When you talk about the top sluggers in baseball during the late '90s and early 2000s, almost everyone can be linked to performance-enhancing drugs. Names like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez have all been linked to steroids or PEDs in some way.
Between the aforementioned names, there is a whopping 3,725 career home runs. It is interesting to try and predict how many home runs were actually a result of the use of substances that are now banned from the game.
Despite all these top players' reputations being tarnished because of PEDs, there is one player who was on all of their levels without having to cheat. That player is Ken Griffey Jr.
Griffey was once the biggest star in baseball. He was the face of his sport and an icon almost on the same level as Michael Jordan.
Despite being one of the greatest talents and players the sport has ever seen, Griffey's legacy took a hit not because of using a substance that gave him an unfair advantage, but because of the cheating that went on around him. On account of all the players who were abusing PEDs and ballooning their statistics to levels that haven't been reached before, Griffey's incredible stats aren't recognized as highly.
Junior had very impressive but realistic numbers throughout his prime. Then injuries and getting older caused him to slowly decline, which is supposed to happen. But because we were seeing players use substances to prolong their careers, stay healthy, recover faster and inflate their stats, Griffey doesn't get the acknowledgement that he deserves.
From 1996-2000, Griffey averaged 50 homers, 137 RBI and won the AL MVP award in 1997. In 1998, he was neck and neck with McGwire and Sosa in the home run race. He had 31 home runs halfway through the season and 35 at the All-Star break.
However, Griffey ended the season with only 56 homers and wasn't able to keep up with Big Mac and Slammin' Sammy...for whatever reason.
But what if had decided to juice? What if Griffey had used the same PEDs that McGwire, Sosa and Bonds used?
Maybe Griffey would have hit 71 home runs in 1998 or 74 in 2001. Maybe he would have 763 career home runs.
From 1993-2000, Griffey's yearly home run totals were 45, 40, 17 (injury), 49, 56, 56, 48 and 40, for a total of 351. PEDs could have made those totals look more like 53, 50, 30, 59, 65, 67, 60, 54, for a total of 438. That is 87 more homers, which would have increased his career total to 717.
Bonds was a player with a world of talent. In his first 14 seasons, Bonds hit .288, with a .559 SLG and averaged 32 homers and 93 RBI a season. In 1999, he hit .262 in 102 games and it looked like he was beginning to go into a decline to the end of his career.
Then something changed and at at the age of 35, Bonds' career took off. His average home runs jumped to 52 a season from 2000-2004 while his SLG was .781 during the time. That is almost roughly a 36 percent increase in home runs and a 28 percent jump in slugging.
Average Stats (35-39 Years Old):
At a time when Bonds should have been declining, he was able to blow up and reach new levels.
If Griffey had chosen to use PEDs, it's possible his career could have gotten a jolt similar to Bonds. If you compare the first half of both of their careers, Griffey put up better power numbers than Bonds. So maybe Griffey could have had similar seasons to Bonds at the end of his career if he chose to use PEDs.
It would definitely be interesting to see what numbers Griffey would have been able to put up if he decided to cheat. Would 800 career homers be out of the realm of possibility? Either way, he should be commended and praised for his decision to stay clean. Griffey was a bright spot in a dark time for the sport of baseball.