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Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power, and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball Paperback – February 28, 2006
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But that has become impossible. Jose Canseco's "tell all" book, the February Congressional hearings, and media coverage have all put baseball's steroid scandal on the front page of the nation's sports section.
Steroids headlines another landmark moment in baseball history-akin to the gambling scandals (personified by the 1919 Chicago Black Sox) as well as the demarcation of an era when power hitting proliferated beyond reason (radically opposite the "dead ball era" of the early 20th century and the "pitchers' era" of the 1960's). But to follow the complicated story through ESPN and print journals only leads to confusion and misperceptions. Thus, Boston Herald sports columnist Howard Bryant comes to the rescue with his remarkably perceptive Juicing the Game that provides the necessary background and historical perspective to understand the issue-making this the most timely baseball book of 2005.
Bryant primarily frames his narrative around the decade that follows Major League Baseball's unfortunate 1994 strike that canceled the World Series that season, but to create an accurate picture requires a great deal of background. Bryant paints this in concisely (covering MLB's recent commissioners, influential owners and executives, major figures in the player's union and umpire's union, and the issues of that strike) before moving on to what Selig referred to as "Baseball's Renaissance" but will more certainly go down as "Baseball's Steroids Era."
Recently most of the fan talk has centered around Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi, and other power sluggers who have admitted steroids use whether inadvertently or intentionally. Bryant delineates pertinent details on these players and others to give a much clearer visual picture of the issue, but he also astutely selects earlier indications of baseball's changing climate. Just how does a relatively light hitting Brady Anderson all of a sudden slug 50 homers in 1996? While MLB tried to pass this off as evidence of a livelier ball, smaller ballparks, improved nutrition, and weight training, the clarion call had been sounded all around MLB and its minor leagues.
Using his journalistic skills and wide-ranging contacts, Bryant offers irrefutable statistics and anecdotal evidence that clearly demonstrates just how such a huge change and development could lie "hidden" by baseball officials for so long. Few escape blame, for a wide ranging array of people benefited from baseball's sudden surge in home run power, and the boundaries go far beyond baseball-from Congressional laws concerning supplements, to baseball's beat writers who looked the other way to retain their team access, to society's faddish interest in health and weight training. Some teams (like the Arizona Diamondbacks, Oakland A's, and St. Louis Cardinals) even supplied free creatine to their players.
Despite the wide ranging forces that all converged to allow baseball to fall into complicity with steroid use, Bryant levels the most pointed criticism at the MLB Commissioner: "Bud Selig is out of control. His renaissance is in a shambles. He is flailing, grasping, angry. He is lost, swallowed whole by a phenomenon he never took the time to understand until after the fatal damage had been inflicted. If the notion of a tainted era and its full implications had not penetrated him fully before despite his jousts with McCain and the BALCO debacle, the devastation following the Canseco book shatters his calm . . . For nearly ten years, Bud Selig had referred to the decade as a renaissance, and now he is telling the public not to look back at the past. The thing to do is move forward, he says. The talk of a cover-up during his administration grows louder."
A thoroughly compelling read, Bryant has penned the definitive text about steroid use in our national pastime. Certainly the San Francisco Chronicle deserves accolades for breaking the BALCO story with its deep sources, but Bryant's work is also Pulitzer Prize worthy for taking an extremely complex issue and providing the historical and societal context to put this into proper perspective-an amazing accomplishment for a story that continues to unfold. Readers will find that they won't have to enhance their brain cells with ginkgo biloba to decipher Juicing the Game: Drugs Power, and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball. All that is necessary is an interest in the game, its history, and its integrity.
The author is also a teacher. He reports important historical baseball information that is critical to understanding the complexities of the crisis today. In particular, he properly dissects the semi-explosive variables that make for a tense relationship between the major league baseball owners and the powerful players union. The owner/union behavior pattern is a key factor in understanding why steroids have been allowed to enter the game.
Bryant demonstrates how players can enhance two elements critical to a hitter...speed & strength. In other words..."the science lab has found its way into baseball," according to the author. The book carefully explains how creatine, androstenedione and anabolic steroids are eating at the game's core. The presence of these drugs have baseball purists coast-to-coast livid that "cheaters" are destroying legendary home run records.
Before 1995, just eleven baseball players in the history of the game reached the magic number of 50 home runs. In 1996, Brady Anderson of the Baltimore Orioles hit 50, he had never hit more than 21 in a single season. Moreover, the 1996 Orioles shattered the storied 1961 New York Yankees (Maris & Mantle) team home run record of 247. Bryant explains that owners and players across the board raised eyebrows...but that as long as the ball clearing the fence brought back fans after the unpopular 1994 strike (that canceled the World Series for the first time)...little was done to correct the problem.
Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Jose Canseco, and Ken Caminiti are all given the glare of Bryant's journalistic investigation...and it "ain't" pretty. However it is the leadership of baseball...the owners that the author ultimately ends up pointing the finger of blame for putting profits ahead of the health of the institution. This is a brilliant book that patiently explains how, "Popeye is spiking his spinach." Recommended.