Did Steroids Cause Teams To Tank?


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Editor’s Note on the Passing of Hank Aaron

Hank Aaron was so relaxed at home plate that he looked like he was sleeping — until he uncorked an amazing pair of wrists that sent 755 balls over the fence. He had more total bases, extra-base hits, and runs batted in than any other player and maybe more home runs too, unless Barry Bonds and his artificially-inflated total are brought into the equation. In 52 years as a professional baseball writer, I have never seen a better player or connected with a more humble celebrity. It is absolutely astonishing that nine Hall of Fame voters left him off their ballots in 1982. His name comes first in the Baseball Encyclopedia and his accomplishments come first as well. Never paid more than $250,000 in a season, Henry Louis Aaron would own the ballclub if he played today. He would have been 87 on Feb. 5, one day before Babe Ruth’s birthday (different years). I am proud that my first book, Hammerin’ Hank: the Henry Aaron Story, was also the first of several Aaron books published in 1974, the year he broke Ruth’s record. Hank Aaron was the undisputed home run king for 33 years but will always be baseball royalty. HERE’S THE PITCH will miss him more than words can describe.

—Dan Schlossberg

Pregame Pepper

Did you know ...

At least Carlos Beltran (77 days as Mets manager) lasted longer than Jared Porter (37 days as Mets GM) . . .

Bob Feller taught himself to throw a curveball while in hotel rooms on road trips . . .

A female pitcher fanned Reggie Jackson three times in an exhibition game. Kathy Arendsen, a star softball pitcher for the Raybestos Brakettes of Stratford, CT, stood 6-2, weighed 170, threw 95 miles an hour, and included 13 no-hitters in her 35-2 record in 1981, when her ERA was 0.07.

Ron Washington and Nick Markakis were part of the two highest-scoring games of the 21st century. When Atlanta beat Miami, 29-9, on Sept. 9, 2020, Washington was the third-base coach for the Braves and Markakis was on the bench. When Texas trounced Baltimore, 30-3, on August 22, 2007, Washington was manager of the Rangers and Markakis was the Orioles’ right-fielder.

Leading Off

Did the Steroids Era Contribute to the Greed and Desire to Tank Among Today’s Team Owners? 

By Erica Block

A number of factors contributed to the steroid era of the 1990s and early aughts, but perhaps the biggest and best-known narrative revolves around former Commissioner Bud Selig and his desire to revive baseball’s popularity in the wake of MLB’s 1994 labor strike.

It was in Selig's and the owners’ best interest to boost attendance at games, and, in thinking about this, I spent time considering the relationship between the steroid era and team owners’ desire to profit off the game. Selig’s role aside, I believe the steroids era and its effects on player performance amplified the owners’ greed and led to their valuing financial gain above all else. 

Wouldn’t it be ironic if tanking — deliberate tear-downs by teams to save money — were an unintended effect of the steroids era?

When Catfish Hunter became baseball’s first free agent in 1974, the free-agent market was not the big business that it is today. Players were always paid well, but beginning with the steroids era, their salaries began to escalate into a new echelon. 

To the owners of a baseball team, a free agent is an enormous investment. Logically, if owners value profit -- and let’s assume they do -- they will seek to maximize player performance. It makes sense, then, that owners began to expect more out of their team’s players around the same time player salaries ballooned.

Baseball used to be a part-time, six-month-long job for ballplayers; many sought off-season employment to supplement their baseball income. Beginning with free agency, however, a six-month effort ceased to be an acceptable level of output in the eyes of MLB team owners. If they were going to pay large salaries to the players, they expected greater efforts in return.

At the same time, with the advent of free agency, players were newly incentivized to train in the off-season. Assuming a player would want to earn the highest salary he could, and if weight training and placing a greater emphasis on fitness made the players more desirable to employers, it’s logical that, under those circumstances, players would begin to lift weights and stay in better shape. 

So, although ballplayers had been discouraged from weight training for many years, beginning in the 1990s it became more commonplace for players to do so. Today, nearly every player trains in the off-season. Even without steroids, the average player is bigger, stronger and in better shape today than ever before. 

Steroids require intense weight training to be effective. Players want to maximize their value in free agency. If an owner deems tanking and getting good draft picks as financially beneficial, that’s what he’ll be incentivized to do. I find that depressing. 

Now that the free-agent market is heating up to a lukewarm temperature, criticizing major-league team owners for their greed and failure to prioritize winning above all else is easier than ever. Their petty behavior reveals just how far out of touch these billionaires are from the world most fans inhabit.

Does the Commissioner of Baseball even like the sport he oversees? Nobody knows. 

Erica Block’s e.mail address is erica.dale.block@gmail.com.

Cleaning Up

Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Don Sutton

By Dan Schlossberg

Like Rodney Dangerfield, Don Sutton got no respect.

“I’m a mechanic in a world of nuclear scientists,” he once said, channeling George Gobel’s comment to Johnny Carson that he felt like a pair of brown shoes in a world that was a tuxedo.

Don Sutton wasn’t Sandy Koufax or Don Drysdale but neither was anyone else.

“The most important thing I learned from either of them,” he once told me, “was that I couldn’t be them. Having grown up in Alabama and northwest Florida, there was a lot I didn’t know about being a big-leaguer. I will always be grateful to Sandy, to Don, and to Claude Osteen, a country boy himself, for not letting me embarrass myself.”

That being said, here are 10 things to remember about Don Sutton, who passed away at age 75 earlier this week after battling a myriad of health issues in recent years:

1. Rance Mulliniks drove him crazy. “He wore my butt out,” Sutton said of the utility infielder who hit .272 with 73 home runs over 16 seasons. “He killed me. I swear he knew what was coming.”

2. Ten days after his 300th win, Sutton and Phil Niekro became the first active 300-game winners to start against each other since Tim Keefe and Pud Galvin in 1892.

3. He’s not only a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, primarily for his work with the Dodgers, but also a member of the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame, where he joined Pete Van Wieren, Skip Caray, and Ernie Johnson for his broadcast work (28 years in the Braves’ booth).

4. Like the tortoise and the hare, Sutton was considered a compiler by so many writers that he needed five tries to reach Cooperstown.

5. Because he never missed a turn and worked in a four-man rotation, he finished his 23-year career with 756 starts, third on the career list behind Cy Young and Nolan Ryan.

6. He’s the only 300-game winner who had just one 20-win season.

7. With a club-record 233 wins for the Dodgers, Sutton had just 50 fewer by himself than Koufax and Drysdale did together.

8. The franchise leader in strikeouts, he had more whiffs in his first year (1966) than any NL rookie since Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1911.

9. Acquired by the Brewers at the Aug. 31 waiver wire deadline in 1982, the 41-year-old Sutton beat Jim Palmer on the last day of the season, giving Milwaukee a one-game margin over Baltimore. Then he beat the Angels in the AL Championship Series to help the Brewers win their only pennant.

10. Because his career ended before the Dodgers won the 1988 world championship, Sutton’s teams went 0-4 in the World Series.

HERE’S THE PITCH weekend editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ writes for forbes.com, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, Ball Nine, and Latino Sports. He is also the author of 38 baseball books and a frequent speaker. Dan’s e.mail is ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Milo Hamilton and Harry Caray, broadcast booth partners with both the Cardinals and Cubs, had an adversarial relationship . . .

Pitcher Rick Rhoden was such a good hitter that Billy Martin occasionally used him as a designated hitter . . .

Elton John is a huge Atlanta Braves fan . . .

From the Leo Durocher quotebook: “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you an idiot.”

Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

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