Steroid scandals might have rocked baseball, but there can be little denying the positive impact they have had on the game. Baseball purists might enjoy a 1-0 game, but many fans in the modern era became enamored with the home runs and run production that became a greater part of the game. Attendance rose sharply during this time as the Toronto Blue Jays broke the 4 million mark for a season in 1991. Since that time, the 4 million home attendance mark has been broken eight more times.
Steroids certainly led to more home runs and run production, but there were other effects on the sport. Pitching had to improve or mistakes left over the plate could easily turn into majestic shots that would easily clear the center field wall. Star players could use steroids to recover from injuries and play even better at the same time. Even when power hitters happened to draw a base on balls, steroids helped many of them have enough speed to steal second to get into scoring position. The game was full of muscle, and many players were exceedingly buffed inspiring awe in most fans. In the sport of baseball, the average Joe of previous eras was being replaced by the linebacker from Ohio State. Offense lured in more fans, making well pitched games that much more of a joy to watch.
The following 15 reasons are why steroids were good for the game of baseball. They might not be good for people and players to use, but the sport of baseball directly benefited from their use. That might also help explain why many of these steroid scandals have been so late to develop and have failed to produce any meaningful results.
There's an old saying that no publicity is bad publicity. Baseball received some notoriety because of steroid use and other PEDs, but despite any negative press it may have received, people were tuning in to see for themselves. People had to be suspecting something fishy was going on when home run numbers ballooned and other stats became more impressive, but they couldn't look away. Where there's attention, where there's controversy, our next entry comes up...
14 Money $$$
The MLB wouldn't like to admit it, but its steroid era provided the league with billions in revenue. They turned a blind eye to it because of the money they were generating. With home runs, OBP and runs all going up, so did revenues, and in turn, so did salaries. While today's participants of the game might condemn what was done before them, they are benefiting with higher salaries, which really took off because of the era that so many now try to write off.
13 Closed The Gap With the NFL
In today's landscape, the NFL leads by a mile in terms of league revenue, television ratings and coverage. An NFL season is only 16 games long, yet the NFL seems to remain relevant for all 52 weeks of the year. Baseball's 162-game season is long, making it hard for fans to keep interest throughout the year. Its peak comes in September and October when pennant races heat up and eventually the Fall Classic is on the line. The steroid era narrowed this gap in coverage and interest between the two sports.
12 The Game Was More Entertaining
The bottom line is, professional sports are still part of the entertainment business. When consumers are expected to dish out over $100 of their hard-earned money to go to a game, they're expecting to be entertained. Baseball in the 90s and early 2000s made it easy to do that, as fans couldn't get enough of days at the ballpark. Many fans from this era have since stopped watching or following as closely, as they find the entertainment value in today's game pales in comparison to the "steroid era".
11 They Saved Baseball
The 1994 strike alienated many fans from the game. Labor stoppages had affected other sports, like football in 1987 and the NHL would undergo a lockout later that year, but at least they never prevented the league from handing out its annual championship. That was not the case in baseball, as the 1994 strike wiped out the season from mid-August on, preventing a 1994 champion from being crowned.
The excitement created by the league's power hitters eventually lured fans back in. Who knows where the game would have been had it not been for the boom period of the mid to late 90s.
10 More Tape Measure Home Runs
The steroid era consistently produced some of the games longest home runs. At one point in just the Bay Area alone, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco were each doing their best to make sure the tape measure was brought out for every game. Due to the thick Bay Area air, most of their damage was done on the road. Although it is still unclear how many players were juiced up during this era, their were many tape measure shots by guys like Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, Andres Galarraga and Cecil Fielder, to name just a few. McGwire hit a shot estimated to be between 538 and 545 feet at Busch Stadium in 1998, and he Bonds and Canseco hit many balls well over 450 feet. These shots helped sell tickets and even filled more outfield seats. People even started showing up for batting practice. The MLB Home Run Derby started to become a greater spectacle than the All-Star Game itself as fans clamored to see the next monstrous shot.
