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Baseball Moves Beyond The Steroid Era

Apr 12, 2017
Originally published on April 12, 2017 6:13 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So in baseball, the difference between being a hero and being a lousy cheat sometimes depends on which era we are talking about and which era we are living in. Here's Pablo Torre, senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

PABLO TORRE: If the Baseball Hall of Fame ever admits that it should be more of a museum and less of a shrine, these last two weeks would deserve space in a very special exhibit. Nothing related to this new season - it's because of two asterisked sluggers whom we once banished from Major League Baseball, the most moralistic kingdom in sports. First, there was disgraced steroid user Jose Conseco taking on a new public role - TV analyst for Oakland A's games on NBC Sports California. And then, not to be outdone, there was disgraced steroid user Alex Rodriguez, who became a full-time baseball analyst for Fox and a guest co-host on "The View."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE VIEW")

JOY BEHAR: So you and J-Lo are an item. So do they call you J-Rod now?

(LAUGHTER)

SARA HAINES: Or A-Lo...

ALEX RODRIGUEZ: We're having a great time. She's an amazing, amazing girl, one of the smartest human beings I've ever met and also an incredible mother.

TORRE: Not long ago, these gigs for these men would have been unthinkable. As of 2005, performance-enhancing drugs seemed so irreparably toxic that ex-players were being grilled by Senator Bernie Sanders, not Joy Behar.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE SANDERS: I appreciate all of your efforts, and you're willing to stand up for the kids of America, that you know you're role models, you know that steroids are bad, and you want to do everything you can to prevent kids from emulating bad habits.

TORRE: But it's not just Canseco and Rodriguez who've been returned. No less than Mark McGwire, who broke the single-season home run record on steroids in 1998, is now the bench coach for the San Diego Padres. And no less than Barry Bonds, the tainted home run king, was the hitting coach for the Miami Marlins last year. As with Canseco and A-Rod, nobody really protested their presence. So what's changed? Well, for one thing, Congress realized it had bigger fish to fry. And for another, revelations of steroid use clearly became less shocking and less evil to the average American, which is reasonable. We've learned that legions of players - both pitchers and sluggers, both stars and scrubs - have used performance-enhancing drugs. And as criminality goes, asterisks are nothing compared to the last decade of sports villains.

The torrid news cycles around Ray Rice and Donald Sterling and Jerry Sandusky and Aaron Hernandez - they've all reshaped the very concept of athletic scandal. And yet, one organization remains absurdly puritanical about the past. The voters for the holy Baseball Hall of Fame keep refusing men like Bonds and McGwire. But our most famous juicers belong in an exhibit right alongside Canseco and Rodriguez, one that reminds us how an asterisk was once a stigma and how it also became a star.

(SOUNDBITE OF WIL BLADES' "RED LANTERNS ARE BLUE")

GREENE: That was commentator Pablo Torre. He is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.