Cleaning Up the Steroid Era: 10 Hitters Who Excelled Without Performance Enhancing Drugs
It's become a weekly ritual for a star-caliber baseball player to be accused of steroid use. More often than not, the accusations ring true and a former baseball star becomes disgraced and disdained.
Ironically, baseball players seem to follow the same actions when they are accused of dishonorable behavior. They simply follow the "Steroid Steps To Success."
1 - Deny, Deny, Deny --- No matter what the media, player, family, trainers, dealers, celebrities, and world leaders say--- you didn't do it. Until they come out with Phelps-esque damning evidence, fight it to the end.
2 - When you admit to steroid use, do so in the most minimal time frame possible --- If you tested positive in April 2003, tell the media that you tried steroids only once in your life... it just happened to be in April 2003 (and of course you never tried it again).
You never counted on steroids for success, it was just a fluke that you were tested the only time that you tried it. Don't worry about the truth, just stick to your story. Guys like Brian Roberts have used this strategy to perfection, so it has to work.
These steroid allegations and admissions have taken their toll on the game. While baseball experienced a renaissance of sorts in the mid to late 1990s, it did so at a price.
Offensive statistics exploded as the premiere hitters in baseball produced unprecedented clips of power numbers.
Home run records were broken regularly. Roger Maris' single-season record fell to Mark McGwire in 1998, McGwire's single-season record consequently fell to Barry Bonds in 2001, and ultimately Bonds surpassed Hank Aaron as the all-time Home Run King in 2007.
All of these are great examples of "Steroid Era" players with "Steroid Era" statistics. However, lost in the fray of needles and pills are the players who produced high-caliber results without performance enhancing drugs.
With star players joining the steroid ranks every week, I find it fitting to pay homage to the players who survived the Steroid Era with their integrity intact.
The following players, in my opinion, are baseball players who produced star-caliber resumes in baseball's Steroid Era without the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
OF Johnny Damon
Long before Johnny Damon's caveman days in Boston, he spent time with two offensively challenged ballclubs: the Kansas City Royals and the Oakland Athletics.
While the teams never filled out the win column very prolifically, Damon's solid play earned him the status of an impact player. Consistency is crucial when determining which players possibly used steroids and which players did not.
In Johnny Damon's case, consistency is his greatest attribute.
Throughout his career, Damon has provided virtually the same stat line every year. He is a career .289 hitter, and every year he hits around 15-20 home runs, drives in around 70-90 runs and steals anywhere from 10 to 40 bases.
While he may not be liked in a number of cities (mostly for leaving several different ballclubs on bad terms), no one can doubt that Damon has been a consistent player with an immense amount of natural talent.
OF Ken Griffey Jr.
"The Kid" was one of baseball's greatest talents in the 1990s, and had it not been for a number of injuries following his move to Cincinnati, Griffey could have gone down as the greatest player in Major League history.
While Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire dueled for the National League home run title (and consequently the Major League home run title), Griffey seemed content to take home AL honors every year.
From 1993-2000, Griffey parked 40 or more home runs in every full season he played. While he provided incredible offensive numbers, no abnormal trends exist to suggest that The Kid used anything but god-given talent to become on of baseball's elite players.
OF Vladimir Guerrero
You know someone is good when they become an All-Star, Silver Slugger, and Gold Glover while playing in Montreal. Guerrero torched opposing pitching in Montreal, hitting 34 or more home runs in each full season spent there.
Guerrero has a rocket arm, a vicious bat, and earlier in his career he was a consistent threat on the basepaths (he is a 35/35 member, but fell one home run short of the 40/40 club in 2002).
While Guerrero provides instant offense wherever he plays, no one has ever doubted that he anything but a natural athlete. He arrived at Expos spring training at the age of 19 and developed into one of the greatest all-around outfielders in the game of baseball.
Through his entire career, he has yet to be named in any steroid scandals.
1B Todd Helton
One of the true class-acts in all of baseball, Todd Helton serves as a poster-boy for the Colorado Rockies organization.
Consistency has never been a forte of his (his career home run numbers regularly jump up, down, and sideways) but Helton used a combination of excellent hitting prowess and his hometown Coors Field to turn himself into one of baseball's elite hitters of the last decade.
Helton is such an upstanding individual off the field that few dare to throw his name into the steroid ring, but even if they tried the case against Helton would be weak.
Helton has been such a consistent hitter that 2008 marked the first time in a decade that he hit below .300 for an entire season.
Consistency is key, and while his power numbers jump back and forth, he has been one of the most steady hitters in baseball over the last decade.
SS Derek Jeter
Everything inside of me hates the New York Yankees, but I have had nothing but respect for Derek Jeter ever since he entered the big leagues.
While he is the face of the most morally fluctuating franchise in all of American sports, Jeter has projected nothing but poise and class to the fans and the media since his arrival in New York.
He holds several postseason records (you would too if you played in it every year), but he is most notable for his steady defensive play and consistent offensive output.
His numbers have never been gaudy, but the Yankees can count on him to be arguably the most productive No.2 hitter in all of baseball. A career .316 hitter, Jeter has a career high of only 24 home runs, but he gets on base and scores buckets of runs whenever the Yankees need it most.