9 More Physical Marvels
Jose Canseco was not only a tremendous athlete, but his chiseled physique went a long way towards earning respect for the overall athleticism of baseball players. Sammy Sosa got his start as a skinny 165 pound outfielder with the Texas Rangers, but during his prime he carried around about 230 pounds of pure muscle. The same body transformations occurred with Barry Bonds, Ken Caminiti, Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, and many other players during this era. Whether using steroids or lifting weights, sluggers became larger than life, and many of these big human beings could also steal an occasional base. In an era where football players were getting bigger, stronger, and faster, steroids helped baseball players stand out athletically as well. These men could flex and when welding a bat, the lumber started to look like a toothpick instead. To baseball fans, these players inspired awe, with their size and strength that somehow made their statistics more real.
8 Greater Run Production
For the most part, the juiced players were getting the best of the league's pitchers. In 1992, the average runs scored per baseball game was 8.23, which went up to a peak in 2000 of 10.28. This number fell back down to 8.14 in 2014, despite the fact that many outfield dimensions didn't significantly change. Not coincidentally, home runs were at a high of 2.34 per game in 2000, and have fallen all the way down to an average of 1.72 per game in 2014. Even the slugging percentage for the league went from .437 in 2000 down to .386 in 2014. Thanks in small part to the offensive explosion, the league experienced two of its highest average attendance figures during 1993 and 1994, before falling in 1995 due to the strike. Although economic expansion and new ballparks also helped energize the fan base, the increase in run production certainly didn't hurt. Most casual fans love offense, and steroids certainly helped add more of it to the game.
7 The 1998 Home Run Chase
The incredible home run chase of 1998 was one of the most memorable moments in the modern era of baseball. Despite losing much of its significance thanks to the steroid controversy, the 1998 long ball duel between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa was something many of the era's fans will not easily forget. McGwire finished the season with 70 home runs and an MLB record, while Sosa didn't exactly falter with his 66 fence clearing shots. The battle was exciting, with both players going back and forth until they were tied at 66 on September 25th near the end of the year. McGwire closed out the season strong by hitting four more home runs in a span of just two days. The epic battle might have been fueled by steroids, but it was as dramatic as it was historical, causing many fans to tune in. McGwire's set a record with his 70 dingers, but that record was quickly erased when Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001.
6 Barry Bonds
While Mark McGwire finished his career with a batting average of .263 and Sammy Sosa did a little better with his .273, Barry Bonds hit a remarkable .298. During his glory years with the San Francisco Giants, Bonds did even better by hitting .312. Bonds finished his career with 762 home runs, 1,996 runs batted in, and 2,227 runs scored. Clearly one of the most feared hitters to ever play the game, Bonds finished his career with an MLB record 2,558 bases on balls with many of those intentional in nature. Bonds was such a complete player that he even had 514 stolen bases and was only caught 141 times. The 14-time All-Star could even field, finishing his career with eight Gold Glove Awards. There will forever be an asterisk next to Barry Bonds' name when his many exploits are given consideration, but he still has to be mentioned as one of the best to ever play the game. Bonds was a good player in his early years in Pittsburgh but steroids only made him that much better.
5 More 5-Tool Players
The number of 5-tool players during the steroid era was mind boggling. From Barry Bonds to Brady Anderson, there seemed to be many players in MLB who could hit, field, throw the ball, and fly around the outfield or base paths. Brady Anderson was a swift outfielder who could play good defense, but in 1996 Anderson became a true 5-tool player when he cranked out 50 home runs, while also hitting .297. His average alone was 41 points above his career batting average. That same year, Ken Caminiti had his MVP season by batting .326 with 40 home runs, 130 RBI, and a Gold Glove Award. Even the relatively pedestrian Rafael Palmiero stole 22 bases in 1993, while also legging out 40 doubles, scoring 124 runs, and belting 37 home runs. Palmiero also earned 3 Gold Glove Awards throughout his career. It seemed like every team had their own version of today's Mike Trout, helping to draw more fans to every game just to see them play.
