Howard Bryant’s chronicle of Major League Baseball’s “juiced” era was not 2005’s only book with a long title that plays on that word. Several months before Bryant’s Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power, and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball was released, José Canseco published Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ’Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big. In language that might be taken as Bryant’s contra-theme, Canseco glorifies steroids as baseball’s game-saving enablers after 1994’s devastating 232-day players’ strike. Says Canseco:[Mark] McGwire and [Sammy] Sosa brought baseball back to life [in 1998]. People were as excited about baseball as they had ever been. And why? Because the owners had been smart enough not to chase steroid use out of the game, allowing guys like McGwire to make the most of steroids and growth hormone, turning themselves into larger than life heroes in more ways than one.
What Canseco, who admitted using anabolic steroids to anyone who would listen, views as baseball’s savior looms for Bryant as the game’s destroyer. For him, echoing baseball purists such as perennial batting champ Tony Gwynn, the enhancement of the home run, baseball’s prime crowd-pleaser, by bulked-up sluggers Barry Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa, was “engineered by design.”
McGwire and Sosa’s stirring race in 1998 to eclipse Roger Maris’s long-standing home run record, which transformed them into larger-than-life heroes, was followed three years later by Bonds’s hitting of seventy-three homers. In November, 2005, baseball finally, after a decade of inaction, mandated penalties severe enough to stamp out anabolic steroid use. For first and second offenders, the penalty is now fifty- and one-hundred game suspensions, respectively. A third infraction will ban the offender for life. Meanwhile, the larger-than-life heroes noted above have all been brought down to size by life itself, as this book demonstrates.
In Juicing the Game, Bryant, a sports columnist for the Boston Herald, offers a sophisticated yet passionate assessment of the steroid flap that rocked the game to its foundationsperformance on the field and governance in the commissioner’s office. Bryant asks why baseball’s chieftainsnotably Commissioner Bud Seligdid so little for so long. He charges that baseball turned a blind eye to even known strength-enhancing drugs, so long as their effects induced fans to pay soaring prices to watch the boys of summer hit homers in far greater numbers than ever before.
Bryant’s book is encyclopedic and scholarly. Rather than draw on the recycled columns of the baseball-beat reporter he was in San Jose, California, and Bergen, New Jersey, for the Oakland A’s and New York Yankees respectively, the author abets his profound knowledge of baseball history with in-depth interviews with players, executives, team managers, and journalists. Tracing...
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