SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Coming up, Carole King never leaves the living room this summer, but first, have we baseball fans been fools? That's just one of the questions posed by Howard Bryant's forceful new book, "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power, and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball." Mr. Bryant, an acclaimed sports writer and columnist for the Boston Herald, says a preponderance of evidence more than suggests that steroid use in baseball has been rampant until new rules came into effect this year. He contends that the game's biggest home run hitters of the past 10 years--Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa--and the records they set which so dazzled us fans are tainted. And he adds we fans have aided and abetted this most serious challenge to the game's integrity by ignoring obvious and prolonged drug use because fans like the long ball. Howard Bryant joins us now from the studios of KERA in Dallas.
Thank you so much for being with us.
Mr. HOWARD BRYANT (Boston Herald Columnist; Author, "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power, and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball"): Thanks for having me.
SIMON: And I just rattled off the best known names, but you actually make a central case of the example of Brady Anderson and maybe we can all profit from his story.
Mr. BRYANT: What I wanted to know was: What were the reasons for the greatest era of offense in the history of the modern game? Why did it happen during this period, 1994 to '02? And when you start to look at this decade, you start to see things happening that you had never seen before. Bob Watson, one of the great hitters and he was a GM for the Yankees, mentioned Brady Anderson specifically when he said that, `I started to notice little guys doing big things.' And in 1996, Brady Anderson hit 50 home runs, and he had never hit 20 in a season. And what happened from that season forward was you began to realize that there was a bigness taking place in the game, that the entire game was changing right in front of our eyes and no one could quite figure out what the reason was. But then what also started to happen was was that people didn't want to recognize one reason and that was steroid use. And nobody wanted to really confront what that meant for the game, how steroids had gotten into the game. It was just so much easier to avoid the whole thing, especially in the backdrop of the 1994 strike.
SIMON: Remind us: What is so bad, what's so harmful about steroids--anabolic steroids, in particular?
Mr. BRYANT: The confounding part of this debate is that nobody really knows the answer for sure. What they do know is that steroids can--they can cause kidney malfunctions and liver problems and sterility and genital deformity in women and all kinds of horrible, horrible things. But what people don't really talk about with anabolic steroids is what they do to your brain, that because they lower the serotonin levels in your brain that allow you to maintain balance from anger to calm to controlling your emotions, that using these substances over a long period of time can essentially turn you into a different, more aggressive, more violent person.
Mr. BRYANT: And what these drugs also do that no one talks about is once you stop using these drugs, your brain balance does not return.
Mr. BRYANT: So you can stop using steroids but the damage has already been done.
SIMON: I want to explore the devil's advocate route with you. Players know the risks. If they're adults and they choose to accept them--it's like entertainers. Nobody complains if Sean Connery gets a face-lift 'cause they want to see Sean Connery play romantic leads until he's 90.
Mr. BRYANT: And you talk to the great players before and the great baseball purists, the people who really care about this game, and they will say, `Look, there is a lineage involved here. There should be a connection between Ruth, Cobb, Aaron, Mays, Mantle, McGwire, Jackson, etc.' They believe in that lineage, and that's where you begin to think that something was terribly damaged here because that lineage was broken.
SIMON: I mean, that raises the question. For example, I mean, a pitcher like Gaylord Perry threw the spitter for I think 20-some years in...
Mr. BRYANT: Yes, he did.
SIMON: ...the big leagues, and the spitter is illegal. I'm not comparing spit to steroids, as far as that goes, but...
Mr. BRYANT: But you should, Scott, because you're bringing up an excellent point. A lot of sportswriters, because we have the keys to immortality for the baseball players because we have the votes for the Baseball Hall of Fame...
Mr. BRYANT: ...there was a great deal of introspection going on. And we begin to interview each other about Mark McGwire. Is Mark McGwire a Hall of Famer? And Henry Schulman, a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle who covered Barry Bonds, said, `Hey, no matter what he's done, Barry Bonds is a Hall of Famer. So is Mark McGwire. And the Hall of Fame shouldn't be this place of virtue because there's all kinds of philanderers and racists and sexists and monsters that are in the Hall of Fame now.' My point on all this is that we are supposed to be a smarter society as we move along. And I guarantee you that if Gaylord Perry today was bragging about wetting up the ball or about cutting the ball, he would not be celebrated, and more than likely he would not be in the Hall of Fame. If Ty Cobb had the same...
Mr. BRYANT: ...attitudes in 2004 that he had in 1904, he would not be celebrated either. To me that is a terrible argument.
SIMON: You bring us to Barry Bonds. Over the past few years, how clearly superior has he been to anybody else who's ever wore a baseball uniform?
Mr. BRYANT: If you look at his numbers from 2000 to the present, you have to use Jason Giambi's words, `He's a cartoon character. He's a video game.' I mean, Barry Bonds was so dominant during these years that he not only eclipsed every player of his contemporary generation but of the immortals. And the thing that was so fascinating to everybody about Barry Bonds was that he did this at age 35, that Barry Bonds had a complete career--he already a career--and then all of a sudden he had another career. To try and understand him really would allow you to understand this decade. If you're a marginal player and you're making $300,000 a year, because that's the major-league minimum, and if you use anabolic steroids and you can get that one big contract...
Mr. BRYANT: ...that one three-year, $9-million contract, you're set for life. So for Barry Bonds, to me, the question was always, `Why?' Why would somebody who has already cemented a legacy for himself risk everything that he had by tainting it? And the answer that many, many people have told me once again was that great sin of ours: vanity and ego.
SIMON: If the commissioner of baseball can be satisfied--I'll just rattle off this trinity, that Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa all used steroids, should their records be stricken from the book?
Mr. BRYANT: The real people to answer this question are the living Hall of Fame players because it's their legacies that are being affected by this. Jim Bunning, a Hall of Famer, said that all of these records should be wiped out, every single last one of them. And on the other hand, you have people saying, `Well, gee, how do you do that? How do you take an entire decade and essentially destroy the accomplishments of people without hard facts?' I don't know that putting an asterisk on Barry Bond's 73 home runs is the answer. But what I do know is that this decade does stand out. That's the biggest indictment. The indictment is on the field and it's on the record books and you can see it and there's no way around it.
SIMON: Howard, thank you very much.
Mr. BRYANT: Thank you, Scott.
SIMON: Howard Bryant's new book is "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power, and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball." You can read an excerpt from the book on our Web site, npr.org.