With Alex Rodriguez's recent 600th career home run causing many fans to roll their eyes or talk smack about the 13 time All-Star, I rank the top 25 most significant steroid driven seasons of all time. All of these players are believed to have used steroids during the seasons mentioned. The only catch is that no player appears on this list more than once. Every player ranked below has either admitted to using illegal steroids, has been suspended for use, has appeared on the Mitchell Report, or at the very least, has been heavily rumored to have cheated.
25. Eric Gagne, 2003, (1.20 era, 55 saves, 0 blown saves, 137 k’s in 82.1 innings) This was the second of Gagne’s three consecutive dominant closing seasons for the Dodgers, as Gagne became the first relief pitcher to win the Cy Young Award in 11 years. Gagne broke the record for consecutive saves, eventually reaching 84 during the 2004 season. Ironically, while Gagne did not blow any saves during the regular season, Gagne blew a save during the 2003 All-Star Game, which helped the A.L. earn home field advantage in the World Series.
24. Brady Anderson, 1996, (.297, 50, 110). Before 1996, Anderson had been a solid leadoff man for many years in Baltimore, whose previous career high was 21 home runs. But in 1996, Anderson shocked the world by hitting 50 home runs while helping Baltimore reach the postseason for the first time in 13 years. Anderson was voted in to his first All-Star game in 1996 after hitting 30 homers by the All-Star break, and was also voted into the 1997 All-Star Game, likely due to the popularity he gained from hitting 50 home runs the season before. Anderson never went on to hit more than 24 home runs in a season, which raises the question: Are we supposed to believe this guy didn't do steroids?
23. Rafael Palmeiro, 1999 (.324, 47, 148). When the Cubs traded Palmeiro to Texas after the 1988 season, the Cubs organization hinted that it was due to Palmeiro's lack of power. Palmeiro was a frequent .300 hitter and made multiple All-Star appearances throughout his 20s, but did not put up serious power numbers until the Steroid Era. From 1995-2003, Palmeiro hit at least 38 home runs in a record 9 consecutive seasons. Also worth mentioning, Palmeiro is one of four players in history with 3000 hits and 500 home runs over a career. Palmeiro's most significant season was probably 1999, when he set career highs in Batting Average, Home Runs, RBI, On Base percentage, and Slugging Percentage, while leading the Rangers to a franchise high 95 wins.
22. Greg Vaughn, 1998, (.272, 50, 119) From 1996-1999, Greg Vaughn rejuvenated his career by hitting over 40 home runs three times in his 30s, including 50 in 1998. At the time it was easy to overlook Greg Vaughn's impressive home run total in 1998 because his 50 home runs ranked just 3rd in the National League, behind McGwire and Sosa.
21. Richard Hidalgo, 2000 (.314, 44, 122) Richard Hidalgo hit 44 home runs out of nowhere for the Houston Astros in the first year of Enron Field, which immediately earned him a 30 million dollar contract at the age of 25. Hidalgo proved to be somewhat of a bust, never reaching 30 home runs ever again, while hitting under .260 throughout the rest of his career.
20. Bret Boone, 2001 (.331, 37, 141) This was Boone’s 10th major league season, but he miraculously shattered his previous single season career highs by 13 home runs, 46 RBI, 93 total bases, and 64 points in his batting average, all for the 2001 Mariners who won 116 regular season games. Boone went on to have just one other All-Star season before being released by the Mariners and Twins in 2006.
19. Javy Lopez, 2003 (.328, 43, 109, .678 SLG ) Javy Lopez is one of the better hitting catchers of all time, but unfortunately steroids were likely a factor. Javy Lopez hit 43 home runs in 2003, including 42 as a catcher, which remains the all time record for a single season.
18. Jose Canseco, 1988 (.307, 42, 124) Canseco admitted having used steroids as early as 1988. Now famous for being one of the most outspoken players regarding the steroid era, Canseco won the A.L. MVP in 1988, became the first 40-40 player, and led the A's to 104 wins and a World Series appearance.
17. Kevin Brown, 1998, (18-7, 2.38 era), Brown won a career high 21 games back in 1992 with Texas, but did not become a consistent dominant force until the steroid era. In 1998, Brown struck out a career high 257 batters, while leading the Padres to their only World Series appearance in the last 25 years. Brown’s 3 year run of dominance from 1996-1998 earned him a 105 million dollar deal for 7 years, the biggest contract ever at the time.
16. Mo Vaughn, 1995, (.300, 39, 126) Vaughn had several great seasons from 1995-2000, including an MVP season in 1995. The Red Sox, led by Vaughn, won the AL East in 1995; their only division title from 1991-2006.
15. Albert Belle, 1995, (.317, 50, 126) Belle had his best season in 1995, hitting a career high 50 home runs, and could have hit even more had the season not started 18 games late due to the strike. 1995 was an unbelievable season for Belle, who led the A.L. in home runs, as well as doubles.
14. Juan Gonzalez, 1998 (.318, 45, 157) Juan Gonzalez was one of the best hitters in baseball from 1992 until 2001, hitting 35 home runs 7 times in those 10 years and winning 2 MVPs. His 157 RBI in 1998 were the most in the American League in 49 years.