Evil empire? Yes. Evil emperor? Yes. But Derek Jeter has been exactly the kind of player baseball needs throughout his entire career, despite playing for the ever-so-hated Yankees.
3B Chipper Jones
I have three friends that I know of who would be placed on suicide watch if Larry Jones ever tested positive for steroids. Chipper is another franchise player who carried the Braves through a plethora of postseason appearances and one world title.
Jones, like Derek Jeter, has never put up awe-inspiring power numbers. His home runs tend to hover around 30-35 per season (except for his 1999 MVP campaign in which he belted 45), and his career .310 batting average shows that he knows how to take care of himself at the dish.
Health has been the only thing to drag Chipper down, as he has missed significant playing time each of the last six seasons. Other than health issues, Chipper has no hindrances to be found, especially not any involving performance-enhancing drugs.
If one were to look for a steroid user, Jones would not be a likely candidate. His offensive production has been constant throughout his career, both in power and control.
DH Edgar Martinez
Edgar Martinez played 18 seasons for the Seattle Mariners (1987-2004), playing right through the heart of the Steroid Era.
Instead of experiencing exponentially greater offensive production in this time, Martinez established himself as one of the most consistent Designated Hitters in baseball.
Instead of earning the title of a power hitter, Martinez consistently drove balls to the gaps, earning him the nickname Senor Doble (Mr. Double) from Mariner fans.
Martinez's offensive production was one of the most consistent in baseball. His batting average remained stellar every season, while his power numbers rarely experienced peaks and valleys.
Martinez batted over .300 in all ten full seasons he played between 1990-2001, and from 1995-99 Martinez hit between 24-30 home runs every season.
Edgar Martinez has received little speculation about steroid use. His consistent batting average and minimal power output diminished any suspicion concerning him using performance-enhancing drugs.
Instead, Martinez will be remembered as one of the greatest pure hitters to ever play the game.
OF Manny Ramirez
Manny being Manny had to come from somewhere. Throughout his career, Manny Ramirez has been mired in numerous controversies, but has always proven one thing: the guy can rake.
While producing exceptional power numbers, they have never been outlandish enough to garner suspicion about steroid use. Instead, Manny Ramirez has been a virtual hitting machine since entering the Major League.
In fact, Ramirez is a career .314 hitter who has never hit lower than .292 in a full season. Unbelievable.
Manny can be a distraction, a nuisance, and a selfish player when he wants to be. But Ramirez has never disappointed when he steps to the dish. Instead, he has been a one-man hitting clinic over the last fifteen years, and looks to continue that pattern down the road.
Yes, Manny did hit a ton of home runs in the Steroid Era. However, he has never hit more than 45, and his power consistency, coupled with an annual batting average over .300, shows that Manny Ramirez is not a product of steroids, he is a product of his own hard work and incredible natural talent.
OF Ichiro Suzuki
If I had to accuse Ichiro Suzuki of using performance enhancing drugs, I would start by testing his right arm. While he is known throughout baseball for his incredible hit totals and staggering batting averages, Ichiro Suzuki's most impressive characteristic may be his defensive capabilities.
That being said, there is no case to be made for Ichiro using performance enhancing drugs.
As previously mentioned, the greatest way to dispel steroid rumors is to show a consistent pattern of excellent play, which limits the possibility of one "breakout" year being turned against a player's career statistics. This is also known as a "steroid year," which Adrian Beltre can inform anyone about.
In eight major league seasons, Ichiro Suzuki has never hit less than 200 hits, scored less than 100 runs, compiled less than a .300 batting average, or stolen less than 30 bases.
In short, the man is a machine. Couple this with Gold-Glove defense, and you have an offense/defense package that even makes the aforementioned Vladimir Guerrero jealous.
Ichiro has done nothing in the Major Leagues but perform. Any doubt as to the nature of this performance should be met solely with frustration that there is only one Ichiro Suzuki for this league to enjoy.
Say what you will, but Ichiro Suzuki is a freak athlete who can slap the baseball wherever he likes, drive the baseball out of the park, and even throw a 95mph fastball (Japan is planning on using him as an emergency reliever in this year's World Baseball Classic).
If there were more than one Ichiro Suzuki in the baseball world, it would be a scary place.
OF Bernie Williams
This list closes with another "Mr. Yankee." Bernie Williams came up in the New York Yankees organization, spending all 16 years of his career in pinstripes. While Williams never produced flashy offensive numbers, his play was All-Star caliber.
From 1995-2002, Bernie Williams never batted under .300 for a season. Additionally, he usually hit around 25 home runs, drove in around 100 RBI and scored around 100 runs each year in this run.
It should come as no surprise that the Yankees went to five World Series in these years, winning four of them (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000).
Williams was one of the most upstanding players in baseball, and similar to Derek Jeter he maintained a level of off-the-field class despite playing for a truly hated ballclub.
His numbers never warranted steroid debate, but this list is to find players who produced good numbers without the help of steroids.
While his numbers were not elite, they were great for the time, considering the fact that he never used performance-enhancing drugs.