The Perfect Nine: MLB's Greatest "Clean" Hitters of the Steroids Era
Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Miguel Tejada, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Alex Rodriguez are some of the biggest names in baseball history that have been linked to steroid use.
Some have been caught, others have pleaded the Fifth Amendment, and only a few have apologized and asked for forgiveness.
You can believe me or call me dishonest, but not every player in Major League Baseball has done steroids—that is my opinion, and I am sticking to it.
But before I present the perfect nine and honor the greatest "clean" hitters of the steroid era, I must offer a disclaimer. When this slideshow is over, you'll find yourself wondering where the three-time National League MVP that was selected by ESPN.com as the greatest player from 2000-2009 is.
You'll find yourself asking the question, why isn't Albert Pujols on this list? Did I miss something? Was his name mentioned in the Mitchell Report? Has he been caught?
No, you haven't missed anything, but I do not believe Pujols is clean. I have no evidence against him (except for his body transformation) and no proof he'll ever get caught.
It's simply a gut feeling, and there is no changing my opinion.
However, the same will never be said about future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr. and the other players on this list.
Steroids and Griffey will never be mentioned in the same sentence, and that's how it should be.
In honor of "The Kid," who said goodbye to us all a few days ago, here are the nine hitters who, when asked the question, "Got Juice?" replied with a simple "No" and still had stellar careers.
The 2000 winner of the Hank Aaron Award as the AL's top hitter, Carlos Delgado became one of the most productive sluggers in Major League history.
Before having a few impressive seasons with the Florida Marlins and New York Mets, Delgado's greatest years were spent as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Delgado is only the fourth player in Major League history to hit at least 30 home runs in 10 consecutive seasons, putting together incredible back-to-back seasons in 1999 and 2000.
1999: 113 Runs Scored, 156 Hits, 44 Home Runs, 134 RBI, .292 Batting Average, .385 OBP, .592 Slugging Percentage
2000: 115 Runs Scored, 196 Hits, Career-high 57 Doubles, 41 Home Runs, 137 RBI, .344 Batting Average, .470 OBP, .644 Slugging Percentage
A two-time All-Star in 2000 and 2003, Delgado holds several Blue Jays career records, including home runs (336), RBI (1,058), walks (827), slugging percentage (.556), OPS (.949), runs (889), total bases (2,786), doubles (343), and at-bats per home run (14.9).
Entering the 2010 season, the winner of Silver Slugger Awards in 1999, 2000, and 2003 opted to undergo hip surgery.
The all-time home run and RBI leader among Puerto Rican players is currently a free agent and is hoping to be in a Major League uniform this season.
At the age of 37, Delgado believes he can still be productive, but only time will tell if that's the case. Any team would love for him to join their roster for a run at a World Series championship.
His last name isn't required.
Since joining the Seattle Mariners in 2001 after playing nine years for the Orix Blue Wave in Japan's Pacific League, Ichiro has been nothing but a hitting machine.
Having established a number of batting records, including setting the single-season record for base hits with 262 in 2004, Ichiro has nine consecutive 200-hit seasons, the longest streak by any active player—only trailing Pete Rose all-time, who had 10-consecutive 200-hit seasons.
In his first season with the Mariners, Ichiro accumulated a rookie record of 242 hits and led the American League in batting average (.350) and stolen bases (56) en route to winning the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards—becoming only the second player in MLB history (Fred Lynn) to receive both awards in the same season.
Ichiro is a nine-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove Award winner.
Through May of 2010, Ichiro has compiled 2,100 hits in his career. He's only 36 years old; who knows how many years he has left?
He might record 3,000 hits for his Major League career, but in all likelihood, he will fall short of that milestone. (He is currently at 2,112.)
Either way, Ichiro is one of the greatest hitters of all time, leaving no doubt that his first stop after retirement will be Cooperstown, New York, where his name will be enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Career Statistics: .285 Batting Average, 282 Home Runs, 1,061 RBI, 344 Stolen Bases.
Those are the career offensive numbers of 1984 National League MVP and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.
Career Statistics: .277 Batting Average, 342 Home Runs, 1,084 RBI, .353 OBP, .493 slugging percentage.
These are the offensive numbers of 2004 American League Comeback Player of the Year and 2005 ALCS MVP Paul Konerko—the most underrated player in baseball history.
