You couldn't tell back then.
I was in Toronto for the 1989 American League Championship Series as part of the out-of-town media contingent sitting high and deep behind left field at the SkyDome. You likely know where I'm going. Jose Canseco showed in a hurry why he was one of the Bash Brothers for those A's by delivering a pitch even higher and deeper over our heads.
For the longest time, I was in awe over that moment, but that awe left as quickly as Canseco's blast that day at the SkyDome after he wrote an explosive book on his use of steroids. Even though he was the first and only player to confess his PED sins at the time, a slew of others were guilty. Everybody knew it, and the whole thing ruined the joy of those monstrous home runs.
No worries. Over the next few years, MLB officials began pulling the guilty out of the shadows by unleashing the toughest penalties anywhere in sports against PED offenders. Take, for instance, the Biogenesis scandal, where among those slammed the hardest were Ryan Braun, Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta. They are back, and they are ripping home runs again. It's just that, given their stiff punishments from baseball combined with a lot of public bashing, you have to assume they are clean. "You have to think that, right?" D-backs infielder Eric Chavez told the USA Today. "I mean, you would have to assume they are unless something is brought to our attention. You would think that after going through that firestorm, you would stay clear."
Which is why you can hug those monstrous home runs again.
You can start with Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, the master this season at turning home plate into a launching pad. He did so earlier this week in Washington, D.C., where he ripped a pitch that threatened to land in the vicinity of the Rotunda inside the Capitol building. That isn't close to Nationals Park, by the way. Not only did this superhero in cleats begin Wednesday's action leading the National League in home runs with 15, but his average home run distance of 431 feet topped the Major Leagues.
Mike Trout can do similar feats for the Angels, and he does with flair on a consistent basis. So does the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig, who often launches his bombs toward the farthest black hole and then stands around to watch them land -- either to the delight or to the chagrin of those watching with him. There also is Michael Morse, and around San Francisco, they don't call this Giants right-handed batter "The Beast" for nothing. Earlier this year, he ripped a shot to the opposite field in Colorado that ESPN's home run tracker placed at 458 feet. He later hit a pitch in that same game that only went 450 feet.
Then there is the Braves' Evan Gattis, who gives you the impression before and after his at bats that he is from Greek mythology. Surely Zeuss and Hercules would resemble this guy by strolling to the plate without batting gloves. Those ancient gods also would join Gattis in not taking warmup swings between pitches before knocking the ball toward Athens. That's the one in Greece, not Georgia or Ohio.
"He's a big, strong boy," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said earlier this week after Gattis slammed two homers in a game against the Rockies to lead all Major League catchers at the time with 10.
We're back to the future. When the Steroid Era still was several decades and a Canseco moon shot away, you had those legendary blasts that traveled around the solar system after leaving the Louisville Sluggers of Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Harmon Killebrew and Frank Howard.
Remember when Reggie Jackson defied gravity? During the 1971 All-Star Game in Detroit, he ripped a pitch off a light tower on the right-field roof at Tiger Stadium, and the ball was on the rise. Everybody thought "Wow," not thoughts about juicing by Mr. October. Several years later, the Reds' Mr. Clean, otherwise known as Doggie or Tony Perez, crushed a pitch into the red seats in the highest deck of Cincinnati's old Riverfront Stadium, and the ball also was on the rise.
Like Jackson, Perez and the others during the pre-Steroid Era, Dave Parker was another player known to pulverize a few pitches, but he mentioned recently that his worst fear was standing on first base with teammate and left-handed-hitting Willie Stargell swinging at the plate.
"Once, Willie hit a ball so hard with me at first that it tore off part of my uniform," Parker said, and this is just another way of mentioning Stargell had his share of rocket shots that cleared ballparks. The same was true of another Willie named McCovey, and you had other all-or-nothing sluggers such as Dave Kingman, Rob Deer and Ron Kittle.
Without thinking about initials such as HGH or PED, you just watched all of those players of yore swing from the heels, and then you studied the flight of the ball to Never Never Land . . . and that was about it.