We can’t forget the unsung contributors to the Steroid Era—the poor schmucks who nabbed obscene power numbers for a couple of seasons, then faded back into oblivion after a big payday.
For many baseball fans, Barry Bonds rounding the bases on a cold San Francisco night after crushing number 756 is the lasting image of the Steroid Era. For others, it’s the frozen rope to left McGwire hit off Steve Trachsel for number 62 in 1998, with rival Sammy Sosa sprinting in from right field to envelop him in a congratulatory hug.
For those who didn’t witness these events live, the word steroids conjures up images of Sosa, McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro sitting before members of Congress, pointing fingers, spouting half-truths, and deflecting blame.
These fallen icons, blackballed from the Hall with their legacies muddied, bear the burden of unofficial banishment from baseball. McGwire, Sosa, Clemens, Palmeiro—they were perennial All-Stars, many on the fast track to Cooperstown, who used PEDs to take their game to previously unimaginable heights. They’re the ones who blew it for everyone else, raising eyebrows as record after record swiftly fell. They couldn’t live with being merely great. For whatever reason—ego, narcissism, competitiveness—they wanted to be the best ever.
And the record setters were only half the story. We can’t forget the unsung contributors to the Steroid Era—the poor schmucks who nabbed obscene power numbers for a couple of seasons, then faded back into oblivion after a big payday. In some cases, players who had no business even being in the league were garnering MVP votes, all thanks to absurd amounts of PEDs and a complete lack of concern for any long-term health effects.
Numbers alone weren’t enough to qualify the players for this list. We looked for shockingly terrible pre-steroids years, precipitous drop-offs once testing started, and ignominious exits from the game when their bodies completely deteriorated. Bonus points if their steroid-inflated seasons occurred in their mid-30s, after an unremarkable 12 years in the league.
The strange thing is, we can identify with these guys. Sure, they had a cancerous effect on the great American pastime. But we think of impoverished Dominicans desperate to support their families, or borderline Major Leaguers pining for that big break, or veteran athletes with mediocre careers who dream of just one shot at stardom—and before we shake our heads in disgust, we marvel at their reckless abandon.
Catcher: Todd Hundley
When the Mitchell Report came out, it was no surprise to find Todd Hundley featured prominently as not only a user, but also as someone who brought other players into the steroid fold. According to the report, Hundley introduced PEDs to teammates Paul Lo Duca and Chris Donnels after a trade to the Dodgers.
Steroids made, then destroyed, Hundley’s career. This sort of legendary steroid abuse, coupled with awful drug-free years, left him as a mere afterthought in the annals of baseball has-beens.
First Baseman: Phil Nevin
In his first season with the Padres, he hit 27 home runs. Then 34. Then 41. All of a sudden, the huge draft bust, the guy who the Astros were dumb enough to select over Derek Jeter, was fulfilling his potential.
Is it any surprise, then, that Nevin, fresh off his 40-home-run season, opposed testing?
“I do believe that the mind-altering drugs and that stuff should be looked into,” Nevin told Sports Illustrated in 2002. “But I’m not too sure about steroids. It’s a touchy subject. I’d say, if a guy wants to abuse his body that way, that’s his business. That’s his problem. We’re all grown men.”
Second Baseman: Bret Boone
“Your whole life, [baseball] is … not exactly what defines you—but it’s all I’ve done my whole life,” explained Boone. “You’re Bret Boone, the second baseman, and all of a sudden you’re not that guy anymore.”
Boone’s struggle to come to terms with his departure from the game further illustrates why some players turn to performance enhancers at certain points in their career. For many, it’s the only way to prolong a love and way of life that, all of a sudden, is fading and flickering before their eyes.
Shortstop: Rich Aurilia
Rich Aurilia never tested positive for steroids. If he did use PEDs, like most, he’ll probably never come forward and admit it, either. What we do know, though, is that he shared a clubhouse with one of the most (if not the most) prolific ‘roiders of the dark Steroid Era.
