Roger Maris knew plenty of hitters who he figured took steroids. He saw guys blow up like Macy's floats. He saw hitters turn baseballs into SuperBalls, fly-outs into homers. He saw good players become greats.
Roger Maris Jr., that is, the eldest son of the late Yankees rightfielder.
At 6'5", 230 pounds, he played on a barnstorming semipro softball team and in various leagues until four years ago, trading taters with massive mechanics and bulked-up bellhops. "C'mon! You could tell instantly!" says Maris, 46, who lives in Gainesville, Fla. "The water weight they carry in the face. The way the muscles are so sharp and lean and cut. The zits all over the back."
In fact, in 1999, one of Maris's teammates, Devin Jackson, attacked 49-year-old neighbor Ugurhan Onsan, kicking him and beating him with a TV. Onsan died from massive brain injuries. The Florida state attorney argued that Jackson was a known steroid user who killed Onsan during a steroid rage. Instead, the judge found Jackson innocent by reason of insanity. He remains in a mental facility.
"Guys kept telling me, 'Get on [steroids],'" Maris recalls. "They'd say, 'Think how big you could be!' But my philosophy was, if you can hit a homer 300 feet, why do you need to see it go 350 feet? These guys just get addicted."
Every day reports of steroids in the major leagues draw another mustache on the legacy of today's sluggers. Every day his father's amazing season of 61 natural home runs seems more shiny and true. Every day somebody comes up, shakes his hand, looks in his eyes and says, "To me, your dad still owns the record."
Hey, the way things are going, his father may have the record back by the All-Star break.
So the $64,000 question: When he looks at Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, does Maris think they all broke his dad's 1961 record cleanly, or does he believe they were 'roided up like WWE wrestlers on Picture Day?
"I can't say," he replies. "I mean, you can look at them and form your own opinions. They're huge! You're aware that the potential was there to use [steroids]. Anybody could use them. There were no tests then."
Does he think Bonds took steroids unwittingly as the Giants leftfielder told the BALCO grand jury, according to leaked testimony? "Not too many people believe that," Maris says. "And now we've got the girlfriend thing." ( Kimberly Bell, who says she was Bonds's former mistress, claims that Bonds told her he was using steroids.)