In 2006, Konerko hit .313 with 35 home runs and 113 RBI, a culmination of a three-year run in which he batted .291 with norms of 35 homers and 110 RBI.
Even after a so-so 2007 season, Konerko has hit at least 31 home runs and driven in 90 runs in four consecutive seasons.
Konerko probably won't make the Hall of Fame, but during a time period where steroid use was prominent, Konerko didn't need an advantage to become a great baseball player.
He succeeded on talent alone, and that's the way it should always be.
Imagine if Derek Jeter were on steroids. Would baseball ever be able to recover?
Jeter- and New York Yankee-haters alike can sit, wonder, and pray that one day Jeter's name will be mentioned in the same sentence amongst other steroids users.
But it's never going to happen.
When discussing the legacy of Jeter, it's not always about the stats or the World Series championship rings, but, in this case, it is.
He's a proven winner.
He's one of the greatest postseason and "clutch" hitters in baseball history, having already become the all-time postseason leader in hits and runs scored, and he has a reputation amongst his peers of being the consummate professional.
This future Hall of Famer's career began in 1996, when he was named the American League Rookie of the Year and helped the Yankees win the World Series championship—their first title in 18 years.
Along with being a five-time World Series champion, Jeter is the only player to win both the All-Star Game MVP Award and World Series MVP Award in the same season (2000).
He's the team captain, a 10-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove Award winner, four-time Silver Slugger Award winner, and the 2009 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.
Not only is Jeter the all-time hits leader among shortstops, Jeter became the Yankees' all-time hits leader after he surpassed Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig in 2009 with his 2,722nd career hit in pinstripes.
Jeter is on pace to finish his career with over 3,000 hits, 300 homers, 400 steals, and 1,500 RBI, and if Jeter doesn't reach those milestone numbers, it still won't matter.
Because in an era that's been headlined by steroid users and performance-enhancing drugs, Jeter has always been the epitome of professional baseball, and that is never going to change.
Playing in his 14th season for the Colorado Rockies, Todd Helton is not only the greatest first baseman and one of the greatest players in Rockies history; he is also one of the most prolific contact and pure hitters of all time.
Helton is a five-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger Award winner, and three-time Gold Glove Award winner.
After 2009, Helton had the third-highest career batting average of all active players at .328, only trailing Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols.
Among all active players, Helton ranks second in on-base percentage (.426), fifth in slugging percentage (.561), sixth in intentional walks (175), and is tied for fourth in doubles (518).
Helton holds club records for hits (2,175), home runs (326), doubles (518), walks (1,161), runs scored (1,239), RBI (1,212), on-base percentage (.426), games played (1,857), and total bases (3,739).
Helton won the National League batting crown in 2000, finishing the year with a league-leading .347 batting average, 42 home runs, and 147 runs batted in while also leading the league in doubles, hits, and on-base percentage.
Helton, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, and Ted Williams are the only players in MLB history to have at least 500 doubles, 320 home runs, and a .325 batting average for a career.
Baseball pessimists will say Helton only succeeded because he played in the Mile High City, but, in my opinion, Helton would've excelled no matter what Major League city he called home.
He has no strike zone.
As long as he can make contact with the pitch, he swings the bat.
Vladimir Guerrero began his career with the Montreal Expos, putting up solid numbers in his rookie season. He hit .302 with 11 home runs and 40 RBI in just 325 at-bats.
Guerrero batted .324 with 38 home runs and 109 RBI in 1998, and during the 1999 season he maintained a 31-game hitting streak—the longest in the majors in 12 years.
Guerrero would go on to finish the 1999 season with 131 RBI, and in 2000 he hit 44 home runs—both career highs.
In 2002, he stole a career-high 40 bases and fell one home run short of becoming the fourth member of the "40/40 club." However, he would also hit 30-plus home runs and steal 30-plus bases in both 2001 and 2002.
In his first year with the Anaheim Angels, Guerrero was voted the 2004 American League MVP, hitting .337, belting 39 home runs, driving in 126 runs, and recording a .598 slugging percentage.
Guerrero would lead the Angels to five American League West championships (2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009) but has failed to play in a World Series game.
An eight-time All-Star, Guerrero is one of the best all-around players in the game because of his impressive offensive production and stellar defense, and he will be remembered for having one of the greatest arms of all time.
