If this truly were the start of the Post-Steroid Era, it would make sense to expect a major change in the way the game is played on the field -- fewer homers, more pitchers' duels, more emphasis on speed. But almost no one in the game is expecting such a change. For one thing, even if the game becomes steroid-free (which itself is unlikely), it does nothing to combat the smaller stadiums, harder bats and allegedly juiced balls.
And then, too, there has been a downward trend in power numbers among the top sluggers that is already two years old.
Mark McGwire, left, Rafael Palmeiro and Curt Schilling, right, were among those who testified before Congress about steroids in a rough winter.
(Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
_____Red Sox at Yankees_____
When: Sunday, 8 p.m.
Where: Yankee Stadium
"The 'Post-Steroid Era,' if you want to call it that, started two years ago, in my opinion," said Baltimore Orioles television analyst and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer. "Guys started showing up smaller, and all of a sudden no one was hitting 50 homers."
During the peak of what has come to be known as "the Steroid Era," three players (McGwire, Bonds and Sammy Sosa) surpassed the 60-home-run mark a total of six times between 1998 and 2001. But in the last two seasons, no one has even reached 50. At the same time, however, the total number of home runs and runs scored keeps rising.
"I expect the drop-off among the leaders to continue. I don't think anyone will hit 50, let alone 60," said David Vincent, a home run historian for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).
"I don't know if it's a new era," said Washington Nationals Manager Frank Robinson, who begins the season fifth on the all-time home run list with 586, "but I definitely feel like you'll see the totals will [stay] down. I'm not saying someone won't hit 60. But . . . I think you'll start to see a norm of home run hitters going in the 40s and 50s."
People also forget that pitchers used steroids, too. One scout for a National League team who spent five weeks in Florida this spring said he saw no signs that teams are suddenly switching to 1980s St. Louis Cardinals-style "small ball" -- with its emphasis on base stealing and overall team speed. But what he did see was just as interesting.
"What I'm noticing is that [pitchers'] velocity is coming back down to earth, especially the relievers," the scout said. "You used to see guys who threw 89 or 90 [mph] suddenly throwing 94, 95, 96 and [pitching] every other day. Now, those same guys are back down to 89 and 90."
Amid pressure from Congress and President Bush, league and union officials in January negotiated a stricter steroid testing policy that for the first time included suspensions for first-time offenders. However, both inside and outside the game, pressure is mounting for baseball to do even more, go even further to rid the game of steroids.
Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Jeff Kent is among the players who have argued for tougher testing standards. And the House Government Reform Committee, which met with baseball's leaders during an 11-hour hearing last month, is watching closely, threatening legislative action to bring baseball's testing program on par with that of the Olympics.
So far, the baseball players' association has given no indication of its willingness to alter the testing policy -- which had been negotiated as part of the 2002 collective bargaining agreement -- for the second time in three months.
"I'm all for what Congress wants to do," said Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts. "But Olympic drug testing has its issues as well. I don't care if they are the 'gold standard' or not. No drug testing is flawless. I would certainly be willing to say there have been many a people who cheated the Olympic test in one way or form. I just don't think you're ever going to get to zero percent no matter what you do."
Meanwhile, somewhere in San Francisco, Bonds is strengthening his right knee and preparing to impose baseball's worst nightmare upon itself. When (or if?) he returns to action, he will be 11 homers behind Babe Ruth, 52 behind Hank Aaron. As baseball knows well, each step up those ladders will bring more steroid angst.
This may or may not be the start of the Post-Steroid Era, but it certainly is not the end of the steroid story, not by a long shot. We'll call that one the Post-Post-Steroid Era.
Staff writers Jorge Arangure Jr. and Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.