On this week's podcast (subscribe so you get it Monday), Paul and I remember the 1998 home run race. We were just 7 at the time, but that summer still had a profound impact on our baseball fandoms. It was a really fun conversation, so make sure to check it out.
One of the things I discovered in my research is this article from Buster Olney at the New York Times. Written on August 25, 1998, it's a fascinating lens into the baseball world in the middle of the McGwire-Sosa hysteria. In late August, a reporter from the Associated Press found a bottle of androstenedione—a testosterone-producing pill—in Mark McGwire's locker. The substance was banned from the NFL and Olympics, but not baseball; the MLB only banned illegal substances. Androstenedione was not illegal until 2005, therefore it was legal for McGwire to take the substance in 1998.
We look back on this event now with a much different view than people did in 1998. Olney kicks off the piece by comparing McGwire's substance to steak, pasta, and coffee.
When Joe Torre played, one of the performance-enhancing tickets was a thick steak. Ten or even five years ago, players filled themselves with pasta, to load up on carbohydrates. And ballplayers of all generations have been liberal users of coffee and nicotine products.
On the face of it, some Yankees believe, a parallel can be drawn between these products and androstenedione, a testosterone-producing pill that Mark McGwire says he has been using for over a year. Like pasta or steak, the substance can be bought over the counter, and while it has been banned by the National Football League and the International Olympic Committee because it is thought to provide an unfair advantage, there is nothing that bars its use in baseball.
The backlash against the AP reporter that broke the McGwire story was severe. Tony La Russa decided to defend his player.
Yesterday, St. Louis Manager Tony La Russa said that The Associated Press, which originally reported McGwire's use of androstenedione, should be punished for peering into McGwire's locker and spotting the substance on the top shelf. He said the news agency had invaded McGwire's privacy, and that he would like to see it barred from the Cardinals' clubhouse, even though he was certain team management would not allow such a step.
''My philosophy is, if you slap me, I slap you back,'' La Russa said. ''And maybe they won't slap me as often.''
Oh, Tony. Perhaps the most eye-opening statement of the piece is below. It's clear looking back that everyone, the media included, wanted any suspicion of steroids to go away. The 1998 home run chase made baseball fun—and rich—again.
The clear sentiment among baseball people is that fans should instead concentrate on just how difficult a feat McGwire and Sosa are trying and just how accomplished both are as hitters.