The Home Run Record for A Season in 2017 Surprises No One Who Understood the Steroid Era
By Sergio Rodriguez
Sports Editor and
Former ESPN Analyst
hen Kansas City Outfielder Alex Gordon hit a home run on September 19, 2017 it marked the record for most ever hit during one Major League Baseball season. After that home run, the number stood at 5,694, breaking a record that was set during the 2000 MLB season. Many fans took to Twitter and other social media outlets to make the point that in 2000 Major League Baseball was during the steroid era and that now there is a juiced baseball. To understand what is occurring this season, you must understand two things: 1. The economics of baseball. 2. What were the true effects of using steroids.
THE ECONOMICS OF BASEBALL AND THE EFFECTS OF STEROIDS
In the early 90’s, when baseball salaries began to skyrocket, there were two types of players who were looked upon as difference makers. Power pitchers and home run hitters were clearly going to get a larger piece of the pie and baseball was devaluing the stolen base and the fundamentals of little ball. The issue was how could you sustain production for 162 games without compromising all the other aspects of your performance on the mound and at the plate. Players began using performance-enhancing drugs with the intention of throwing harder and hitting the ball further, but what they discovered was that each came with a hidden secret. Pitchers could keep their velocity longer and recovery time from start to start and month to month and kept at the top of their game for about 85% of their starts. The hitters’ secret was even more special. I spoke to two former MLB players who spent a lot of time in MLB locker rooms and they told me that the feeling described to them by the guys who were using was “My body felt like it was always May”. The pitchers clearly needed the use of steroids to keep up with the hitter’s success, but the success was not HR driven. The biggest effect that steroids had on hitters was in the batting average, something that 90% of non-baseball people do not understand.
Any legit power hitter could always hit 40 home runs, as it has been proven in 2017, and players are naturally bigger and stronger now, which explains why guys like Didi Gregorius has 24 Home Runs as a shortstop. Gregorius would have been one of the biggest guys on the field in the 80’s and early 90’s at 6’3 and 205 pounds, but by current standards, he is of average build.
There were HR hitters in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, but only the greats were able to do it while batting over .300, while players who were released by teams, like David Ortiz, re-invented themselves not only as home run hitters during the steroid era, which is somewhat understandable, but they became perennial .315 hitter’s year after year.
From 1993 to 2009, the MLB batting average was always above .261 and, in fact, it went as high as .270 four times, while in 1992 the league average was .256 and in 2010 it was .257, and it has declined since.
I have always tried to make this point to anyone that would listen, but it took this year’s HR total and lack of batting average to prove that the steroids did not make players hit HR or that the ball is not juiced, but in fact players could always focus their strength in one aspect of the game and excel in it. They just could not do multiple aspects without steroids unless they were immortal players to begin with.