The Ken Griffey, Jr. Era officially ended on Wednesday, June 2, 2010 when the player known as “The Kid” retired from baseball after 22 seasons, 630 home runs, 1836 RBIs, and 1662 runs scored. Griffey retires with one of the greatest resumes in the history of Major League Baseball.
Read any of the coverage of Junior’s retirement and you’ll begin to piece together the narrative of his career. Griffey was drafted No. 1 overall in 1988 by the Seattle Mariners out of high school, and made an immediate impact in the major leagues.
He played in the same lineup with his dad Ken Sr. in 1990, the first time that had ever happened. He was one of the greatest players of all time by the age of 30, and despite being ravaged by injuries for most of his career, he was one of the two or three greatest power-hitting centerfielders of all-time.
And he did it all without the help of steroids in an era in a league overrun with steroid abusers.
Except . . .
Are we willing to say that Ken Griffey, Jr. never used steroids?
It is incredibly difficult to believe, in this day and age, that any baseball fan would be willing to assume that a major league baseball player did not use steroids simply because his name never appeared on a positive test.
After ten-plus years of “shocking” steroids/PEDs revelations, the baseball-viewing public cannot possibly believe that a mere absence of evidence is evidence of cleanness.
Remember how shocked and surprised we all were when it turned out Jose Canseco, major league baseball’s biggest star in 1988, had been using steroids?
How about when it turned out that Ken Caminiti had won a Most Valuable Player award in 1996 with the help of steroids?
Remember how shocked, hurt, and confused we all were when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, then Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, then Rafael Palmeiro and Miguel Tejada, then Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, and then, most recently, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, were all busted for using performance enhancing drugs?
It seems to me that, by now, we should have all learned that the fact that a player has yet to test positive, in all likelihood, simply means he hasn’t been caught yet.
Does Griffey Not Fit the Profile of a Steroid User?
Remember, 103 players tested positive in 2003, and so far the only names we know are A-Rod, Manny, Sosa, and David Ortiz. Assuming Bonds, Giambi, Palmeiro, Tejada, and Clemens would all have been on that list as well, that leaves us about 95 players short.
How can we say conclusively that Griffey was not one of those players?
It’s not like Griffey doesn’t fit the profile of a steroid user, because he pretty much does. Griffey’s career has so many things in common with the careers of guys we either know or assume were using steroids that it is almost embarrassing when people pretend not to notice.
We naturally assume that guys like Juan Gonzalez, Brady Anderson, and Nomar Garciaparra, guys who put up conspicuous power numbers before succumbing to a rash of injuries while still in their primes, were on steroids.
Yet we blindly and willingly assume that Griffey, who couldn’t stay on the field for a full season from the age of 30 to the age of 37, was clean.
We also look at guys like Steve Finley, Luis Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, Ken Caminiti, and Sammy Sosa, guys who went from relatively light hitters to major power hitters, and assume that they were using steroids (or, in the case of the last three, we know they were).
Nevertheless, we look at Griffey going from 27 home runs in 142 games in 1992 to 40 home runs in only 111 games in 1994 and we see only greatness.
Then there are guys like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire. Both McGwire (in 1993 and 1994) and Bonds (1999) suffered injuries that cost them large portions of seasons, but somehow emerged from them the next season stronger than ever. We naturally assume, or rather actually know, that McGwire and Bonds mixed steroids into their rehabilitation programs and came back stronger and healthier than before they left.
In 1995, Ken Griffey, Jr., missed almost half the season after breaking his wrist early in the season. The following season, Griffey hit 49 home runs in only 140 games, then he hit 56 home runs in each of the season subsequent to that.
Again, we see only greatness.
Can we ever assume greatness was untainted?
As for the long list of guys who did things no else had ever done before and then later turned out to have done those things while using performance enhancing drugs, Griffey is pretty much the only one on the list that hasn’t been busted.
Whether it is Jose Canseco’s 40-40 season, Alex Rodriguez repeatedly hitting 50 home runs as a shortstop, or McGwire and Sosa hitting 60 home runs with the regularity that some players hit 30 home runs, never-before-seen exploits seem to have almost universally debunked by the steroids scandal.
So why do we assume that when Ken Griffey, Jr. became the only center fielder, and one of the only players ever, to hit 50 or more home runs in consecutive years, he did it on talent alone?
The only indication we really have that Griffey did not use steroids would be the fact that he never blew up like a balloon, a la Bonds, McGwire, Palmeiro, Sosa, Giambi, and just about every other 1990’s Era slugger.
Is that, alone, a basis for assuming that a player spent his entire career without using steroids or some other performance enhancing drug? Remember, Alex Sanchez tested positive for steroids, and he wasn’t huge. Miguel Tejada also got busted without getting huge.
So, what's the point of all this?
At this point, it might be good to take a moment to say the following:
I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, saying that I have evidence that Ken Griffey, Jr. used any sort of performance enhancing drug, nor am I saying that I even necessarily suspect that he did.
What I am saying is this: Jose Canseco fooled us. Ken Caminiti fooled us. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa fooled us, and made us look bad doing it. Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi fooled us when we already should have had our guard up, and Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez fooled us at a point when we definitely should have known better.
So why, on earth, are we so willing to be fooled again? Why are we willing to say that Ken Griffey, Jr. spent his career as a clean ballplayer? By now we should all know that the fact that a player has never tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, in all likelihood, just means that he hasn’t been caught yet.
For that matter, it is not necessary to say that Griffey was clean in order to pay proper respect to his career, nor are we required to raise the possibility that he used steroids in order to paint a full picture of his career.
As we remember the career of one of the greatest players of all time, perhaps we should say nothing at all about the subject of performance enhancing drugs. This is a player who retired from baseball after 22 seasons with 630 home runs, 1836 RBIs, and 1662 runs scored. He was drafted number one overall in 1988 by the Seattle Mariners out of high school; played in the same lineup with his dad Ken Sr. in 1990; one of the greatest players through the age of 30, and one of the greatest power-hitting center fielders of all-time.
He did things that very few other players, either using performance enhancing drugs or not, have never done.
Isn’t that enough?
We don’t need to make broad, general, and unsubstantiated statements about whether or not he used performance enhancing drugs in order to be able to remember him as a legend.
For one thing, it just sets us up to be fooled again.
And for another, his resume speaks for itself.