The Steroid Era

I remember when it started—the precise moment when it hit me like an Aroldis Chapman fastball. On the evening of July 22, 1994, I settled in with a beer to watch a ballgame between the Indians and White Sox. I had barely put a dent in my beer when the fifth home run soared out of Jacobs Field. It was still the second inning. I remember that date because I wrote a letter to the editor describing that game and warning of the dire effects of the homer epidemic. Steroids were no doubt consumed years before that evening, but for me that was the its dawn.

To put it perspective, in the six decades before the 1990s, the 50-homer-per-season barrier was breached an average of twice per decade. Then, suddenly the barrier was gone. Twelve times the barrier was broken during the decade. Had it not been for the strike that ended the 1994 season on August 12, six more players could have easily hit 50 or more. Matt Williams had 43 on that date, followed by five players with 40, 39, 38, 37 and 36. If the season had been completed, that would have been 18 times-—six more that the previous six decades combined!

In the summer of 1999, I published an essay on the home- run surge in Elysian Fields Quarterly. saying, “There’s a bit of a stench about the whole thing.” I speculated that maybe the baseballs were juiced. Little did I know that it was the players.

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