If you take a look at the current scores in the MLB, you might think we’ve entered into the new age of the Pitcher. Scores are commonly 3-2 or 2-1 as if Sandy Koufax himself jumped out of his wheelchair to spin a beauty. But before we go lowering any mounds to compensate for the low-run games, let’s all remember that we’ve just crawled out of the Steroid Era.
Ah, yes, the age of stupendously large arms and high-octane offenses. Steroids all but killed the running game as managers tended to sit on their hands while they waited for the next moon shot to launch the score into outer space. Why risk the out? In fact, we should have called it the “No Steal Sign Era” or the “Red Light Era”. Teams were looking for the next Arnold Schwarzenegger instead of the next Otis Nixon, and the body of the baseball player changed along with it. Even the Simpsons, the longest running sitcom in television history, dedicated an entire episode to the absurdity of the pro-baseball athlete.
But you don’t need to look at the bodies of ballplayers to see that the steroid era is over, you can just look at the numbers.
Defining The Steroid Era
Steroids have always been illegal in baseball. But the Major League Player’s Association, one of the most powerful unions in the country, managed to block any real testing for the drug. While steroids were outlawed in the MLB, you couldn’t get caught while taking them. It became an easy decision for players to make. Sooner or later, steroids became the norm; something you had to do just to keep up with the competition.
PEDs became prevalent in the late 80’s, but the effects really kicked in during the 1993 season. This lasted until 2003, when the MLB started to test for the performance enhancing drug. Once testing came into the equation, home run totals and scores plummeted.
The Death Of The Steroid Era By Numbers
The easiest stat to look at to prove the death of the steroid era is runs per game. The average runs scored by a single team per game has fallen almost a run and a half since the steroid era’s heyday, falling from approximately 5.5 runs per game to 4.18 runs.
There were 83 individual 40+ homer seasons between 1996 and 2001, which accounts for 27% of all the 40-homer seasons ever to take place. In 2008, the first year steroid testing really hit its stride, only two players hit more than 40 home runs.
Anecdotal Evidence That The Power’s Gone Out
The body of the baseball player has changed. The top-heavy power hitters of yesteryear have been replaced by lean athletes that can run the bases and play stellar defense. In fact, without steroids, the last remaining DH-specific player may be David Ortiz.
Ballplayers are now taking better care of themselves. They’re turning to yoga instead of amphetamines, eating healthier diets to maintain strength and mobility. The old ballplayer vice of chewing tobacco and cigarettes have been replaced by gum and e-cigarettes.
What Should We Do Moving Forward?
The game has changed since the steroid-era, but that doesn’t mean its effects have disappeared. The asterisks are a constant reminder, especially for those who find themselves banned from the Hall of Fame or unable to coach. Many were singled out, but were they really alone?
The league and the fans seemed all too happy to turn a blind eye, just so long as the balls kept flying from the parks. We wanted those stats, we just didn’t want to know how they were made.