Sometimes certain things can seem so obvious that we don't think they even need to be said, or, for that matter, justified.
In the most recent Bleacher Report Featured Columnists Poll, the Bleacher Report Featured Columnists for baseball were asked to weigh in on the chances of certain current players for the Hall of Fame. I participated in this poll and voted against the induction of Andruw Jones without giving it much thought.
Reading the article, and its comments after the results of the poll were published, I was kind of surprised to find that most people's opinions of Jones and his credentials for the Hall centered around the value of his once-in-a-lifetime defense in center field and deceptively low-value offensive contributions compared to the brevity of his career.
The reason I was kind of surprised was that it quickly became apparent to me that I have been making an assumption about Jones all this time that no one seems to share.
It seems pretty clear to me that Jones absolutely must have been using performance enhancing drugs during the course of his career.
Am I really the only person who thinks this?
First, consider the timing of Jones' career.
He debuted in 1996 and played his first full season in 1997. The year he debuted was the year that we all now know Ken Caminiti won the NL MVP while using steroids, and that we all assume Brady Anderson hit 50 home runs while using steroids.
His rookie year came one year before Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa "saved baseball" by chasing Roger Maris' single season home run record. We now know McGwire was using steroids at the time, and we assume Sosa was.
Suffice it to say, Jones came of age during the absolute peak of the steroid/performance enhancing drug era. In that sense alone, "guilt by association" is enough to at least start the conversation.
Second, let's look at his offensive performance over the years.
When Jones debuted with the Atlanta Braves in 1996, he hit five home runs and stole three bases in 31 games at the age of 19-years-old. Over the next four seasons, he would average 28 home runs and 23 stolen bases each year.
By the age of 23, he had 116 home runs and 95 stolen bases, and looked to be on pace to become one of the greatest power/speed combinations of all time.
But then something odd happened. In 2001, at the age of 24, he stole only 11 bases while hitting 34 home runs. Then, at the age of 25, he stole only eight bases while hitting 35 home runs.
By the age of 26—by no means old and at a point where most players are only entering their prime—Jones had completely lost the speed element of his game and become exclusively a power hitter.
From the age of 25 to 27, Jones hit 100 home runs and stole 18 bases. A transformation had taken place.
The transformation continued over the next two years. In 2005, the 28-year-old Jones had his career year, hitting 51 home runs to lead the NL, along with a league leading 128 RBI. In 2006, Jones hit 41 more home runs, for a two year total of 92, and drove in 129 RBI.
At the same time, he almost completely stopped stealing bases, amassing only nine over two years.
Jones showed the same metamorphosis from a player with good power and good speed to a player with great power and no speed that we have come to associate with steroids: Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Brady Anderson, and Sammy Sosa
At the same time, though, relying on such evidence as the increase in home runs and the decrease in stolen bases is, of course, ludicrously circumstantial and nearly disingenuous. And were his home runs and stolen base numbers the only numbers of his to draw conclusions from, this would be a silly exercise.
But there is one other factor that, to me, points inexorably towards Jones having used steroids: the fact that he fell off the cliff at the age of 30.
In 2007, coming off a two year stretch in which he had 92 home runs, 257 RBI, 202 runs scored, and 637 total bases, Jones simply stopped producing.
At 30 years of age, one of the most dynamic players in baseball, one of the best athletes of the previous 10 years, suddenly looked like he was 40-years-old.
In that 2007 season, Jones' numbers fell across the board. Sure, some of these declines were subtle; he still hit 26 home runs and finished with 94 RBI and 83 runs scored. He still took 70 walks and hit 27 doubles.
But let's go deeper.
From 1998 to 2006, Jones' WAR dropped below 4.8 only once, and for the most part, it stayed in the 5-to-7 range. In 2007, it was 1.5.
In 1997, Jones posted a 93 OPS+, but after that season it dropped below 110 only once, and his OPS+ in 2005 and 2006 were the best and third best of his career. In 2007, his OPS+ was 87.
Jones had never been a great hitter, but his lifetime average through 2006 was .267, and from 2004 to 2006 he hit .261, .263, and .262. In 2007 he hit .222.
Again, all of this is circumstantial; 2007 could have just been an injury year. Except he hasn't been back.
Over the last three years Jones has been a part time player when he's played at all. He hit .158 in 75 games for the Dodgers in 2008. He hit .214 with 17 home runs playing for the Rangers in 2009—in a ballpark where anybody can hit home runs. This year he is hitting .201 with 15 home runs in another home run friendly park with the White Sox.
More importantly, Jones can't field any more either. At one point considered one of the greatest defensive center fielders of all time, Jones hasn't been suitable to play center since 2008, when he played 66 miserable games there. In 2009, he DH'ed for 53 of the 82 games he played, and in 2010 he has played most of his games in right field.
And remember to keep this in mind, as Jones has faded into the twilight of his career over the last three seasons, he has been 31, 32, and 33 years old. This is precisely the type of career arc we saw from guys like Anderson, Caminiti, and Juan Gonzalez. Guys we either know or assume used steroids.
Frankly, watching a limber, athletic, once-in-a-lifetime talent turn into a bloated, oafish, lumbering player with no apparent skills at the age of 30, when most players are in their prime, leads me directly to the following conclusion:
There can be no doubt that Andruw Jones used steroids during his career, and there can be no doubt that his body is paying the price for it now.
And there is no way a player like Jones gets into the Hall of Fame.
Frankly, I'm just surprised it had to be said.
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