Baseball: Past and Present

1. Ken Griffey Jr: The best clean player of the Steroid Era, Griffey’s only performance enhancer was playing in the Kingdome.

2. Derek Jeter: Jose Canseco, of all people, said he was sure Jeter never used steroids.  That’s good enough in my book. In an era of gaudy numbers, Jeter was, like Griffey, a throwback.

3-4. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine: If it ever emerges these guys took steroids, I think I’m done with baseball.  That means, basically, everybody used, even groundskeepers.  Then again, that seems unlikely, especially with Maddux and Glavine, two finesse pitchers with excellent longevity.

5. Albert Belle: A Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter recently asked Belle if he’d ever used steroids, as ‘roid rage could have explained his frequent emotional outbursts during his career.  Belle replied, “I was just an angry black man.”  Milton Bradley is going to get the chance to say the same thing in about ten years.

6. Ichiro Suzuki: Suzuki seems like another guy who belongs to another era, say 1910 (imagine how many more triples Suzuki would have got in the Deadball Era, when massive ballparks were standard.)  At it stands, he’s perhaps the best hitter of this era, steroids or not.  If I could have anyone from the last twenty years in my lineup, I might take Suzuki.

7. Omar Vizquel: I did a Google search on “Omar Vizquel steroids” to see if anything would come up.  There were of course a few blogs speculating he had used, including one in Cleveland that said Vizquel “needs to go back on his 2002 steroid regimen,” a possible explanation for why he hit a career-high 14 home runs that year.  That kind of sounds like sour grapes to me regarding Vizquel, an ex-Indian.  But the top search result, a 2006 Yahoo! Sports article said Vizquel “quietly embodies everything the Steroid Era does not.”  That sounds more apt.

8. Ben Grieve: I wish there were more stories out there like what follows about Grieve.  A book I recently read, Bash Brothers: A Legacy Subpoenaed, finds the former American League Rookie of the Year retired and angry at all the players who used and prospered, while he stayed clean, struggled with injuries and retired early.  “I compare it to stealing money,” Grieve said via email in the book. “You are breaking the rules of baseball (as well as the law) in order to make money for yourself… I’m happy every time a player is accused because it demeans their accomplishments.”

9. Fred McGriff: There are a lot of recent baseball players who put up artificially inflated home run totals.  McGriff is one of the few who probably did it naturally. He is tied with Lou Gehrig with 493 career home runs and never had the surreptitious spike in power numbers that typically accompanied steroid use, I.E. he didn’t bust out with 56 home runs in 1999.  McGriff was a model of consistency in his 19-year career, and I’m a little surprised he hasn’t done better in the Hall of Fame vote (consider him a Veterans Committee pick waiting to happen, if nothing else.)

10. Rico Brogna: I racked my brain trying to come up with a tenth player, and got Brogna, who once told ESPN the Magazine that he considered using steroids late in his career when he was struggling with injuries but chose not to and quit playing shortly thereafter.  In this era, that’s more believable than, “I only took it once.”

A lot of guys didn’t make the list, including Tony Gwynn.  That might sound insane, but Gwynn put up some of his best slugging numbers late in his career, including in 1997 when he hit .372 with 17 home runs and 119 RBI at age 37.  Granted, at 38, Ted Williams had the second-highest slugging percentage, of his career, .731, nearly 100 points above his lifetime rate, and I would bet he didn’t use steroids.  Still, Williams had the luxury of not accomplishing his feat of ageless wonder at the zenith of the Steroid Era.  These days, everyone’s a suspect.

Related posts:

Got $1,000? Jose Canseco will spend a day with you

Seeing McGwire through Rose-colored glasses

Alternate history: If Barry Bonds hadn’t used steroids

16 Comments so far

  1.    Devon & His 1982 Topps blog on January 30, 2010 10:30 pm      

    Oh how I love this listing. I recently noticed that with McGwire coming out, it means that Ryan Howard now holds the record for “clean” highest single season HR total since Maris.

    What about Albert Pujols? I think he’s legit.

  2.    Graham Womack on January 30, 2010 10:37 pm      

    Pujols has vehemently denied ever doing steroids, but so did McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. Pujols is someone I’m on the fence about, just as I am with Howard and even one of my favorite current players, Joe Mauer. Probably no great reason and it’s not especially fair to any current player, but that’s the nature of the game these days.

  3.    Joe on January 31, 2010 11:58 am      

    First person that comes to mind not on this list is Rickey Henderson since you played with Jose. Found this quote:

    A reporter asked Henderson if Ken Caminiti’s estimate that 50 percent of Major League players were taking steroids was accurate. His response was, “Well, Rickey’s not one of them, so that’s 49 percent right there.”

  4.    Graham Womack on January 31, 2010 12:12 pm      

    Rickey’s one of my all-time favorites. I love how long that guy kept on playing, and I came across that quote yesterday. There was also a good one in the Chronicle last year, around the time he got inducted into the Hall of Fame which read something like, “Man, they kept that shit a secret from me. Can you imagine Rickey on steroids? Look out!”
    Henderson probably deserves to be on this list in place of Rico Brogna, as does Jeff Kent, who Bud Selig once quoted in a letter to Donald Fehr, demanding baseball institute a stricter drug policy.

  5.    Joe on January 31, 2010 12:18 pm      

    Haha, that was actually the other quote I was looking for but couldn’t find it. I think that is my favorite of all time.

  6.    Mevs on February 8, 2010 7:45 pm      

    Take it FWIW of course, but I had a coach in college who used to scout for the Cleveland Indians back in the era that Vizquel played there.

    He said that Omar, indeed did use steroids and in batting practice would put on a power display often that would rival the sluggers on the team.

    I personally think Vizquel did use PED’s during his time in Cleveland having watched a lot of his playing time there.

  7.    Graham Womack on February 8, 2010 7:49 pm      

    Thanks for writing.

    To everyone else: You heard it here first!

  8.    Ryan on August 19, 2010 6:59 pm      

    Yeah, Rickey Henerson and Albert Puljos should be on the list. Has anyone seen Puljos workout regiment, it’s insane.

  9.    MarkM on October 19, 2012 8:50 am      

    You forgot Mark McGuire…one of the cleanest players in baseball.

  10.    Walkie73 on October 29, 2012 5:42 pm      

    Albert Belle didn’t do steroids? HAHAHAHAHAAAA!!! That’s hilarious.

  11.    andy on February 10, 2013 12:16 pm      

    George Brett? Very unlikely that he used. Tony Gwynn strikes me as unlikely, too. I’ve been wrong before (Ortiz?), but I hope I’m not about these two.

  12.    Ben on May 13, 2013 6:16 pm      

    You kind of left Chipper Jones out of the list….no big deal or anything.

  13.    Eric on July 23, 2013 4:01 pm      

    Rhyne Sandberg, probably the best all around second baseman to play the game. Andre Dawson, The Hawk, ’nuff said.

  14.    Brian on August 22, 2013 2:36 pm      

    Will Clark. On every team he played for, there was a guilty or heavily suspected star. Without steroids, he’s at least still on the ballot.

  15.    Shane on January 21, 2014 12:11 pm      

    Pretty evident Griffey used especially if you look at his career with Cincinnati.

  16.    jose on August 8, 2014 12:11 pm      

    Jim thome never took steroids

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  • Written by Graham Womack