Standing at 6'5" and 275 pounds, "The Big Hurt" was one of the greatest power hitters to ever play the game.
Thomas is one of four players in Major League Baseball history to finish his career with at least a .300 batting average (.301), 500 home runs (521), 1,500 RBI (1,704), 1,000 runs (1,494), and 1,500 walks (1,667) in a career.
Thomas was a two-time American League MVP, winning the award in both 1993 and 1994, as he is one of three first baseman (Jimmie Foxx and Albert Pujols) in history to win consecutive MVP awards. In his second MVP season, Thomas put together a Hall of Fame-worthy line of .353 BA, 38 HR, 101 RBI in just 113 games during the strike-shortened season of 1994.
Having played 19 seasons in the majors, Thomas was selected to five All-Star Games and finally secured his only World Series ring in 2005 as a member of the Chicago White Sox.
Thomas retired as the all-time leader in home runs by a designated hitter with 269 (but has since been passed by David Ortiz), and he ranks 25th all-time in slugging percentage with .555 mark.
Between 1991-1997, Thomas was one of the most dominating hitters in baseball, hitting no less than .308 with 24 home runs, driving in 101 runs, drawing 109 walks, scoring 102 runs, and finishing with no less than a .426 on-base percentage in any season.
Although Thomas' departure from the White Sox was somewhat controversial for his feud with general manger Kenny Williams, Thomas would leave as the White Sox record holder for runs scored (1,327), home runs (448), doubles (447), RBI (1,465), extra-base hits (906), walks (1,466), total bases (3,949), slugging percentage (.568), and on-base percentage (.427).
When mentioning the greats who played on the South Side of Chicago, Thomas' name will certainly be discussed.
While he played during a tainted era of steroid users, Thomas was one of the the greatest clean hitters to ever play the game.
Known to the fans of the New York Metropolitans as "Larry," Chipper Jones is one of the greatest switch hitters of all time.
Having won the 1999 National League MVP award after becoming the first player to ever hit over .300 (.319) while slugging 40 or more home runs (45) and 40 or more doubles (41), drawing 100 or more walks (126), driving in 100 or more runs(110), scoring more than 100 runs (116), and stealing 20 or more bases (25), Jones would finish the season with a .441 on-base percentage and was the winner of the Silver Slugger Award for third base.
To date, he has a .406 on-base percentage and is a career .307 hitter, to go along with a .541 slugging percentage, which currently ranks 35th all-time.
Through the 2009 season, Jones has 426 career home runs, 1,343 walks, and 1,445 RBI in 2,166 games, trailing only Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray on the all-time switch hitter career home run list.
He is considered one of the game's best all-around hitters and is the only switch hitter in Major League Baseball history to have a .300-plus career batting average and belt 400 or more home runs.
Jones is a six-time All-Star and in 2008 established a new career high by finishing the season with a .364 batting average, becoming the oldest switch hitter, at 36, to win a batting title.
Jones made his major league debut in 1993 and has played his entire career with the Braves.
The 2010 season is manager Bobby Cox's final go-around at trying to win his first World Series title since 1995 and the fourth championship in franchise history.
During Cox's time as manager, I'm sure it was a treat for him to have watched Jones bloom into an MLB superstar.
It certainly was for me.
Ken Griffey, Jr.
His stroke was a swing of beauty. His defensive ability was masterful. His charisma was unmatchable.
The greatest player of his generation has called it a career.
Griffey says goodbye as one of the most prolific home run hitters and one of the best defensive players in baseball history.
He finished his career with 630 home runs, ranking fifth on the all-time career home run list. He was selected to 13 All-Star Games, was a 10-time Gold Glove Award winner between 1990-1999, and an 11-time Silver Slugger Award winner.
In 1997, Griffey was named the American League MVP after finishing the season with 125 runs scored, hitting .304 with 56 home runs, 147 runs batted in, and a career high .646 slugging percentage.
Griffey finished his career with a .284 batting average, 1,836 runs batted in, 2,781 hits, 524 doubles, and 1,662 runs and was always a fan favorite.
Along with many spectacular highlights of Griffey's career, his greatest moment might have come on Sept. 14, 1990, when Ken Griffey, Sr. and Griffey Jr. became the first and only father-son tandem in baseball history to hit back-to-back home runs—a moment for them that will last a lifetime.