Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan didn’t play during the “Steroid Era,” but he still saw a lot of it. At the time when players started mashing home runs at unbelievable rates, Morgan served as one of baseball’s premier television broadcasters. He saw and interacted with nearly every superstar in the game.
With his letter to the Baseball Writers Association of America, Morgan made it clear that he doesn’t want players who used steroids — many of whom he covered — to make it into the Hall of Fame.
But if Morgan had any idea steroids were wreaking havoc on the game at the time, he didn’t show it. Sporting News writer Ryan Fagan unearthed an old clip of Morgan discussing Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa’s breakout at the plate. Morgan didn’t seem to suspect steroids at the time.
going through old VHS tapes at my folks' place. found Joe Morgan pinpointing the real reason for Sammy Sosa's home-run surge. pic.twitter.com/Rh6XouFL7f
— Ryan Fagan (@ryanfagan) November 26, 2017
Sosa reportedly tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003, a year before baseball introduced mandatory testing with punishments. The test Sosa failed was set up by Major League Baseball to determine whether the league should get more serious about steroids. The results were supposed to remain private, but Sosa’s name was one of the few leaked years later.
Once MLB officially started testing and implementing punishments, Sosa never failed a test.
Sosa fits the “suspected user” category with guys like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens — among others. Those were the guys Morgan was not so secretly referencing when he said he wanted steroid users out of the Hall, though he didn’t mention any by name.
And yet, when talking about Sosa during the peak of his career, Morgan mentions that it was his stance that caused his home run explosion. Morgan claims that Sosa started standing further from the plate, which helped him unlock his power. There’s no mention of rumors or steroids or anything like that. Morgan chalks it up to an adjustment.
Look, we get it. If Morgan suspected Sosa was using steroids at the time, he wasn’t just going to come out and say that on television. You can’t definitively make those claims, which is why you often see the word “reportedly” when discussing many of these players.
In fairness, this problem isn’t exclusive to Morgan. Many ignored what happened in the mid-90s and early-2000s. You can put blame on Bud Selig, managers, executives and even some journalists. That’s fine. But Morgan was a part of that too.
When the rest of the baseball world was looking the other way on steroid use, Morgan was right there with them, gushing about Sammy Sosa’s new stance at the plate. He wasn’t leading the charge against suspected users.
That’s where Morgan’s sanctimonious letter falls flat. He can’t act superior and tell the voters how to act about the Steroid Era if he silently watched it happen.
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