Steroid question comes up decades later with home runs flying | News Coverage from USA

Steroid question comes up decades later with home runs flying

CLEVELAND — It was the story former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and former Senator George Michell made famous.

The story was cited repeatedly in Mitchell’s 2007 report on baseball’s performance-enhancing drug use, Selig has spoken of it frequently – most recently in his new book For The Good Of The Game – and many refer to as one of the first published reports on baseball’s steroid problem.

It was a story I wanted to write for years, and it was published July 15, 1995, in the Sunday editions of the Los Angeles Times, with the headline, Steroids become an issue: Many fear performance-enhancing drug is becoming prevalent and something must be done.

There were no players identified. No smoking guns. No admissions. It simply quoted players and executives – some publicly, others anonymously – that perhaps as many as 30% of the players were using anabolic steroids.

Future Hall of Famers such as Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas and Tony Gwynn were sickened by what they were seeing. General managers like Randy Smith of the San Padres called it an uneven playing field. Scouts said they believed players were making a mockery of the game.

Twitter would have had a tizzy if it existed.

But this was a quarter-century ago, and the story drew all of the attention of a six-car pileup on the I-5 Freeway during rush hour in Los Angeles.

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“It was a sensational story, but there was no follow-up on it, even by Nightengale,’’ Selig wrote in his book. “At the time, the feeling throughout the game was that steroids were not making a major impact on players or their performance. If more and more players were beginning to use steroids, they kept it to themselves.

“Once I did bring up the question of steroids at a major-league meeting. The silence was deafening. Nobody knew. I didn’t know.’’

Selig admitted the same when I spoke with him for the story in 1995, saying, “If baseball has a problem, I must say candidly that we were not aware of it. It certainly hasn’t been talked about much. But should we concern ourselves as an industry? I don’t know.’’

Really, no one cared.

The story was picked up by a few wire services, generated a hot take on some call-in shows, but had the shelf life of loaf of Wonder Bread.

It was as if baseball had taken so many body blows with the players’ strike ending that spring, and the 1994 World Series being canceled, so why punish it further?

Still, you had to be oblivious not to realize what was happening. The Oakland A’s and Texas Rangers looked like human steroid factories when they walked onto the field. Ken Caminiti’s veins popped out of his arms and head. Jose Canseco looked like a Greek God. Fingers were pointed, jokes were made about back acne, and still nobody cared.

The home-run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998 became a freak show, with the two behemoths flicking out 500-foot homers. They were bigger than NFL linebackers, and still nobody cared. They were putting baseball back on the map.

Even when Associated Press reporter Steve Wilstein spotted a jar of androstenedione in McGwire’ locker, a substance banned by the Olympics and the NFL, Wilstein was the one who was ostracized, and not McGwire.

Simply, no one wanted to hear the truth.

Now, here we are two decades later, with Major League Baseball having the most extensive and elaborate drug-testing program in North American team sports, and we’re left wondering if we what we are seeing is the real thing.

Infield pop-ups are going to the warning track. Balls that went to the warning back are going 30 rows deep. And guys who were singles hitters now are among the game’s home-run leaders.

Sure, the ball is juiced, but how do we know there aren’t players just as juiced?

No player I’ve talked to this season believes that PED use is rampant, but there’s also not a player who believes the sport is completely clean.

Just like in the ’90s, no one is going to publicly identify players.

Just like in the ’90s, reporters can’t simply publish a list of those suspected PED users.

But just like the ’90s, we can be dubious about the sanctity of what we’re seeing.

History has taught us that.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale

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