Anyone who remembers baseball in the late 90s remembers the great home run chase of ’98. That was the year Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa shattered Major League Baseball’s all-time single season home run record.
It was also the summer when half the league was jacked.
Many, like McGwire and Sosa, stood in the box looking more like cartoonish body-builders than real baseball players. Hell, it was just a few years later in 2001 when Bonds broke the record again with a ridiculous 73 home runs. It was the now infamous steroid era, or long ball era, and more home runs were hit between 1994 and 2005 than at any other point in MLB history … until now.
Here are some fun-filled facts to make your head explode:
— During the steroid era, 11.8 percent of hits left the yard. In 2017, 14.2 percent of all hits are home runs, an all-time high.
— In 1994, 32 players hit 20 or more home runs. By 1999, that number was 103 players. This year, at least 125 players are on pace to hit at least 20 knockers.
— In May 2017, hitters belted 1,060 home runs, the second-most in any month in MLB history.
— Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger just became the first rookie to hit 10 HRs in 10 games.
— Aaron Judge is a Yankees rookie on pace to hit 60 home runs.
— Six players have already hit three home runs in a game this season. Reds utility man Scooter Gennett, who had only hit 38 taters over 5 years, came out of nowhere and belted four in one game earlier this year.
What’s more incredible is that this magical jump in home runs has happened over just the last three years. 2014 saw a 20-year low for home runs hit (4,186). Now baseball is on pace to shatter the all-time season record of 5,693 set in 2000.
So what in the hell is going on?
Some blame the giant rise in home runs to science. The Chicago Tribune notes that ‘Statcast’ has given scouts and players access to detailed data used to make the physics of hitting much more clear than ever before.
Some believe the balls are juiced. The Ringer sent balls to a lab and allegedly concluded that balls manufactured more recently had more of a bounce to them.
Some believe steroids may be back in baseball.
What’s the most likely scenario? Performance enhancing drugs never completely left the game and the science of baseball has never been so well understood.
Although increasingly more rare, probably because of the stricter penalties instituted by MLB, players continue to be suspended for PEDs. However, not all forms of PEDs, such as HGH (human growth hormone), can be detected. There are scientists coming up with new forms of HGH every day, and each form needs its own test. In no way can MLB keep up.
On the other hand, technology continues to improve exponentially, helping batters better understand which angle to swing and where to stand in the batter’s box. There are even virtual reality hitting simulators that allows batters to see hundreds of pitches from their next opponent before they see them head-to-head at the ballpark in real life.
Although conspiracy theories are juicy, the reason for the home run surge is most likely a mix of both of the latter. However, I truly hope PEDs continue to be flushed out of the sport and that the most recent jumps in technology are most responsible. Because while chicks “dig the long ball,” us dudes like them, too.
Josh Helmuth is the editor of Crave Sports.