Steroid users strike out with fans of honest home runs


If you want to know why baseball put up with sluggers like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa getting big as sequoias while rewriting the record books, just turn on the TV this season.

When they show game highlights on ESPN's Sportcenter or the 11 o'clock news, what do you see?

It's not some skinny second baseman laying down a sacrifice bunt.

It's not the 180-pound lead-off hitter roping a nice, clean single to left field.

No, it's big guys with rippling muscles smacking home runs deep into the night and strutting around the bases as the crowd goes wild.

See, baseball fans love home runs.

And back in the late '90s and early 2000s, now known as the Golden Age of Pharmaceuticals in baseball, boy, they really loved homers.

In 1998, McGwire and Sosa staged that wonderful home run duel that transfixed the nation, remember? Sosa hit 66, but McGwire finished with 70 to break Roger Maris' record and become the single-season home run king.

From 1996 through 1999, Big Mac's yearly HR totals were: 52, 58, 70 and 65. From 1998 through 2002, Sosa's were: 66, 63, 50, 64 and 49.

These were unheard-of numbers.

Bonds hit 49 in 2000, then 73 in 2001 to set a new single-season mark, and 46, 45 and 45 the three years after that.

Yep, as long as the home runs were flying and the fans were packing the ballparks and the owners were making fistfuls of cash - and the media weren't getting too nosy - the steroids issue was strictly hush-hush.

So what if McGwire and Sosa were now the size of twin redwoods? So what if Bonds' head was as big as a beach ball and he looked like he could bench-press a Dodge Dakota?

Let the good times roll! - that was baseball's motto.

But now a new book by two reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle seems to confirm that Bonds, at least, cheated and cheated big-time when he hit all those homers.

The book alleges that Bonds started taking performance-enhancing drugs in 1998 and was practically a walking sandwich board for steroids every time he stepped to the plate.

You name it and the odds are Bonds drank it, popped it, shot it or rubbed it on his skin.

He took insulin, the book says, and human-growth hormone.

He reportedly took the steroids Deca-Durabolin, trenbolone and Winstrol, which is the same stuff that that finger-wagging saint, Rafael Palmeiro, is alleged to have taken.

He reportedly took a stimulant called Modafinil and a drug called Clomid to restore his natural testosterone flow once all the other drugs were through assaulting his system.

By the way, trenbolone is said to be a steroid designed to make cattle bigger! Yes! Cattle! That's a nice touch, isn't it? What's the thinking when someone shoots up with trenbolene: I wanna be the size of an Angus steer?

(The book also says Bonds was a man given to "wild mood swings that included periods of rage." Well, I think we pretty much nailed down the side effects of trenbolone right there, haven't we?)

Anyway, in the wake of all these new revelations about Bonds' alleged steroid habits, the question for baseball fans now is: Do you still love home runs as much as you used to?

For me, the answer - at least in the short term - is no.

Sorry, seeing a guy turn on a fastball and send it 20 rows into the bleachers won't fill me with awe the way it used to.

At least for a while, every time some guy built along the lines of a refrigerator hits one out, I'll be thinking: was that talent?

Or was that Better Hitting Through Chemistry?

Was that bat speed the product of long hours in the gym - and even longer hours in the batting cage?

Or did that guy just come from a stall in the clubhouse bathroom, where he jabbed a needleful of Winstrol into his butt.

Or a needleful of, God forbid, cattle steroid.

Oh, I know, I know ... major league baseball has a new steroid policy in place.

Baseball is cracking down with unannounced testing, severe penalties for anyone who gets caught and blah, blah, blah.

Sure, that's all true.

But at the same time we keep hearing how sophisticated all these steroid-masking agents are, and how the bad guys, the 'roid cheats, are always a step or two ahead of the people trying to catch them.

Also, there's this: as long as a Barry Bonds or a Jason Giambi or a Gary Sheffield, or anyone else associated with steroids, remains in the game, a home run won't mean what it used to.

That's sad, but right now it's a fact of life.

Baseball let the good times roll for too damn long.

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