Steroid Sluggers: The Major League Home Run Hitting Offenders
The Steroid Era in Major League Baseball
I'm not sure anyone can say with absolute certainty who the first major league baseball player was to use steroids. It can't be determined where, when, or who it all began with. I will say that the steroid era got started in 1986, the year Jose Canseco won the American League Rookie Of The Year award. There can be little doubt that his success influenced his young teammate, Mark McGwire. The very next year, McGwire won the Rookie Of The Year award himself.
In that same year as well, there was another guy who played his first full season. Barry Bonds was spectacular for many seasons before he ever used steroids. Were it not for the money and limelight players like Canseco, Sosa, and McGwire got, he'd probably have never used them at all. The same could be said for quite a lot of the others who used and abused PEDs. The biggest damage of steroid use may be on the young and impressionable admirers who mimic these successful athletes.
Jose Canseco was featured with his brother Ozzy in a Sports Illustrated article. The piece did not talk about how they were great baseball players, but rather how far they could sometimes hit a baseball. Hitting a home run on occasion was no longer enough. The bar was raised and now everyone wanted to hit more further and frequently.
Will steroid use ever truly end? Probably not. There's just too much money to be made for a slugger to not use them. The real problem is the motivation to cheat and the lack of a true stigma or punishment for it. It's a classic cat-and-mouse game in regards to drug testing. As soon as one substance is banned and a test is developed for it, a chemist somewhere will find another substance that is not yet technically banned or tested for.
The players listed here are the biggest names from the BALCO scandal. They are the big shots that hit long shots and are now even longer shots to ever make it into the MLB Hall of Fame.
Canseco has admitted that his entire career has been a steroids experiment. I can certainly admire his candid honesty.
He has made it plain and simple—he wanted to be the very best in baseball. He knew other people were using steroids, so he felt he also had to use them to be able to compete. Ignore the fact that he basically promoted their use. He was making big money, and the fans ate it up. He was a star that delivered what the fans wanted to see.
His success at batting led to everyone aiming not only for more home runs but also bigger ones. People started caring for the numbers on the tape measure just as much as the numbers on the scoreboard.
Another thing Canseco accomplished was luring fans to the ballparks an hour or so before the games. They wanted to see the home run spectacle during his batting practice. I was able to witness it. I went to a game with my family at the old Arlington Stadium when the Oakland Athletics had come to play my Texas Rangers. We got there early and saw the displays of power from Canseco and McGuire. I recall my dad, who was much younger and much larger than I am now, leaping for a Canseco batting practice home run. He almost had it. He was able to touch the ball but it was hit so hard that it popped right out of his hand and into someone else's.
In terms of accomplishments, Jose Canseco was the first player to ever get 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases in a single season. He also hit the longest home run ever seen in Toronto's Skydome. In the end though, it was all due to cheating. The fact that everyone else was cheating doesn't justify what Jose did. He's a farce, a cheat, a bully, and an occasional violent criminal. He's not Hall of Fame material.
In the end, he will forever be remembered as the man who fueled the disgrace of the steroid era. Perhaps also as the guy who once let a ball bounce off his head for a home run.
Jose Canseco Hits One Into the Fourth Deck in Toronto's Skydome
Mark McGwire can be thought of as the star pupil of Jose Canseco. He soaked up all his knowledge and reached higher peaks in the realm of steroid wisdom. He exceeded all of Canseco's achievements by a mile. The duo were known as the Bash Brothers, a modern day Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. The difference is that they relied on steroids rather than hard work and skill.
During his rookie season with the Oakland Athletics in 1987, McGwire was tall and skinny. Ten years later, he'd look like he gained another 75 pounds of solid muscle. Fans know one of the biggest jokes in the sport is the weight of the players that are listed on baseball cards and programs. Big Mac's official size was listed at 6'5" and 215 lbs. Feel free to laugh, I'm sure they weighed him during his fist season and never bothered to do it again even after growing bigger.
