Upon the news of Clemens' acquittal, people began jumping on Congress for involving itself in the baseball steroid scandal. The common refrain is that Congress should have just stayed out and let the sport take care of the steroid problem.
We can debate the source of Congress' authority to investigate the national pastime all day long. But there should be little doubt that Congress did the sport of baseball a huge favor by pushing baseball executives to confront the issue of steroids which was destroying the integrity of the game.
Statistics play an important role in the popularity of baseball. Fans of the sport compare players from one era to another and debate whether, for example, Willie Mays is a better player than Mickey Mantle. It is that history of the baseball, with players of different eras measured by statistics, that ties together fans across generations.
It is critical to the integrity of the baseball statistics that the game be played essentially the same from one time period to another. About the only slight hitch in that during last 100 years was the expansion of the season from 154 games to 162 games. Then came the steroid era.
In the nine seasons before steroid testing, 18 players hit more than 50 home runs while six hit more than 60. In the nine seasons after testing, there have been only six 50 home run seasons. No one has hit 60 home runs.
Steroids had the effect of turning modest hitting players into sluggers, maybe not always capable of hitting 50 home runs, but finding 40 within reach. So let's look at the 40 home run club, post 1961 the start of the 162 game season.
1961-1969 (nine seasons)
31 players hit 40 or more home runs
1970-1979 (ten seasons)
20 players hit 40 or more home runs
---'74, '75, and '76 seasons featured no one with 40 plus home runs
1980-1989 (ten seasons)
13 players hit 40 or more home runs
---'81 and '82 seasons had no one with 40 plus home runs
1990-1993 (four seasons)
11 players hit 40 or more home runs
STRIKE SHORTENED SEASONS
1994 (about 115 games)
2 players hit 40 or more home runs
1995 (about 144 games)
4 players hit 40 or more home runs.
1996-2005 (10 seasons)
120 players hit 40 or more home runs
--this includes double figure 40 plus home run seasons of 1996 (17), 1997 (12), 1998 (14), 1999 (12), 2000 (16), 2001 (12), and 2003 (10).
2006-2011 (six seasons)
27 players hit 40 or more home runs
--only two players hit 40 plus home runs in 2010 and 2011.
NOTE: There have been 8 seasons featuring ten or more players with 40 plus home runs since 1961. Seven of those seasons fell within steroid era. The other was 2006, the year serious steroid testing began, when there was 11 home runs. Although I have placed that year outside the steroid era, players that year could well may have still been under the influence of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs that had been in use for a decade or longer. Following 2006, there was a substantial drop off in membership in the 40 home run club: 2007 (5), 2008 (2), 2009 (5), 2010 (2), 2011 (2).
Now let's examine Congress' role in ending the steroid era in baseball. Although MLB had started mandatory steroid testing in 2004, the program, which only called for "treatment" of a first time offender, didn't result in a single suspension. In the Spring of 2005 faced with the spectre of a congressional investigation, Major League Baseball did finally adopt a policy that provided for a penalty for a first time offender, but even that penalty was mild - a mere 10 day suspension. Following the 2005 season, facing the spectre of Congress taking action following the hearings, MLB finally got serious about steroid use adopting a new policy in November of 1995 that the first positive test would result in a 50-game suspension, a second positive test would result in a 100-game suspension, and a third positive test would result in a lifetime suspension from MLB.
Congress gets criticized for supposedly stepping outside of its authority to investigate steroid use in baseball. But Congress did baseball fans a favor. Congress saved baseball. There I said it, let the ridicule begin.
Now that we've done something about juiced players, if only we could do something about that decade of juiced statistics that remain on the books.