13. Jeff Bagwell, 1994, (.368. 39, 116) Bagwell was rumored to have started taking steroids in 1993, the first .300 BA and 20 home run season of his career. 1994 was Bagwell’s best season, though strike shortened, as he won the NL MVP and posted an extremely high 1.201 OPS.
12. Andy Pettite, 2005 (17-9, 2.38 era) Pettite will be remembered most as a Yankee. However, arguably Pettite's best season was 2005 when he had a career best 2.39 era and helped the Houston Astros win their franchises only 2 post season series, before losing to the White Sox in the World Series.
11. Ken Caminitti 1996 (.326, 40, 130) 1996 was Caminitti's only 30 home run season, as he helped lead the Padres to a division title. Caminitti won the MVP that season and became a very popular San Diego player, until he later admitted that he took steroids during the 1996 season.
10. Jason Giambi, 2000 (.333, 43, 137) The Oakland A's, from 1999-2006, were best known for their big 3 starting pitchers; Hudson, Mulder, and Zito. However, from 1999-2001, Jason Giambi tore up the league for the Oakland A's. Giambi enjoyed an MVP season in 2000, while the Oakland A's scored 947 runs with a lineup built around Giambi, who had a .476 on base percentage for the playoff bound A's.
9. Mike Piazza, 1997, (.362, 40, 124) Piazza put up probably the best hitting season for a catcher of all time in 1997. His .362 BA tied an MLB record for catchers and his 40 home runs were one short of Todd Hundley's record for catchers, but this was likely the product of a 62ndround pick exceeding expectations in big part due to steroids.
8. David Ortiz, 2003 (.288, 31, 101) David Ortiz was released in 2002 by the Twins, but miraculously turned his career around the following season, in 2003 with Boston, and ended up averaging 41 home runs from 2003-2007, while helping the Red Sox win 2 World Series.
7. Manny Ramirez, 1999, (.333, 44, 165) No player in the last 60 years has had more RBI in a single season than Manny Ramirez had in 1999, driving in 165. That season, the Cleveland Indians had one of the best offenses of all time, scoring a rare 1009 runs, with Ramirez in the middle of the lineup, driving in Lofton, Vizuel, and Alomar on a nightly basis.
6. Alex Rodriguez, 2002, (.300, 57, 142) A-Rod recently admitted to steroid use during his 3 years in Texas, from 2001-2003. Rodriguez had great statistics in all 3 of his seasons with Texas, but his 2002 season featured a career high 57 home runs, 1 more than Ken Griffey Jr. ever hit in a single season.
5. Roger Clemens, 1997, (21-7, 2.05 era) Clemens was arguably the best major league pitcher from 1986 until 1992, a span in which he won 3 Cy Young awards, winning at least 17 games all 7 years. However, Clemens failed to win more than 11 games in any of his last 4 years in Boston, before somehow turning things around in Toronto. Clemens won the Cy Young award and the pitcher's triple crown in each of his 2 season with Toronto, and his 2.05 era in 1997 was the lowest of any of Clemens’ record 7 Cy Young seasons. Clemens later went on to win 2 more Cy Young awards, with the Yankees and Astros, at the ages of 39 and 42.
4. Luis Gonzalez, 2001, (.328, 57, 145) Luis Gonzalez was one of the better hitters in the league from 1999- 2003, but nobody expected the kind of protection Gonzalez enjoyed in 2001, as Gonzalez demolished his previous season high of 31 homers by cranking out 57. This season also included Gonzalez enjoying the game winning hit in the bottom of the 9th in game 7 of the World Series, as well as a Home Run Derby title. 2001 defined Luis Gonzalez's career and was one of the best seasons of all time, but was likely influenced by steroids.
3. Sammy Sosa, 1998 (.308, 66, 158) It was difficult to decide between 1998 or 2001 as Sosa’s most significant season, but while Sosa hit 64 home runs and drove in a career high 160 runs in 2001, Sosa won his only MVP award in 1998 and hit a career high 66 home runs, becoming just the 2nd player ever to crack 61 at the time. Sosa averaged 57 home runs from 1998-2001, hitting the most homers ever by a player in a 5 year period. Somehow Sosa managed to have 3 seasons in which he hit 63 or more home runs, but did not lead the NL in homers.
2. Mark McGwire, 1998, (.299 70 147) 1998 was the year of the epic home run race between McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and the year that most defines the steroid era. McGwire’s 62nd home run excited America, breaking the 37 year old, record. However, these days it seems like people forget how great of a moment it was at the time, after all of the steroid allegations. McGwire posted unbelievable statistics in 1998, with not only 70 home runs, but a .470 On Base Percentage and .752 Slugging Percentage; numbers that were exceeded by Bonds in the first half of the 2000s.
1. Barry Bonds, 2001, (.328 73, 137) Bonds was one of the best all around players before the steroid era really began and may have been clean throughout that period. Towards the end of 1999, after an elbow injury, Bonds' career seemed to be on the decline . However, Bonds suddenly tore up the league like nothing we have ever seen in the the first half of the 2000s, highlighted by 2001, when Bonds broke the all time single season home run record, set 3 years before by McGwire. Bonds set several OPS records from 2001-2004 and Bonds remains the all time leader for both single season home runs and all time home runs. Notably, Bonds never hit more than 49 homer runs in any season other than 2001.
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