Now may be perfect time for a few asterisks in baseball

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 17, 2005

Everybody is all juiced up over Jose Conseco. Baseball is all upset because Conseco has gone public about his own use of steroids. Why that came as a surprise is hard to understand, but organized baseball is acting as if they are aghast at the revelation.

To make it worse, Conseco has written a book about the widespread use of steroids among baseball players, adding that he used to inject Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and other of his fellow players with the banned substance.

If you take a step back from the furor you can see that the reason Bud Selig and the other baseball bigwigs are up in arms over Conseco's revelations is the fact that he and people like him have blown the lid off something baseball has known for a long time and, in their own way, have even supported.

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Look at it this way: after the ruinous players' strike a few years ago, the team owners wanted to get people back to the ballpark. What they did to make the game more exciting was build stadiums that had shorter outfields, they juiced up the ball by winding it much, much tighter, and they went to harder maple bats - all because they wanted to have more home runs and wanted to have records broken.

Thus all the players did was take baseball's lead. They reasoned that if baseball could juice up the ball, why shouldn't they juice up themselves - make themselves stronger, bigger and better - to allow themselves to get those home runs that baseball wanted them to hit. And to create excitement, baseball wanted to stir up increased public interest by staging competition over which home run records would be broken by which players.

Baseball knew what they were doing. Remember the intense public interest in 1998 when Mark McGwire went head to head with Sammy Sosa in the attempt to break Roger Maris’ single-season mark for homers at 61?

As the fans' excitement grew watching the two fight for the record, McGwire hit two in the year’s final game to end with 70; Sosa finished with 66. In 1999 the pair repeated their achievement, McGwire hitting 65 homers, Sosa 63. The fans were ecstatic, and back where baseball wanted them - in the stands.

Ironically McGwire’s single-season home run record was broken in 2001 by Barry Bonds. who himself now stands accused of using steroids.

Baseball has known about the use of steroids by their players for a long time. They chose to turn a blind eye to it - they needed those home run heroes to keep the fans juiced up. With the home runs and the records being broken, the fans were coming back to the ballpark and that was the game baseball needed to win.

There is something else here that needs to be looked at. People like Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays or Hank Aaron and Roger Maris and some of the other great players of the past are having their hard-earned records challenged or broken because of shortened outfields, juiced up bats, juiced up balls, and juiced up players.

In fairness to them the fans should be demanding that asterisks be put beside the new records showing that there is no equivalence between the old records and the new ones. What's happening is not fair to the memories of the great players of the past or the fans of the future.

Mike Reagan, the eldest son of the late President Ronald Reagan, is heard on more than 200 talk radio stations nationally. Comments can be sent to