Ken Griffey Jr. and Hall of Fame-Caliber Players Who Escaped Steroid Era

Gregory John VitaleContributor IIIAugust 17, 2013

Ken Griffey Jr. and Hall of Fame-Caliber Players Who Escaped Steroid Era

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    The Biogenesis scandal has ravaged Major League Baseball's image with suspensions of notable players like Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez for their connections to performance-enhancing drug use. What remaining hope for baseball fans lives on in the apparent innocence of a select few who challenged the record books but have never been implicated in using steroids or other PEDs.

    According to the Baseball Almanac, MLB ballplayers hit an average of 383 home runs per year from 1900 to 1920. In 1921, 937 balls left the yard, an increase of 144 percent. The 1950 season featured over 2,000 home runs for the first time, 1962 broke the 3,000-homer barrier and MLB shot past 4,000 homers in a season in 1987. By 2000, that number had ballooned to an all-time high of 5,693.

    No doubt the sport changed drastically over the course of 80-plus years, but the late 1990s and early 2000s saw relative nobodies turn into superstars seemingly overnight. Players not only continued careers into their 40s, but they were also improving.

    Human bodies are not supposed to age like wine.

    The story of the sport has always been the story of two eras, the dead-ball era (until 1919) and the live-ball era (1920-present), but baseball's cheaters created an era of their very own: the steroid era.

    ESPN sums it up well: "While just three players reached the 50-home run mark in any season between 1961 and 1994, many sluggers would start to surpass that number in the mid-90s." Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa led the home run parade with 50-plus home runs four times each from 1996 to 2001.

    By the time investigators released 2007's Mitchell Report, illegal substances had invaded the game so deeply that it was nearly impossible to separate the clean from the dirty.

    Looking in the rear-view mirror puts it all in perspective. The fact that Hank Aaron never hit 50 home runs in a season is sobering enough.

    However, it's a mistake to brand every player from this era a cheater. It would be unfair to deny innocent athletes a deserving spot in baseball's Hall of Fame merely for bad timing. Instead, those who found a way to stay clean through it all deserve our respect.

    I comprised the following list of 10 players based on their career numbers as well as their absence from any PED reports. They also need to have played a significant number of games from the early 1990s to the early 2000s and must have retired before the start of the 2011 season. Please note a 75 percent vote is required for player induction into the Hall of Fame.

Craig Biggio

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    It's hard to believe Craig Biggio was a catcher when he came up in the Houston Astros organization, but in the 1992 season he became the only player in MLB history to be an All-Star at second base and catcher.

    A perennial leadoff man and staunch competitor, Biggio is second all-time in being hit by a pitch (285), a member of the 3,000-hit club (3,060) and 14th all-time in runs scored (1,844).

    There is no evidence whatsoever to connect Biggio to performance-enhancing drugs, and MLB analysts and professionals consistently cite him as a clean player.

    Eligible in 2013, but only received 68.2 percent of the vote.

Curt Schilling

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    Curt Schilling's career wins (216) and ERA (3.46) are not quite Hall of Fame material, but his postseason record of 11-2 (his .846 playoff winning percentage ranks first among pitchers with at least 10 decisions) and career strikeouts (3,116) make him worth the honor.

    To boot, Schilling was a member of three world championship teams (Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 and Boston Red Sox in 2004 and 2007).

    In addition, Schilling has been perhaps the most vocal player from the steroid era, openly discrediting the accomplishments of those who used and willingly opining that they should never be allowed into the Hall of Fame. Perhaps it goes without saying, then, that Schilling has never been tied to performance-enhancers.

    Eligible in 2013, but only received 38.8 percent of the vote.

Greg Maddux

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    Greg Maddux has a multitude of accolades that make him worthy of the Hall of Fame. He was the first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award four years in row (1992-1995). He is the all-time leader in Gold Gloves at any position with 18. He owns 355 wins, 3,371 strikeouts and a career 3.16 ERA.

