Lindbergh: How much of a role did steroids play in the Steroid Era?

From SABR member Ben Lindbergh at The Ringer on September 28, 2018:

Twenty years ago Thursday, on September 27, 1998, Mark McGwire hit the 69th and 70th home runs of his riveting, record-snapping, and retroactively tarnished season. On the same day, the Orlando Sentinel published a column by Dave Cunningham that ran under the headline, “Is Baseball Having a (Juiced) Ball, or What?” Cunningham wrote, “The fact that two men—McGwire and [Sammy] Sosa—broke Roger Maris’s single-season home run record in the same year seems remarkable only if one believes it was accomplished with the same kind of baseball Maris was hitting in 1961. It wasn’t.”

Cunningham didn’t pin the blame solely on the ball; like many writers who wrestled with what they were seeing that summer, he mentioned other factors that could be partly responsible, including league expansion and smaller ballparks—both cleared as culprits by subsequent studies—and, yes, bulked-up batters who were benefiting from weightlifting and supplement use. But Cunningham devoted most of his column inches to testimony about the ball, both of an observational, experiential nature (from former pitcher Vida Blue, Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone, and Devil Rays manager Larry Rothschild) and of a statistical nature (from Eric Walker, a consultant to several major league teams). Earlier that month, another Cunningham article had quoted former pitcher and broadcaster Jim Kaat, who claimed that Frank Torre (Joe’s bro), a longtime employee of MLB ball manufacturer Rawlings, had told Kaat that the new balls were “more tightly wound.”

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Originally published: September 28, 2018. Last Updated: September 28, 2018.