(Long Island, NY) A few years before the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run derby in 1998, the long ball had become chic. Even lead-off hitters like Brady Anderson of the Baltimore Orioles had 50 home run seasons. The rumor was spread that the powers that be manufactured the baseballs differently to allow for a longer flight when hit. The term was coined ‘juiced ball.’ And we all fell for it- hook, line, and sinker.
As ballplayers started to weight train more often and not only look stronger, but play stronger, we may have been naive to a fault. The excuses for the sudden surge in power kept coming in. Expansion. Watered down pitching staffs. Bad number four and five starters. Weak middle relief. You name it and we said it. Unwillingly covering up for the hitters that had us all fooled. We were looking at the pitcher’s mound for the reason when we should have been looking in the batter’s box.
When we compared the former size of a player to his enlargened power hitting self, we marveled on what doing bench presses and curls can do. Were we wearing blinders, such as the higher-ups were doing, because the game was exciting again after the disaster of the 1994 strike?
The ‘race to 62’ was fun. Regardless of what has come out of the wash since then. It was a special summer and nothing can take it away, but it is tarnished. It is not as spectacular as it was back then because of what we now know. But think back for a minute anticipating the home run count after every game. It did bring the game back to that special something in our lives after many of us swore off of it post-strike.
Was it worth it? Some may say yes because of the hype that period brought back. The game of baseball would have bounced back without it. Would it have done so as fast? No, but sound and fundamental games would have persevered. The giants swinging mini red wood trees hastened it. But some of the innocence was taken away that made baseball different from all the other games.
Can baseball move on from this controversy? Absolutely. It has had its share of ups and downs and always comes out to do just fine. When that sun is shining on the green grass and the sound of the catcher’s mitt pops, we’re all innocent kids again.