In his career, he would hit a total of 583 home runs. He achieved that total in fewer at bats than anyone else. He retired after the 2001 season due to problems with his vision. This was likely due to the use of anabolic steroids, something he'd finally admit to using in 2010.
Mark McGwire Admits, Apologizes for Steroid Use
If there was ever a player in Major League Baseball who didn't need to cheat to win multiple MVP awards and make it into the Hall of Fame, it was Barry Bonds. He was easily one of the most talented men to ever play the game of baseball. His early seasons of greatness were untainted by illegal drug use. However, he's forever going to be known as the all-time home run king with an asterisk next to his title.
Bonds was a 14-time All Star and holds the record for most MVP awards at seven. His biggest claim to fame is holding the all-time records for home runs in a season and in a career. These numbers would normally be an easy ticket into the Hall of Fame. However, he was nowhere near close to getting voted into Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility in 2013.
It is widely speculated that Bonds started using steroids and other performance enhancing drugs in 1998. Why would he start using then? Well, the 1998 season was when McGwire and Sammy Sosa spent all summer racing each other to see who would set the new seasonal home run record. Both would eclipse Roger Maris' record. Bonds wanted in on the glory. He would go on to shatter the steroid-fueled McGwire record with one of his own. If you look at his statistics from 1998, he's still a Hall of Fame player. However, no matter how many times he's said he didn't cheat, we all know perfectly well that he did.
If there is anything more offensive than Barry Bonds refusing to admit to using steroids in the face of the mountains of evidence, then it is Sammy Sosa using corked bats in addition to steroids. The incident was caught on television and took cheating to a whole new level. Slammin' Sammy certainly wasn't the only player to cheat but his case is the most insulting when he claimed it was all just an honest mistake. He said he mistakenly grabbed that corked bat, a bat he supposedly used only in batting practice.
It's deeply insulting how he thinks we are idiots. He claimed to be drug-free in 2005 when he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2003. Sosa finished his career right where he started it, with the Texas Rangers. He finished with 609 career home runs. For three seasons, he hit more than the steroid-free Roger Maris record of 61 in a season.
To be clear, I have never taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs. I have never injected myself or had anyone inject me with anything. I have not broken the laws of the United States or the laws of the Dominican Republic. I have been tested as recently as 2004, and I am clean.— Sammy Sosa in 2005 before the US congress
When Rafael Palmeiro first made it to the major leagues with the Chicago Cubs, he was never someone you would imagine having over 500 home runs and steroid suspicions hanging over his head. I recall being very joyful when I heard the Texas Rangers had acquired Palmeiro. What a terrific hitter for my team to have!
He was just what we needed for his first few seasons, a first baseman who never missed a ground ball and a left-handed hitter who could always be counted on to hit line drives. Palmeiro proved to be a great player for Texas, and then for Baltimore; he would trade between these teams two more times in his career. During his first stint with the Rangers, it became clear he was emerging as a player who could hit the long ball with increasing regularity.
He just didn't look like a steroid user. His body never became a hulking mass of muscle, it just got a tad bit larger. He never had acne, vision trouble, or fits of roid rage. But after Canseco retired, he bragged that he'd personally injected Palmeiro with steroids. Palmeiro would later test positive for an anabolic steroid called stanozolol.
He would retire after the 2005 season, and he'd do so after recording over 3,000 hits and 569 home runs. He'd then take a job promoting another performance enhancing drug. This one was for a different kind of playing field; he became a spokesman for Viagra.
Lying for the Camera
Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez, often referred to as A-Rod, is a man that never needed a chemical to cheat. He had the skills to be a Hall of Fame-caliber player. Money is what A-Rod will be remembered for. It's what comes to mind before his spectacular statistics or even his admission to steroid use on national television. He even blamed his use of PEDs on the pressure to make so much money.
