What happens when your love of a sport is built on a major-league lie? Sportswriter Joan Niesen was a kid in St. Louis in the summer of 1998, when the home run race made baseball magic. Mark McGwire was her favorite player, and she tracked his every move that season as he chased baseball immortality. But the spectacle of that summer was not what it seemed. McGwire and countless other players had been using anabolic steroids for years. Now, Joan is revisiting the steroid era to untangle the truth from its many myths and search for answers. What happens when our heroes let us down? What can those years tell us about sports culture in America? And what is the legacy of baseball’s farthest-reaching scandal?
Baseball still feels the aftershocks of the steroid era. Has it recovered, or has it just forgotten and moved on? And what happens when a sport that's built on nostalgia ignores its own history?
In 2005, Congress forced star athletes and baseball leadership to finally confront their steroid problem on national television and answer questions on Capitol Hill. There were a lot of things the government got right that day, but some very important things it got wrong.
The Dirty Truth
In the years after Barry Bonds was crowned home run king, baseball's steroid problem became too big to ignore. Fans began to look for someone to blame, a villain—but truth and accountability remained elusive.
The Cheater's Rulebook
Baseball has always had a murky code of ethics, a rulebook that feels more like a suggestion. Did that culture pave the way for steroids? And, in baseball and in life, where do we draw the line between advancement and cheating?
The Magic Shot
At the height of the steroid era, players across baseball had to decide if they should use—and reap the benefits—or stay clean. We meet two such players and follow the ripple effects of their choices.
When reporter Steve Wilstein started asking questions about a bottle of pills in Mark McGwire’s locker, it set off a chain reaction that would cast doubt on the home run record and the power that had come to define baseball.