Let’s begin with a disclaimer – and some background. I’m not claiming that I have evidence the following players used steroids. But there is plenty of evidence that baseball players were doing steroids and/or other performance-enhancing drugs in the 1980s, that a lot more were doing them in the 1990s, and that somewhere around half of the league had taken some type of PED during the past decade. So I think it’s fun to speculate on who hasn’t tested positive but might have taken PEDs. Some of the guys I’ve included on my “team” were named in the Mitchell Report, which we can’t really consider hard evidence. I have mixed feelings about the Mitchell Report. On one hand, it was enlightening stuff because it called attention to the widespread use of PEDs in baseball. But it was also a baseball-and-government-sanctioned witch hunt disguised as due diligence, and it ultimately clouded the steroid issue instead of making it more transparent. It put forth a lot of facts gathered in a variety of ways, but these facts weren’t necessarily proof. And the research wasn’t very thorough, because it clearly picked and chose which players to “out.” Either way, some of the guys from the report made my list.
Others on my list are players who showed glaring statistical anomalies in their production. A few could be considered steroid pioneers – players with rigorous workout programs that existed during a time when steroids were already rampant in gyms. A couple others have repeatedly denied using PEDs, even though not everybody believes them.
I’m fascinated by PEDs, and I was about 10 or 11 when I first heard about steroids and their effects. For me, the obsession started back in the mid-to-late 1980s. Sometime between the 1984 and 1988 Olympic games, the discussion began to gain some steam on a national level, but hadn’t been brought to light within the sacred paradigm of the National Pastime. Soon after that cursory education, a fellow Little Leaguer had a bad allergic reaction to poison ivy – right before one of the regional All-Star games, and many of us started pondering whether his steroid treatments (we didn’t understand the difference between anabolic and corticosteroids) aided his performance during the playoffs. From then on, I couldn’t get the idea of PEDs – and their true effect on athletes – out of my head.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was convinced that both Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco were doing steroids. In McGwire’s case, a simple 1987 to 1989 baseball card comparison steered me to the inescapable conclusion, while in my fledgling young teen mind, Canseco’s twitchy demeanor (as well as his burgeoning physique) indicted him.
Turns out I was right on both accounts, and as I learned more about the workout-steroid relationship and came across dozens of friends and acquaintances who experimented with steroids during the mid-to-late 1990s and beyond, a lot of my instincts seemed to be dead on. While I’m not a doctor, a psychologist, or an investigator, I do think there are a lot more users from the pre-steroid era that used. You don’t get to about 50 percent in 2002 without a few pioneers 15-20 years prior to that peak in PED usage.
Steroids aren’t all bad, and eventually, I believe they’ll be understood on a much higher intellectual level than they are now. Steroids save lives. Human growth hormone can be a very benficial treatment. What baseball – and society – needs more than anything else on this polarizing topic is education. Doctors and athletes need to step forward and admit what’s really going on. Instead, we’ve been treated with kid gloves. Fans have been handed an absentee, self-righteous commissioner in Bud Selig, bombarded with sanctimony from the baseball writers – who couldn’t report what was going on right in front of their faces for various reasons, and swayed the federal government’s poor handling of the issue. I’m not bothered by the “Steroid Era,” nor do I believe PEDs were anything new in baseball in the late 1990s. There are accounts of Dead Ball Era pitcher Pud Galvin shooting up monkey and/or guinea pig testosterone and Babe Ruth injecting himself with an extract from sheep testicles. Players in the 1950s, 60s and 70s ate “greenies” (amphetamines) like it was going out of style. I’m not assigning blame, or recommending shame. I’m just sick of certain players getting exempt while others are vilified.
So, without further ado, let’s get to the All-No-Evidence-of-Steroid-Use-But-I-Kinda-Think-They-Did-‘Em-Team. As far as I know, none of these guys have tested positive for PEDs, but I have a sneaking suspicion they juiced in some capacity during their careers. I have no proof, but follow me, if you will…and take some time out of your day to think outside the box of A-Rod, Manny, Jose, Mark, Sammy and Rafael – and others among the unfairly condemned.
Starting Pitcher – Nolan Ryan
The case for Ryan taking a now-banned substance is pretty good, even if there’s not a shred of hard evidence. In all likelihood, he was a steroid pioneer. A legendary gym rat, Ryan’s career trajectory from age 35-45 greatly resembles that of Roger Clemens, who only got lumped in the steroid controversy after people started tattling on him. Nobody in baseball history pitched as efficiently as Ryan once they were well into middle age, and I’m not buying that it was just hard work and good genes. Being entrenched in the workout culture that Ryan helped propagate is more of an indictment than an alternate explanation. Ryan probably gets a break from the allegations because he bridged the gap between the start of the steroid era and the seemingly “pure” 1980s. Baseball doesn’t like their heroes tarnished, especially when they’re lily-white and already a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Just because nobody was looking in Ryan’s old Texas Rangers locker, doesn’t mean you wouldn’t find PEDs there. It seems foolish to absolve him only because nobody ever asked.