In 2000, he signed a 10 year contract with the Texas Rangers for $252 million dollars. The next three years, he put up astounding offensive numbers and played well on defense as well. He'd win two American League MVP awards in a row. After his third year of raising his offensive stats, he went to the New York Yankees. Rodriguez raised his annual salary from $25 million to $31 million.
Rodriguez admitted to steroid use while he played for the Rangers. The problem I have with this is that he implies that he stopped when he got to the New York Yankees. This seems pretty doubtful. A note of interest is that, with the exception of Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, every player on this list has had a stint with the Texas Rangers. It is interesting that the organization has not shouldered any type of responsibility or taken any criticism for potentially being a major part of the steroid scandal.
So how good has Rodriguez been as a player? Well, he's the youngest person to ever get to 500 home runs in a career. He's also the youngest person to ever get to 600 home runs in a career. He saw a major drop in performance during his last few seasons, a possible indication that steroids had finally taken their toll on him.
After failing a drug test for the third time in his career, Manny Ramirez chose to retire rather than serve a 100 game suspension. Later in 2012, he was arrested in a domestic violence incident. He had been trying to make a comeback to the MLB.
How good was Manny Ramirez? During his 18 year career, he was voted to the All Star team 12 times, won nine Silver Sugger awards, two Hank Aaron awards, and was a World Series MVP. He led the American League in RBIs and home runs on one occasion each. He also had the league batting crown with an average of .349. He led the AL in slugging percentage three times. He finished with 555 career home runs and 1831 RBIs.
How many years was he juiced? Only Manny knows.
Juan Alberto González Vázquez was at one time the single best offensive player in all of baseball. I saw Juan on television when he was 19 years old. He hit a baseball into the second deck in the left field of the old Yankee Stadium. It was the biggest hit anyone had seen there in a long time. Juan looked like he barely weighed 180 pounds at the time.
In 1992, Jose Canseco was traded to the Texas Rangers where Gonzalez played. When he started using steroids is unclear, but Canseco flung Juan's name around all throughout his book. I believe it is likely that Jose turned Juan on to steroids.
Gonzalez appeared larger and stronger than Canseco over the years. But after the 2001 season, his never-ending injuries took their toll on him. He'd finish his career in Texas with 434 home runs, over 1400 RBIs, and two AL MVP awards.
It's my opinion that Gonzalez had more raw talent than even Barry Bonds. If there is a lesson in all of this, it is that Bonds was perhaps smarter than all of these other guys. He started taking steroids much later in his career and his body suffered less for it.
Jason Gilbert Giambi is another case of a guy who put up outstanding offensive numbers for several consecutive seasons. He's also another guy who will likely never be forgiven by the Baseball Writers Association.
While he never led the AL in home runs, he did win an AL MVP award in 2000. He also lived in the limelight while playing for some big franchise teams and in a lot of postseason games. He charmed youngsters with his tattoos and his heavy metal star looks. He seemed like a very nice guy. He finished his career with 429 home runs and over 1400 RBI's.
Miguel Odalis Tejada won an MVP award in 2002 simply because nobody wanted to see Alex Rodriguez win three in a row. It helped that the Athletics were great that year and the Rangers were not. Tejada was a good hitter and a terrific fielder who probably wouldn't have been involved in the steroid scandal were it not for Rafael Palmeiro snitching him out like a bitch.
The faces and the names just go on, and on, and on. I could never list them all here. PEDs are hardly the only substances used either. Manny Ramirez's third bust wasn't for steroids, but actually for a female fertility drug. It is given to men who seek to restart testosterone production in their system after finishing a steroid cycle. Baseball has an amphetamine problem, and even a Ritalin problem as well.
When our sporting heroes are rewarded incredible wealth for cheating, how could we expect a sporting culture that is any different from shady politicians and business leaders?
Will it ever matter to these players if they don't make it to the Hall Of Fame after they've earned hundreds of millions of dollars in their career? Hell no! They're happy to trade the plaques and ceremonies for big paydays. Until the money stops going to the cheaters in baseball, things won't change.
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© 2013 Wesman Todd Shaw