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The Steroids Debate: Will The Real Record Holder Please Stand Up?

Alexa Girkout |
July 15, 2013 | 1:10 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Chris Davis might break the single-season home run record, depending on the definition (Keith Allison/Creative Commons).
Chris Davis might break the single-season home run record, depending on the definition (Keith Allison/Creative Commons).
Chris Davis is flirting with history. Well, technically he just made it. The Orioles' first baseman tied an American League record for most home runs hit in the first half of a season, with 37 in just 95 games. This number puts him in the same elite company as Reggie Jackson, who set the record in 1969. Davis is on a pace to hit a projected 62 home runs, just one more than Roger Maris’s 61 home runs in 1961.

Wait. San Francisco Giant slugger and all-time home run leader Barry Bonds launched 73 in 2001. And Mark McGwire had multiple seasons with more than 61 home runs. So did Sammy Sosa. In fact, there are six records preceding the one set by Maris, so why is his name relevant in the conversation at all?  Well, Maris is believed by some to be the true record holder for most home runs in a single season because he preceded the notorious Steroids Era. 

There’s the rub. It’s been 22 years since the league first banned steroids and ten since performance-enhancing drug testing was implemented. Not only is Major League Baseball still experiencing the repercussions of past mistakes, it is also still struggling with how to define them. How should these players who cheated be recognized, if at all? Does it come down to the individual, who decides for him or herself the morality of the situation and in which light to cast these former stars? And how will history view them and their accomplishments? Are the feats they accomplished even accomplishments at all?

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America had the first real crack at determining this in January when it voted on whether to induct Bonds and pitcher Roger Clemens into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Bonds and Clemens, both forever synonymous with steroids, were “emphatically rejected” in the “most resounding referendum yet on the legacy of steroids in baseball,” wrote Tyler Kepner of The New York Times

SEE MORE: 2013 Home Run Derby: Young Sluggers Take Center Stage

Players need 75 percent of votes in order to be inducted. Bonds received 36.2 percent; Clemens, 37.6. This is the first time since 1960 (one year before Maris hit 61 home runs) that no living player will be honored in Cooperstown.

This move indicated a stringent and unflinchingly unforgiving new attitude toward known cheaters. It may not have directly influenced subsequent action by the league, but in June, a report by “Outside the Lines” revealed that the league is looking to suspend around 20 players as part of an ongoing PED scandal. Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and Melky Cabrera would be included in what could become the largest PED scandal in American sports history, according to ESPN. The suspensions, if upheld, are expected to be announced following the All-Star break.

These suspensions would incriminate athletes during, as opposed to after, their time of play, as was the case for fallen heroes like Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and McGwire. Regardless, with each new name, an important question becomes more pressing: How should the BBWAA acknowledge inflated statistics? How should we, as fans and spectators, remember the players and the numbers they produced? Do we keep mental asterisks, denoting that there’s a giant caveat attached to their performances? Or do we deny their existence?

No matter what we choose to believe or what we’re mandated to accept (should it come to that), the residual effects are that we will forever mar athletic excellence and the pursuit of greatness with our skepticism. 

Davis, who poses a legitimate threat to a legitimate record, has been forced to address steroid allegations as part of his recent success.

He told the Baltimore Sun, “I think it sucks that guys in our day and age have to answer for mistakes that guys have made in the past. But it is part of it.” 

Davis adamantly believes that 61 is the magic number in the argument about most home runs hit in a single season and doesn’t think he’s alone in that respect. He did add that he thinks he is entitled to those opinions and beliefs though, noting that there is another population that believes in Bonds's 73. But if Davis abides by his beliefs, should he send a 62nd ball beyond the fences this year, he can consider himself the record holder. BBWAA wouldn’t even bat an eyelash about inducting him when the time came.

Election rule number five reads, “Voting shall be based on the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Does that imply that the Cooperstown records are a little subjective? Maybe. Does it indicate we deem an athlete’s performance to be about more than production? Certainly. And with that, the conversation revolves inevitably back to morality. 

Said Davis, “I know a lot of those guys might regret what they did. But I’m not judging them as a person. I don’t think any less of them as a person. I just wish they hadn’t done it.”

A noble stance, and one that might be etched in stone should he achieve what hasn’t been done in more than half a century.


Reach Staff Writer Alexa Girkout here. Follow her here.



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