4 Better Pitching
Even though there have been plenty of good pitchers through the years, many pitchers during this era became masters at locating each pitch. From the pinpoint precision of Greg Maddux to the well placed heaters of Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens, there were many pitchers who stood out from the crowd. Greg Maddux had ERAs of 1.56 and 1.63 in 1994 and 1995, with 20 complete games, six shutouts and a record of 35-8 during this two-year span. In 1997 and 1998, Curt Schilling struck out 619 batters, while pitching 513 innings in 70 starts. During the same two season span, Roger Clemens went 41-13 with ERAs of 2.05 and 2.65 and 563 strikeouts. Between 1999 and 2003, Pedro Martinez went 82-21 while never having an ERA over 2.39. In 1999, Martinez went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA, 313 strikeouts, and only 37 bases on balls. Tom Glavine had 5 twenty win seasons in a ten year span between 1991-2000, only giving up 147 home runs during this time. All these performances and more were quite astounding considering all the juiced up players and live ball. Pitchers had to adapt and ended up leaving fewer balls over the heart of home plate.
3 The 40-40 Club
In 1988, Jose Canseco achieved what no player in the history of baseball had ever done. He managed to hit 42 home runs and steal 40 bases, becoming the first player to ever accomplish the 40-40 feat. Ted Williams hit 39 home runs and stole 37 bases in 1922, becoming the first player to join the 30-30 club, and he was followed by Willie Mays with 36 home runs and 40 stolen bases in 1956 but 40-40 was still not reached. In the steroid era, Barry Bonds (42,40 in 1996), Alex Rodriguez (42, 46 in 1998) and Alfonso Soriano (46, 41 in 2006), would follow Canseco to round out the members of the newly created club. Alfonso Soriano and Vladimir Guerrero came up one home run short (39, 40) in the same season in 2002, and Carlos Beltran had 38 home runs and 43 steals in 2004. It was no surprise that so many players in this era had enough strength and speed to join this once unheard of club.
2 Recovery From Injuries
Although injuries have not been new to baseball, the number of injuries seemed to be on the rise as more multi-sport players chose baseball over football in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of these players lifted weights for football, and muscle tears and pulls seemed to be running rampant throughout baseball at this time. Weight lifting helped to drive the ball far, but swinging the bat and chasing pitches requires more flexibility in addition to all the power and strength. Many players started to realize that steroids would help significantly reduce the recovery time from many of these injuries that seemed to be byproducts of playing the game with all the extra bulk.
The problem was that these same players started to realize the steroids also helped them perform and the lure of money and landing a big contract only exacerbated the problem. Steroids helped keep many star players in the game, helped keep many batting orders intact, and led to an explosion of big contracts as more fans attended more games.
1 The Explosion of Home Runs
Obviously, the biggest reason steroids were good for the game of baseball was what they did for the home run. The game of baseball was starting to attract some talented athletes who could have easily played another sport, and fan interest and attendance was on the rise. It might have been overlooked as mere coincidence, but home run totals increased disproportionately as well. In 1987, a record number of 4,458 home runs were hit in both leagues. By the year 2000, this total rose to a historical high of 5,693. The single-season total of 55 home runs hit by a single player was surpassed 11 times between 1997 and 2002. This number was only eclipsed by Roger Maris, Babe Ruth (twice), Jimmie Foxx, and Hank Greenberg, before this time. In 2001 the wiry Luis Gonzalez hit 57 home runs and Alex Rodriguez followed with the same number in 2002. In three different seasons, Sammy Sosa hit over 60 home runs in 1998, 1999 and 2001. This exciting element to the sport of baseball certainly livened up the game during this era, helping to fill even more seats.