It’s obviously well-within the rights of Major League Baseball to articulate and begin enforcing a workable ban on consumption of certain kinds of substances. And my understanding of the evidence is that it’s good for the health of the players, and also for the health of aspiring players in high school and college and the minor leagues, for such a ban to be in place.
But the impulse of this sort of asterixing displayed in ESPN’s article on Mark McGwire, really makes very little sense to me. The players being marked out on this list played during a time when there was no real effort to curb the use of currently-banned substances and the use of such substances was widespread. In particular, they were used by pitchers as well as hitters, and any position players whose physical attributes were enhanced by PED was also playing defense. There’s just no clear reason to believe that widespread use of steroids and HGH represented some structural advantage for hitters.
In general, all sports are always changing all the time in terms of standards of training, nutrition, and conditioning as well as sundry tweaks of the rules. That’s why it’s inherently problematic to compare statistics from far-removed time periods. But the issue raised by PEDs is no different from the normal difficulties of historical comparison. Awareness of these ins-and-outs is part of what differentiates informed fans from less knowledgeable ones. But there’s no good reason to single out one aspect of one period in the game for some kind of special shaming.