Cycling has become a classic example of a sport in
which the inability to control integrity breaches has
constrained popularity and economic growth. The
story is similar in the United States in the case of
baseball, which witnessed a marked decline in fan
appeal between 1998 and 2008, a period coinciding
almost exactly with an unfolding scandal over the use
of steroids by leading players. (See chart opposite.)
The use of steroids in baseball probably began in the
1980s but became widespread a decade later. A sign
of the times was a sudden surge in batters’ output,
especially in power categories of home runs, extra-
base hits, and runs batted in. In 1996, 33-year-old
Ken Caminiti, previously a merely competent player,
suddenly morphed into an extraordinary power hitter,
winning the National League’s Most Valuable Player
award. Caminiti subsequently confessed to a journal-
ist that he had used steroids. By then, historic hitting
records had been smashed, drugs, pills, and hypoder-
mic needles had been discovered in clubhouses, and
throngs of journalists and authors began digging for
In 2005, former all-star Jose Canseco, an
admitted user, published sensational allegations about
the prevalence of steroids in baseball, which promptly
became the focus of a Congressional hearing. The
following year, two journalists mapped the connec-
tions between the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative
(BALCO), a supplier of steroids, and a number of play-
ers, including Barry Bonds, baseball’s all-time leading
home run hitter. This finally energised Major League
Baseball to mount its own investigation, headed
by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. Although
circumspect in its language, the 2007 Mitchell Report
confirmed widespread steroid use and implicated
Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, and other
leading players.
The scandal undermined the reputations of these
athletes and all but eliminated their prospects for com-
mercial endorsement and honoured sports legacies.
Bonds and Clemens have both been indicted for per-
jury –Bonds for lying to a grand jury, Clemens for lying
to Congress – and are scheduled to go to trial in March
and July 2011, respectively. McGwire and other
members of steroids’ first generation of users eligible
for Hall of Fame election have been decisively rejected
The scandal also exacted a toll on the game itself.
Following release of the Mitchell Report, a Gallup poll
revealed that 83 per cent of self-described baseball
fans were “not surprised” by the extent of the problem
and 51 per cent had become “less enthusiastic” about
the sport. Consequently, the popularity of America’s
so-called “National Pastime” began to decline.
peaked in 1998, as baseball’s records were falling to
players whose steroid use enabled such feats of prow-
ess, the sport’s popularity dropped by nearly 25 per
cent by 2008 (see Figure II). Attendance has remained
essentially flat since 2000, and TV ratings for the
World Series have tumbled. Other factors, of course,
probably contributed to these developments, but the
loss of credibility occasioned by the steroids scandal
surely played a role.
In 2010, more than a decade after the scandal began
to unfold, Alex Rodriguez, an admitted steroid user, hit
his 600th homerun, ranking him the seventh highest
scorer of all-time. Media coverage was overwhelm-
ingly negative.
Steroids in Baseball
GUARDING THE GAME Preserving the Integrity of Sport
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