Sports | March 25, 2022 11:10 am

Could Lack of PED Testing During MLB Lockout Lead to a Summer of Swat?

And would that even really be a bad thing for a league that could use another McGwire-Sosa home run chase?

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays bats against the Baltimore Orioles
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays bats against the Baltimore Orioles.
Vaughn Ridley/Getty

When Major League Baseball’s five-year labor contract with MLBPA ended in December and the MLB lockout began, the agreement between both parties on baseball’s Joint Drug Program also terminated, ending testing for steroids and other PEDs for players.

The lockout ended on March 10, sending MLB’s players, managers, clubhouse attendants and drug testers back to work. Players, if they wanted to, had 99 days without drug testing, more than enough time to use a banned substance to bulk up and then purge it from their system to provide a negative test, per The New York Times.

“You might start seeing some 50-home run seasons again,” as Victor Conte Jr., the central figure in the BALCO steroids scandal who pleaded guilty to distributing steroids and money laundering in 2005, told The Times. “In terms of performance enhancement, the gains that could be made would be enormous. So they would just do very intense explosive type weight training. And this develops fast-twitch muscle fiber, and the benefits that will come will carry over. It’s not just that they got this boost.”

Last season, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Blue Jays and Salvador Perez of the Royals tied for the MLB lead in home runs with 48 apiece. The last time a player had a 50-home run season was in 2019 when Pete Alonso had 53 for the Mets. Before that, it was in 2017 when Aaron Judge had 52 for the Yankees and teammate Giancarlo Stanton, who was on the Marlins at the time, had 59.

Entering this season, Fernando Tatis Jr. was an 11/1 favorite to lead the league in home runs followed by Guerrero Jr. (12/1), Alonso (16/1) and Judge (16/1). With Tatis Jr. now sidelined for multiple months after suffering a fractured wrist from a motorcycle accident (and currently listed at 50/1 with Teoscar Hernandez, Kyle Schwarber, Austin Riley, Jorge Soler, Miguel Sano and Jose Ramirez), Guerrero Jr. is the favorite at 10/1 followed by Alonso (12/1) and Judge (14/1). Shohei Ohtani of the Angels, who ranked third in homers last season with 46, is tied with Joey Gallo of the Yankees at 16/1.

If Guerrero Jr., Alonso, Judge or any of the other players listed above went on a steroid-fueled home run rampage this summer, would that really be a bad thing? The last time MLB locked out its players in 1990, it wasn’t until Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa dueled throughout the 1998 season to catch Roger Maris and break his single-season record of 62 home runs that baseball fans were drawn back to the game in droves. It was fairly obvious at the time that McGwire (who hit 70 home runs), Sosa (who hit 63) and many other players in the league were drawing their power from something other than skinless chicken breasts. But home runs were good for the game, so a blind eye was turned and players eventually took things too far.

A repeat of that exact ’98 scenario wouldn’t be good for the game and MLB, but a shot in the arm from a 162-game home run chase during the summer of ’22, fueled by a temporary boost from lockout-injected steroids or not, could be.