An athlete’s kryptonite

Mark McGwire defined St. Louis baseball from the summer of 1997 through the fall of 2001, a four-and-a-half year period in which just about every student at KHS was born. With big muscles and an even bigger personality, “Big Mac” slugged 220 regular season home runs during his tenure with the Redbirds. The team hadn’t been much more than mediocre since 1987, but McGwire set St. Louis up to have continued success during his time with the team and beyond.

In an era from the late 1960s to the early 1990s when home runs were harder to come by and games regularly attracted less than 10,000 fans, McGwire, along with Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs, revitalized the sport in the iconic 1998 season. Throughout the campaign, McGwire and Sosa raced to the single season home run record of 61, set by the New York Yankees’ Roger Maris in 1961, which they each broke (McGwire had 70 and Sosa had 66).

But while baseball prospered and fans rejoiced, this revival of the game was in reality the biggest scandal the sports world has ever seen. The issue has really hit home in Cooperstown, baseball’s sacred village in upstate New York, and the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. To be inducted, a player must put forth a consistent and outstanding career, preferably without the assistance of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). It used to be assumed that if a player eclipsed 500 career home runs, that player would be enshrined into the hall automatically. Now, of the 27 men who have reached 500, eight were suspected or confirmed PED users: Barry Bonds (762), Alex Rodriguez (687), Sammy Sosa (609), Mark McGwire (583), Rafael Palmeiro (569), Manny Ramirez (555), Gary Sheffield (509) and David Ortiz (503). Each of those men hit their primes between 1995 and 2010. Because of this, the club is no longer exclusive, and in some ways, it’s an insult to those who did not cheat.

The problem reaches much deeper than the eight cheaters listed above. Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell released the Mitchell Report in December 2007; this report was the result of a 20-month investigation on the use and distribution of PEDs within the game of baseball. Listed in the report are 87 players connected to PEDs, whether proven to have used them or just highly suspected. Mitchell uprooted the Hall of Fame hopes of several steroid suspects, including Bonds, Sheffield, Jose Canseco and Roger Clemens. Also listed are former Cardinals Rick Ankiel, Ryan Franklin and Troy Glaus.

While PEDs have tainted professional baseball for the past few decades, the issue extends to athletes of all levels, ages and genders. According to most studies on anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS), 3 to 12 percent of adolescent males and 1 to 2 percent of adolescent females have admitted to using steroids. AAS are structurally similar to the natural cyclic steroids within the body, and they act like extra testosterone. “Anabolic” means increased muscle mass, and “androgenic” means increased masculine characteristics.

AAS have profound effects on all users if not taken under the correct circumstances. They are meant for those who may be weakened from a variety of diseases, ranging from arthritis to AIDS to cancer, and for children with delayed puberty. If abused, men may develop traits that decrease their physical masculinity, while women may develop traits that increase theirs. Children who take AAS before their typical adolescent growth spurt may have stunted growth.

In addition to these physical symptoms, AAS have the potential to cause psychiatric dysfunction. Side effects may range from mood swings to extreme irritability to impaired judgement due to feelings of invincibility. Addiction is highly possible, and withdrawal can bring fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, insomnia and loss of appetite.

Some may argue these side effects are a worthy price to pay for increased athletic performance. Steroids ruined some of the biggest stars of America’s pastime for over two decades; while McGwire and Sosa helped reverse baseball’s downward trend of popularity in the ‘90s, they ultimately started the biggest scandal in the history of sports.


Steroid Statistics

The MLB as a whole has topped 5,000 home runs 10 different seasons, including a streak of nine in a row (1998-2006); the lone year was 2009; this is the most defined period of the Steroid Era.

The six individual seasons with the most home runs came from either Barry Bonds (2001), Mark McGwire (1998 and 1999) and Sammy Sosa (1998, 1999 and 2001), all of whom used steroids.

Three to 12 percent of adolescent males and 1-2 percent of adolescent females have used steroids.