by Matt Rosenthal ‘22
There were no baseball players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2021. This was mostly due to no new notable eligible players and the stubbornness of voters refusing to elect players from the Steroid Era. Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire are synonymous with the pursuit of Roger Maris’ single-season home run record in the late 90s and early 2000s, known also as the Steroid Era. While their chase was historic, it came at a steep price: the legitimacy of the records. Because of their steroid use, they have been black-balled by voters and fans alike from Cooperstown and from the league itself. However, there is an upside to the Steroid Era: it saved baseball.
During the years leading up to the late 90s, baseball had fallen through the cracks and was no longer “America’s pastime” as the NFL became more and more popular. Then came the “Home Run Summer” of 1998. A race broke out in the National League between Sosa and McGwire as to who could set the single-season home run record. The smashing of baseballs game after game made baseball fun again and raised interest to a level the MLB had not seen in decades. Sosa won the NL MVP with 66 homers and McGwire set the record with 70. Then Bonds came along in 2001 and smashed even more baseballs into the grandstands and set the current record of 73.
In the 20 years since Bonds set the record, Giancarlo Stanton has come the closest with 59 in his 2017 MVP season . Players today that were just kids or not even born yet during the Steroid Era are consistently hitting over 40 home runs a season. In the 2019 season, the last full season played, there were 10 players that had 40-plus home runs. Mets’ star rooke Pete Alonso led the MLB outright and set the rookie record with 53. The new age power hitter’s goal is to hit home run after home run. This is due to pitching changing over the years and the value of a home run vs. the cost of a strikeout.
So why should Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa be considered for the Hall of Fame? For starters, they saved baseball. The core fans were always there, but newer fans were not drawn into baseball in large numbers. From 1990-97, the average total attendance was 57.6 million. Then in 1998, when Sosa and McGwire had the home run race, total attendance skyrocketed to 70.6 million. 2001 saw an, at the time, all-time high with 72.5 million. The current single-season total attendance figure was reached in 2009 with 79.4 million. While figures have started to go down, they did peak and stayed rather high for the next two decades following Bonds’ historic season. The Steroid Era also spawned the new age power hitter. Superstars sluggers like Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Nolan Arenado, and many others are striving to hit home run after home run, instead of focusing on other specific areas of hitting.
Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire have not gotten the recognition that they deserve due to one key reason among voters: many of them are old and overly nostalgic about the way baseball was played decades ago instead of valuing what it has become today. Until the generation that was raised with the Steroid Era becomes Hall of Fame voters, Bonds, Sosa, and McGwire unfairly will stay out of Cooperstown.