“Talk to your doctor about how you too can slug away [medical condition] with [drug name]”
(Ryan Braun accepts his 2011 NL Outfielder Silver Slugger Award. Photo Courtesy Wikicommons/Royalbroil)
By Jeremy Shulkin
During the 1998 Sammy Sosa-Mark McGwire season long home run derby, and again in 2001 as Barry Bonds pushed Sosa, McGwire and Roger Maris’ record-breaking seasons to second, third and fourth on the all-time list, enough sportswriters discussed steroid use for my 13 year old (and then 16 year old) self to know that what more and more ballplayers were accomplishing wasn’t natural.
But fans collectively willed away talk of performance enhancing drugs. Remember McGwire’s fleeting well-it’s-not-quite-illegal androstenedione mini-scandal?
“All the downsides — the andro revelation … had less to do with them than with us. Besides, what they gave us will far outlast the controversies … Everywhere men were laughing. Everywhere children shouted … Thanks to them, we escaped,” read an ESPN The Magazine article on Sosa and McGwire from October 1998, as quoted in a 2005 special report titled “Who Knew?” from the same publication. The Associated Press reporter who broke the story was vilified by coaches, players and other members of the sports media.
For steroid-wary fans, however, rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers came with a clean conscious. During the steroid era they had few surprising demonstrations of feats of strength or former utility players suddenly hitting 40-50 home runs in a season. The team performed so terribly between 1993 and 2005 that if the Brewers were juicing then their starting rotation must have been as useless at locating their teammates’ butt veins as they were locating their fastballs.
When the Mitchell Report was released before the start of the 2007 season, Brewers fans could still feel morally superior when no Brewer of significance was among the 89 former and current players singled out for using Performance Enhancing Drugs. The Brewers might have lost constantly, but at least those losses came naturally.
(It’s fitting that, like most claims related to the steroid era, this last paragraph comes with an asterisk. Eleven players with ties to the Brewers were named, including Eric Gagne, whose Milwaukee contract was inked just 72 hours before the report’s release. Other notables included Derek Turnbow, who had one sensational season with the Brewers and whose link to PEDs also dated back to his pre-Brewers tenure. Gary Sheffield was named in the report, but he wore out his welcome in Milwaukee before his career barely even started. Overall it was probably Fernando Vina, Milwaukee’s five-year second baseman, whose appearance on the Mitchell Report caused the most consternation. But if team’s strongest link to cheating came via Vina - who peaked in 1998 and left the club eight seasons before the Mitchell Report’s release - then it was easy for Brewers fans to maintain the high ground.)
This makes it difficult for Brewers fans to talk about Ryan Braun, their star left fielder, home run hitter and face of the franchise; the player that the league wanted to use as proof that the new generation of clean players could equal the excitement of the ‘roided up players from a generation ago (and some of whom have still stuck around) with just Muscle Milk and some core conditioning.