It was the Summer of 1998. I was making a road trip to Williamsport, PA for the Little League World Series. Greenville Tar Heel had won the Southeast Regionals for the first time ever to earn a spot in the Series. As luck would have it, the St. Louis Cardinals were in Pittsburgh for a 3-game series the day I headed up. Pittsburgh was a bit out of the way but to see history in the making was something I wasn't going to pass up. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in the home-stretch of a sensational home run derby that had revitalized baseball.
McGwire headed into that game against the Pirates with 51 homers on the season. He wasted little time slugging #52 as he crushed an 0-2 pitch into the right-center field bleachers in the bottom of the first. McGwire would go on to break Roger Maris' record of 61 by clobbering 70 homers on the season. Of course Barry Bonds would top McGwire with 73 homers in 2001.
I remember how excited I was to see that homer. I now look back and think what a farce it was. McGwire was so juiced up on steroids and other performance enhancing drugs that his legs looked like tree trunks to me that night. By the time Bonds came along, only fans in denial didn't think he was juicing.
Bonds went on to pass Hank Aaron as baseball's home run king and the greatest record in all of sports is tainted. Alex Rodriguez was never a favorite player of mine but I believed him when he said he didn't use steroids. He even used the negative press on Bonds to his advantage a few years back when he proclaimed that he never felt the need to cheat to gain an advantage on the field. I was looking forward to a "clean" player knocking Bonds off the top. So much for that.
I take a hard stance when it comes to steroid use in baseball. If a player used, his stats should be wiped from the record books. Period. End of discussion. The Olympic committee doesn't have a problem striking records and stripping medals from users and cheaters. Baseball should take the same approach. I know, I know... MLB and the team owners all benefited from the home run derby's we watched in the late 90's. I don't care. The record books and the Hall-of-Fame deserve better. Roger Maris deserved better. Hank Aaron definitely deserved better.
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