Will Leitch, writing for New York Magazine Intelligencer, has a strong opinion on performance-enhancing drugs and Major League Baseball. He invokes the unholy trinity of McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds.
If Bonds and company had to face the caliber of pitchers standard in today’s game, would they have broken Maris’s record? I doubt it.
The thing is, though: They did. The record is not 61: It is 73. Unlike in Maris’s case, there is no asterisk. There is no footnote in the record book reading, “Sure, Barry Bonds is technically the man to beat, but a lot of people didn’t like him and he probably took cow tranquilizers and had a huge head, so not really.” If Judge doesn’t get to 73, he doesn’t get the record. It’s pretty cut-and-dried.
Those who want to give Judge the record aren’t particularly interested in honoring him. They’re mostly interested in dishonoring Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa, because they think those guys are irredeemable cheaters. Few baseball narratives have lasted longer than the notion that players who tested positive for using performance-enhancing drugs — or even people who very likely used but never tested positive, like, uh, Bonds and McGwire and Sosa — should go down in history as monsters.
He’s got a real point about McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds. They did not test positive for any substances, and McGwire is the only one who said publicly what he took: androstenedione and HGH, neither of which were banned by Major League Baseball when he took them.
The biggest reason this has become a hot-button issue is because San Diego Padre and the face of Major League Baseball, Fernando Tatis Jr., has been suspended for 80 games after a drug test found clostebol, a banned substance, in his system. Whatever his reasoning: accidental or intentional, using clostebol is pretty stupid since it was easily found. Please don’t ask me what clostebol does… probably very little to make Tatis a better hitter or to help him recover faster. I have no idea.
Personally, when I was younger, I thought it soiled the game to have players caught with PEDs. Today, I could not care less. Like Leitch says, the term “ PED “ is so nebulous it means nothing. Players are definitely getting cortisone shots, and that is definitely steroids, so drawing lines in the sand seems arbitrary.
Overall, he’s absolutely correct in stating the home run record to beat is 73. Anything else is wishful thinking and sits squarely at the participation trophy level. Judge hitting more than 61 would be a milestone, but not the record.