We also know that he’ll be manning the shortstop position on our All-Steroids team. At the very least, this team needs somebody with Barry’s number on speed dial.
Third Baseman: Ken Caminiti
In 2002, three years before Jose Canseco’s landmark tell-all book about the insidious steroid underworld in baseball, former National League MVP Ken Caminiti admitted to Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci that he had used PEDs for years. The magazine made it their cover story, and America learned just how prevalent the stuff had become in their favorite teams’ clubhouses. In the interview, the third baseman estimated that half the players in baseball used some form of steroids.
Two years later, Caminiti died of a probable cocaine overdose in New York. He was 41 years old.
Outfielder: Gary Matthews Jr.
In the years leading up that season, Matthews had hopped from one club to the next—playing for six teams in total—scraping by on one-year contracts and shuttling between AAA and the majors. In other words, his career was hanging on by a thread. His average season? A woefully pedestrian 104 games, 8 HR, 34 RBI, .249 BA, and .723 OPS. Playing in the shadow of his father, 1972 National League Rookie of the Year and four-time all-star Gary “Sarge” Matthews, “Lil’ Sarge,” now 31, hadn’t materialized into anything more than a career journeyman.
But a slumping starting center fielder, a sprinkle of HGH, and a spectacular catch changed everything.
Outfielder: Brady Anderson
Anderson was different. A 6′1″, 170-pound outfielder, he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox out of UC-Irvine in the 10th round of the 1985 draft. After some success in the minors, he broke in with the big league club in 1988, before being flipped to the Baltimore Orioles (with a young, hard-throwing righty named Curt Schilling) for middle reliever Mike Boddicker. By the 1992 season, Anderson had established himself as the Orioles’ starting center fielder. Exhibiting great speed (he stole 52 bases in his first full season) and playing solid defense, he was a serviceable, if unremarkable, major league player.
Then, in 1996, Brady Anderson hit 50 home runs.
Outfielder: Jay Gibbons
The Orioles finished fourth in the AL East and Gibbons was rewarded with a four-year, $16 million contract. (Hey, in those days, $16 million was a lot of money.) Of course, as soon as that contract’s ink was dry, Gibbons plummeted to .246/10/47. At age 27, Jay Gibbons’ body was worn out. Little injuries, big injuries, whatever.
Add to that Gibbons’ surly demeanor and you’ve got a real winner. A famously bad outfielder, Gibbons thought his defensive skills were underrated and didn’t mind complaining to the newspaper about it. Never a clubhouse leader, Gibbons followed guys like Kevin Millar and when they complained about playing time, Gibbons did too.
Utility Man: Jay Bell
The tipping point for Bell’s inclusion on this list was his 1999 season. Arizona added light-hitting (up to this point, at least) outfielder Luis Gonzalez, who was also coming off his first-ever 20-home-run season at age 31. Bell and Gonzalez in the same clubhouse turned out to be a match made in theoretical steroid heaven, as balls started flying out of Bank One Ballpark at an unprecedented rate. Unable to maintain his range at shortstop after adding so much bulk, Bell shifted over to second base.
He put up an absurd .289/38/112 line, slugging .557 at age 33, after never topping .440 for the first 13 years of his career. Gonzalez, too, would put together a ridiculous stretch of power seasons in his late career, topping out at 57 home runs in 2001.
Designated Hitter: David Ortiz
Ortiz conducted a press conference where, flanked by representatives from the Major League Baseball Players Association, he denied ever having taken steroids and assured us that more answers would be coming.
Some called it a charade. The rest of us gave him the benefit of the doubt. So we waited. And waited some more. And some more. Where was the full explanation? How could this have happened? Where was the evidence that exonerated him? What was it, exactly, that the slugger tested positive for?
Eighteen months later, we’re still patiently waiting for answers. Until they come, we have no choice but to slot him in as our DH.
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