It’s not often that Dave Niehaus, the Mariners’ jocular Hall of Fame broadcaster, is rendered speechless. But last season, when a conversation about baseball turned to the subject of performance-enhancing drugs, Niehaus sputtered, turned red, and finally blurted out, “I don’t want to talk about steroids!” Interview over, let’s play ball.
Nobody wants to talk about baseball’s love-hate relationship with steroids, but it won’t go away. Juicing returned to the front pages in February when Sports Illustrated reported that Alex Rodriguez—the Mariners’ prodigal child, who left Seattle for fame and enormous fortune in Texas and New York—was one of 104 ballplayers who failed drug tests in 2003. Days later he admitted that he took steroids from 2001 to 2003, his first seasons after leaving the M’s. He swore he hadn’t touched performance-enhancing drugs at any time before or since—though he’d sworn earlier on national television that he’d never taken them, period. Fans are left to wonder now about the 36 homers and .358 batting average he accumulated in 1996, his breakout season with the M’s, and the hundreds of long balls he hit in subsequent seasons with the team. Then again, they’re left to wonder about any numbers put up by Major League stars over the last decade.
Baseball’s PED plague reaches deeper into our community than the Mariners would like to admit. In 1995, A-Rod’s second season in the big leagues, the Mariners stormed into the American League Championship Series in an exciting September pennant race that filled the Kingdome and energized the city. The riveting play of Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, and Edgar Martinez won the civic and political will needed to push through a $500 million financing package to tear down the Kingdome and build a new stadium that voters had previously rejected. Griffey, Johnson, and Martinez have never been accused of using PEDs, but we know now that performance-enhancing drug use had become pervasive in the game by that season. In other words, the great baseball we witnessed had been at least partially aided by PEDs, whether they were used by Mariners players or opponents. The result of that now-questionable power surge, Safeco Field, opened in July 1999. Niehaus threw out the first pitch, to the accompaniment of the Seattle Symphony. “That is still one of the great thrills of my life,” he said last season. “[Safeco] is still baseball’s greatest stadium.”
PEDs were as common as Gatorade by the time Safeco opened its doors in July 1999, according to former player and confessed steroid user Jose Canseco in his two tell-all books, Juiced and Vindicated. At the time of the first book’s publication, Canseco was dismissed as an opportunist who would throw anyone under the bus to sell a book, but his revelations have been repeatedly proved right. Indeed the M’s team that took the field for that first game at Safeco included Rodriguez at shortstop as well as Ryan Franklin, David Bell, and David Segui, all of whom were later named in the Mitchell Report, the 2007 independent investigation into the use of PEDs in Major League Baseball led by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. Segui, who played on seven teams between 1990 and 2004, was something of a Typhoid Mary of steroid use; according to Mitchell, he was good friends with steroid-peddling trainer Kirk Radomski.