2/14/2008 Ron Sirak

Why Steroids Matter to Baseball Fans

Somehow it is just not the same when a football player, track star or cyclist is busted for performance-enhancing drugs. Punishment is meted out, and life goes on. Fans of those sports don’t take it personally. But baseball fans are a different breed. Bring up steroids and fans talk of asterisks, denying entrance to the Hall of Fame and betrayal.  

Unlike any other sport, the record book in baseball is a sacred text committed to memory. The numbers there must be penned by an untarnished hand.

Why does it matter so much that records may be broken by juiced players? Baseball, more than any other sport, is generational. Team loyalty is handed down from parent to child like a treasured family heirloom. People live with baseball every day from February to October—and then immediately start speculating about off-season moves. Baseball is not an event observed; it is an experience shared.

In the movie City Slickers, there is a scene in which Helen Slater’s character says: “I’ve been to games, but I don’t memorize who played third base for Pittsburgh in 1960.” No sooner are the words uttered than three other characters blurt out: “Don Hoak.” Such are baseball fans. The game is a doorframe separating the past and the future on which the passage of time is marked like the growth of a child. I know where I was when Bill Mazeroski homered to win the 1960 World Series, and I remember waking up on New Year’s Day in 1973 to find out Roberto Clemente had died in a plane crash. 

Basketball fans probably know Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, but few know how many points he scored (38,387). And how many football fans know that Jerry Rice scored 207 touchdowns to top the all-time list? But the majority of baseball fans know that Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs, that Henry Aaron topped him with 755 and that the validity of Barry Bonds’ breaking the record will always be in question.

Why do baseball fans care more about performance-enhancing drugs? Because one of the beauties of baseball is that it is measurable. Those who played on steroids cheated on the record book, the competition and the fans—and they made meaningless those numbers inscribed on that doorframe by generations of fans.

Ron Sirak ’72, P’04, is a baseball purist and executive editor of Golf World magazine.

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