thing… Entertainment. And people for the most part don’t care what someone is ingesting or poking in their bodies before or after a game. They care how many runs their team scored, who hit the ball the farthest. The home run derby during that time was exciting to watch. Sosa would slam the balls on to the street. Barry into the bay. Now? Ask how many people if they know Prince Fielder won the derby this year?
Tradition will always have its place, but let’s not confuse amateur and professional. People pay good money to watch and be excited. And while a no-hitter is a great thing, it’s really boring live and sitting in the stands. I remember being in Baltimore when Mike Mussina pitched a 3 hitter vs the Orioles while he was then with the New York Yankees. And while I looked up after the game and realized what I saw, at the time my cousin and I were bored to death. And we both love baseball!
The home run, the slam dunk, the 50 yard touchdown. The sexy play, the big play. The SportsCenter highlight. That’s what people pay to see.
Let’s be honest. Look at the latest polls. The media cares more about steroids and PEDs than the average fan does. Manny Ramirez was cheered when he came back in July from his 50 game suspension. People don’t care, they want to see them play.
The media just wants to save their moral high ground, protect their childhood heroes from having their records erased. But they are hypocrites. Not only because they were front and center drooling over every homer that McGwire and Sosa hit, but they ignore the legit and obvious facts that each generation has their own steroids. They just test now.
The 70’s had a various amount of players on LSD, PCP and other speed like drugs. The 60’s and even back to the 50’s. Heck, go back to the 20’s and 30’s and look at the icon of icons in the world of baseball, Babe Ruth. He was notoriously drunk half the time. Ty Cobb said as much during later interviews.
The fans don’t care. They pay their hard earned money to be excited. To watch something that will make them feel that the money they just paid for that ticket(s) was worth it to possibly come back and pay it again. During the aftermath of the strike, they didn’t. They watched on free TV, if at all. They gates at the games were sparse, and people didn’t care. The “Steroid Era” saved baseball. It got people excited to watch again. To go to the game and hope to catch a home run. Stadiums were loud again, and people talked about the game where ever you went. It was a magical time.
Now the media wants to ruin that. They think they are saving the game they love. But they are killing it. The average fan doesn’t care if David Ortiz did or didn’t do it. They care that he hit a home run. They care that he is “Big Papi” the larger than life character.
In a dream world, we would have world peace, no wars, no crime and no steroids. But this isn’t that world. And professional sports are a highly paid and expensive industry. One in which fans demand to be entertained or they change the channel without thinking twice. People watch when we bombed Baghdad. Support the war, hate the war… no matter, people watched. When there is an accident on the highway, everyone stops and watches. People have a very short attention span, and the spectacular is what draws.
Do I support steroids? No. But it’s their bodies and while anabolic steroids have proven a health risk, HGH and others have not been proved to be a health risk. And it’s their life, their body, their choice. And not only am I exhausted from hearing about steroids in the news, on SportsCenter and even in talks about players who have never failed a test. I like many fans, just don’t care.
So we beg the media to stop. Stop protecting your generation while you kill ours. Put those guys in the Hall of Fame because of their contribution to the game, if not just for their numbers alone. After all… They saved baseball.
Husband, father, craft bartender, writer and content creator.