In Washington, D.C., Roger Clemens is on trial. In San Francisco, home run king Barry Bonds awaits the next stage of his own court room drama. But statistics from the first half of this season show Major League Baseball may have reached the end of its Steroids Era. Fittingly, New York Yankees slugger Robinson Cano and Boston masher Adrian Gonzalez put on a good, old-fashioned baseball show Monday night in Arizona.
Utilizing data from STATS LLC, the Associated Press reports that scoring has reached its lowest midseason point since 1985. Batting averages are dropping, too. Midway through the ’85 season, the major league batting average was .252. In 1997, with the Steroids Era in full swing, the average peaked at .273. This year it’s back down to .253.
For many fans, that news makes baseball easier to enjoy. It was certainly easy to enjoy baseball’s All-Star Home Run Derby, with two likeable stars staying hot into the final round, hitting blast after blast in Chase Field in Phoenix. Cano eventually came out on top 12-11.
If you just saw Gonzalez swing without ever seeing the ball, you’d think the Red Sox first baseman was hitting lazy pop ups to shallow left. But that easy, effortless stroke sent balls sailing into deep into the seats.
And what could be more charming than Cano’s father handling the batting practice duties for his son? Jose Cano, a former pitcher for the Houston Astros, didn’t need ESPN’s K-Zone to find the sweet spots in Robinson’s swing.
In an interview with ESPN between his turns at the plate, the younger Cano was asked what it felt like to be part of the derby. Like most big leaguers, Cano grew up as a fan of the game. The honest answer of one of the game’s young stars represents a demarcation line Major League Baseball is trying to cross in its history books.
“As a kid, you dream to be up here with a bunch of guys that you watched back in the day, like [Sammy] Sosa, [Ken] Griffey [Jr.], [Mark] McGwire, [Jason] Giambi, how much fun they have,” Cano replied.
Of the four players Cano mentioned, only Ken Griffey, Jr. has not been tied to performance-enhancing drugs. Only the 40-year-old Giambi is still playing, a shadow of his juiced-up prime. Alleged PED use may be the driving force behind Clemens’ trial for perjury and other charges this week, but the lasting image of baseball’s Steroids Era won’t be pitching. It will be big, booming home runs … and lots of them.
This season’s lower offensive production shows the game may be turning a corner, but we’re a long way from those numbers speaking for themselves. And with Clemens and Bonds on trial and more Steroids-Era stars becoming eligible for the Hall of Fame every year, the discussion of the old numbers isn’t coming up fast.