    Considered one of the smartest and most humble players to ever take the field, Maddux was a firm believer in control and movement before velocity. He rarely exceeded 90 mph with his fastball. Sabermetrics specialist Bill James deemed Maddux the most underrated player in baseball history in 2009.

    Never very physically impressive, it was not as surprising when Maddux was still pitching with some success in his late 30s. This information, along with his absence from any reports, makes Maddux one of the least likely players to have been a steroid user.

    Eligible in 2014.

Tom Glavine

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    Tom Glavine is one of only six lefties in the 300-win club. Glavine retired with 305 wins, 2,607 strikeouts and two Cy Young Awards. Upstaged by teammate Greg Maddux for much of his career, Glavine still possesses the stats—without a drug record—necessary to make him a Hall of Famer.

    Eligible in 2014.

Mike Mussina

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    Mike "Moose" Mussina led a rather consistent career with the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees from 1991 to 2008.

    Despite being a pitcher in the offensive-rich American League East for the entirety of his career, Mussina bagged 270 wins and 2,813 strikeouts, along with seven Gold Gloves. Though he never won the Cy Young Award, he finished in the top five in voting six times.

    He has never been connected with steroids, and despite not being in the 300-win club or the 3,000-strikeout club, many regard Mussina as a future Hall of Famer.

    Eligible in 2014.

Randy Johnson

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    Arguably the greatest southpaw ever to grace the game with his talent, Randy Johnson, aka "The Big Unit," played 22 seasons in the big leagues with six different teams. A member of both the 300-win and 3,000-strikeout clubs (he finished with 303 and 4,875 respectively), Johnson dominated hitters with his intimidating height, scorching fastball and elusive slider.

    As previously mentioned, Greg Maddux was the first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award four years in a row, but Johnson was the second and last, winning the prestigious honor from 1999 to 2002. Johnson is also the oldest pitcher ever to throw a perfect game (he was 40 when he accomplished the feat for Arizona in 2004).

    Although he is one of many players from the steroid era to play into their 40s, Johnson has never been implicated or even mentioned in steroid accusations.

    Eligible in 2015.

Pedro Martinez

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    Pedro Martinez has the second-best winning percentage of any 200-game winner (behind only Whitey Ford) from the live-ball era. He won three Cy Young Awards, accumulated 3,154 strikeouts, managed the lowest WHIP of the live-ball era and posted the all-time best ERA+ (adjusted for a pitcher's ballpark and league-average ERA) among starters.

    His place in the record books and his absence from substance-abuse allegations suggest his eventual induction into the Hall of Fame.

    Eligible in 2015.

John Smoltz

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    Looking back on his career numbers, John Smoltz has a unique set of accomplishments. This unusual resume is thanks to his conversion to closer from starter after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2001.

    He is the only pitcher in MLB history to have at least 150 saves and 200 wins to his name.

    His 3,084 strikeouts are enough reason to consider him for Cooperstown, but his ability to stay away from performance-enhancers during the steroid era makes his candidacy that much more appealing.

    Eligible in 2015.

Ken Griffey Jr.

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    Inducted into the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame on Aug. 10, Ken Griffey Jr. will likely find himself in Cooperstown before too long as well. "The Kid" stands sixth all-time in career home runs with 630, but unlike Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez (the two modern players ahead of him), he has never been implicated in steroid use.

    An accomplished center fielder, Griffey was known for his acrobatics and earned 10 Gold Gloves in his career. He also stands 15th all-time with 1,836 RBI. The Kid's numbers would be even higher if it weren't for a number of major injuries that limited his playing time.

    Eligible in 2016.

Trevor Hoffman

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    When Trevor Hoffman retired after the 2010 season, he was baseball's all-time saves leader with 601. Now he is second only to Mariano Rivera, who is still adding to his total.

    There is no standard for how many saves qualify as Hall of Fame-worthy (the statistic itself was only recorded beginning in 1969), but Hoffman's success over his 18-year career makes him one of the elite relief men in MLB history. His clean record makes that legacy even more laudable.

    Eligible in 2016.