Ross Maak: Please don’t let it be steroids | TheUnion.com
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Ross Maak: Please don’t let it be steroids

It’s the dilution of pitching from the rapid expansion of baseball from the mid ’90s into the early 2000s.

No, wait, it’s the change in philosophy from enjoying the finer points of beer, wine and women to enjoying the finer points of Bowflex, pumping iron and bench presses.

No, wait, it’s the fact that the rubber band in the ball is wound tighter than it used to be (a.k.a. the ball is “juiced.”)



No, wait, it’s the fact that some goofball decided that playing major league baseball games at 5,280 feet would be a good idea, therefore causing for a huge, artificial jump in players’ stats.

No, wait, it’s just a coincidence. After all, as each of the batters has increased in pure mass, pitchers have done the same.




Anything but steroids. Please. I want the increase in home runs in Major League Baseball to be anything but steroids.

Alas, all you have to do is go back and take a look at tape from rookie seasons of players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Brett Boone, etc., etc. It just becomes obvious that a simple date or two with the weight machine didn’t turn these guys into Conan the Barbarian. Heck, even Governor Arnold himself admitted his look in the Conan movies wasn’t natural.

One of my guilty pleasures is the team that plays at that aforementioned mile-high elevation. I call friends back in Colorado all the time to talk Rockies baseball. With Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe patrolling the outfield and Garrett Atkins playing a solid third base – and with all three hitting bombs out of a suddenly tamed Coors Field – I thought all we needed was for Todd Helton to find his stroke again and we’re on track.

“No way,” chimes in a buddy of mine. “Never happen. Helton hasn’t hit for power since Major League Baseball started testing for steroids. Coincidence? No chance. His batting average still floats well over .300 every season, but he’s become a $10 million singles machine.”

Seriously? Helton on ‘roids? I couldn’t believe my ears. Don’t get me wrong, I played it cool like I’d already been down that road a million times: “Duh. Everyone knows Helton was juiced.”

Inside, my guts were getting ripped out. One of my favorite players on my favorite team accused of juicing was more than I could bear.

Still, look at the numbers. Helton broke into the league full time in 1998, which just happened to be the same year Slammin’ Sammy and Wired McGwire were bashing all those “juiced” balls out of the park.

In 1999-2001, Helton hit 35, 42 and 49 bombs, respectively. He hasn’t reached 35 since.

Hmmm.

I’m still a fan of Helton. I met him a couple times and he’s a nice guy. He’s also a career .331 hitter. Did he take steroids? Probably. Do I still cheer when he goes deep? You bet.

So, do I have the right to stand up and scream “CHEATER!” when it comes to Bonds approaching one of the most coveted records in sports history? Probably not. Those who aren’t Rockies fans probably aren’t huge fans of Helton, just like I’m not a big fan of Bonds.

But I do understand why San Francisco fans are behind him and are enjoying the chase. Heck, I enjoyed the heck out of that 1998 chase between Sosa and McGwire. That was one of the best summers of baseball ever.

Tainted? Yes. Does that take some of the luster off it? You bet. None of that, however, changes the fact that I was glued to the TV every time one of them stepped to the plate.

So, Bonds is going to do it. He’s going to break the record and a bunch of people in San Francisco will be happy, even if no one outside the Bay Area will be. If I’m still a fan of Helton’s, I guess I have to accept the fact that Giants’ fans are still fans of Bonds.

I never thought I’d root for a Yankee, but I’m looking forward to the day A-Rod passes Bonds.

One final note: I was cruising around the official team sites of the Rockies and Giants looking for info for this column. I pulled up Bonds’ player page on the Giants’ official site and clicked on career stats. It pulled up all his stats from his days with the Pirates and Giants.

Just out of curiosity, I clicked on the hyperlink to the 1986 Pirates – Bonds’ first year with the team. It pulled up a roster from that season, including Bonds. Here’s how it read:

Barry Bonds*

No one else had the asterisk. I was stunned. Was someone in the Pirates organization playing a joke? If so, someone’s head was gonna roll. I took a quick look around and saw what the asterisk was for. No, not that.

* = Active player.

ooo

To contact Sports Writer Ross Maak, e-mail rmaak@theunion.com or call 477-4244.


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