In the early 2000s, rampant steroid use across Major League Baseball became the biggest scandal in the sport’s history. But fans didn’t want to hear the difficult truth about their heroes – and the league didn’t want to intervene and clean up a mess it helped make.
We look back at how the scandal unraveled with our colleagues from the podcast Crushed from Religion of Sports and PRX. Their show revisits the steroid era to untangle its truth from the many myths, examine the legacy of baseball’s so-called steroid era and explore what it tells us about sports culture in America.
We start during the 1998 MLB season, when the home run race was on. Superstar sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa battled to set a new single-season record, and McGwire, the St. Louis Cardinals first baseman, was portrayed as the hero baseball needed: part humble, wholesome, working man and part action hero, with his brawny build and enormous biceps. So when a reporter spotted a suspicious bottle of pills in his locker in the middle of the season, most fans plugged their ears and refused to acknowledge that baseball might be hooked on steroids.
Joan Niesen, a sportswriter and host of the podcast Crushed, takes us on a deep dive into an era that dethroned a generation of superstars, left fans disillusioned and turned baseball’s record book on its head. The story takes us from ballparks and clubhouses to the halls of Congress to explain how baseball was finally forced to reckon with its drug problem.