Relief Pitcher – Eric Gagne
Gagne is listed in the Mitchell Report, and there’s a ton of stuff about his relationship with Kirk Radomski, a former New York Mets clubhouse employee, who supplied illegal performance enhancing substances to players until late 2005. There’s a bunch of connected details about syringes, HGH orders and cash payments. And Gagne’s sharp decline once baseball was on top of steroid testing indicates there’s a pretty good chance he was a juicer during his epic run of 84 consecutive save conversions.
Catcher – Mike Piazza
Allegations that Piazza used steroids have been a touchy subject. In “The Rocket That Fell to Earth,” Jeff Pearlman gives us an account of Piazza’s legendary steroid use from former major-leaguer Reggie Jefferson, another (unnamed) player, and at least one reporter, who said Piazza admitted to him he used steroids in “limited doses.” Then, there’s the Murray Chass/New York Times/Bacne scandal. As crusty a reporter as Chass is, I’m inclined to agree that a rampant case of back acne, which coincided with Piazza’s prime, along with a rapid statistical descent (as well as a clear back) coinciding with the advent of steroid testing in MLB, is a bit suspicious.
Backup Catcher – Todd Hundley
From the Mitchell Report: “Radomski stated that, beginning in 1996, he sold Deca-Durabolin and testosterone to Hundley on three or four occasions. At the beginning of that year, Radomski told Hundley that if he used steroids, he would hit 40 home runs. Hundley hit 41 home runs in 1996, having never hit more than 16 in any prior year. After the season, Radomski said, Hundley took him out to dinner.” Yeah. For me, the damning sentence involves Todd Freaking Hundley hitting 41 dingers in one season.
First Base – Jeff Bagwell
Much has been written lately about Bagwell and steroids, and I think it’s likely he used. Bryant Gumbel lumped Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez and Nomar Garciappara in his “Open Letter to Mark McGwire” about coming clean, and Bagwell’s HOF snub was attributed to the not-totally-unfounded belief that his heavily muscled body wasn’t 100 percent “natural.” Again – I don’t care if he used PEDs. Whether he did or not, Bagwell deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
Second Base – Bret Boone
During Boone’s first six seasons (1992-1997) he never hit more than 15 home runs. In 1998, he smashed 24. In 2001, he pounded 37 home runs and knocked in 141 runs. He had 206 hits which to that point was 51 more than his career high. The next couple years, he continued his high-level production, and in 2005, his final season, he hit just seven home runs and drove in 37. I’m not the first to allege that Boone was probably a user, and I probably won’t be the last. What I don’t like is his vehement denial.
Third Base – Chipper Jones
Jones smashed a lot of homers during the late 1990s in what was a premier pitcher’s park, and he was surrounded by confirmed steroid users for a few of his peak seasons. He’s never been named, but if you’re going around impregnating Hooters waitresses while you’re married, what’s to stop you from adding a little pharmaceutical pop to your bat?
Shortstop – Rich Aurilia
Take a gander at Aurilia’s 2001 numbers, when Barry Bonds’ trainer Greg Anderson was in the Giants’ clubhouse all the time. ‘Nuff said.
Left Field – Luis Gonzalez
Speaking of 2001 numbers…is this obvious enough for you?
Center Field – Carl Everett
I can’t say that Carl Everett did steroids for sure. I also can’t say that dinosaurs existed, because I’ve never seen one. Let’s forget, for the moment, that Everett is a willfully ignorant boob and notoriously vitriolic homophobe. In 1999, he hit 25 home runs and had a .969 OPS with the Astros. In 2000, he hit 34 home runs OPSed .959 with the Red Sox. Carl Everett was not that good, period. The only evidence that he didn’t use is that he might not be smart enough.
Right Field – Richard Hidalgo
Another former Astro with a season that sticks out like sore thumb is Hidalgo (not Viggo Mortensen’s horse, but a decidedly uninspiring baseball player). In 2000, hit 44 HRs, drove in 122, and put up an otherworldly 1.028 OPS. He had a couple of productive years other than that, but nothing even close to that remarkable 2000 anomaly.
Fourth Outfielder – Brian Giles
Before 1999, Giles was a decent outfielder with a combination of decent power and speed, but after the epic 1998 HR chase, his numbers exploded. From 1999-2002, he OPSed 1.032, 1.026, .994 and 1.072. His statistical decline, which coincided with the start of MLB testing, was pretty abrupt, and in 2006, his OPS was down to a pedestrian .771.
Am I recommending that all of these players records be stricken? No. Do I want baseball or the government to start another investigation into steroid use based on shady statistics? Nope. Do I believe any or all of these players should be removed from Hall of Fame consideration based on the suspicion of PED-aided campaigns? Certainly not. Do I recommend that we all strive to learn a little more about performance enhancers…and ponder why (or why not) certain players are absolved from steroid allegations? Of course we should.
Antonio D’Arcangelis is a fantasy baseball and football writer from Upstate New York. He’s written for Fanhouse.com and Rotoexperts.com, among several other sites, with columns syndicated on SI.com and Yahoo.com. Antonio has 10 years experience as a fantasy writer and currently provides content for DraftBuddy.com, FFToday.com and FanDuel.com.