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The Great Steroid Debate of 2004!
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In the spring of 2004, baseball officials concluded that 5-7% (whatever that means) of baseball players were guilty of steroid usage. Asher decided that prominent players whom he deemed to be among the list of culprits should be penalized w/r/t their place in our top 100 lists. Asher singled out Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, and Barry Bonds as obvious users who need to be re-evaluated. Keith the Contrarian had other ideas…


Craig Biggio's career OBP is .375. His OBP when you cut out his HBP's is .362. So his big elbow pad represents about a 3% increase in his Getting On-Base value, and a smaller percentage of his Total Offensive Value. Add in the possibility that pitchers had to treat him differently because of the threat of HBP, and we can say that the elbow pad MAYBE increased his Total Offensive Value by 5%.

Let's assume that it is proven that all of the players you mentioned are proven to have used steroids.

We have to treat this situation like Biggio's.


No we don't; body armor is legal


Steroids were not responsible for all 70 of McGwire's homers in 1998. They would have been responsible for maybe 5-10.


I completely disagree; look at McGwire's career HR/AB (.094 which INCLUDES the 98-01 seasons) and compare it to his HR/AB from 1998-2001 (.125). That is an increase of almost a third. At that rate, his HR total from 1998 drops from 70 to 53, or 17 HR. The number increases dramatically if you do not include his 98-01 totals in his career stats. His career HR/AB minus 98-01 is .084. That makes his 98-01 totals almost one and a half times higher, and reduces his 1998 HR total from 70 to 47. You're right though. It's probably not that big of a difference.


Are steroids responsible for Bonds' huge decrease in strikeout rate and increase in batting average? I don't think so.


A slender Barry Bonds with the Pirates in 1989 
I absolutely think so. Barry hits more homers, pitchers pitch to him less. Barry is more selective, Barry walks more. When Barry gets a pitch to hit, he hits it well. Don't get me wrong, Barry was already very good, but the fear of him hitting HRs at the ridiculous rate that he does has driven his walks totals up, and his batting average as well. And did Bonds get that good over night? From 1990 to 2000, hit OBP went from a low of .389 (in 99 I might add) to a high of .461. Then, suddenly he transcends some magical barrier has three straight seasons of over .500. And this just so happens to coincide with the greatest HR hitting exhibition ever? And how does a guy whose career high slugging percentage was .677 in 1993 (at the age of 28) suddenly slugg .688, .863, .799, and .749 in four consecutive years at the end of his career? Is he just that great? Seems to me he's better in the twilight of his career than he was in his prime. And bigger. And more prone to fragile injuries. And less fast than he once was. And not quite the fielder he once was. But you’re right, he is a great hitter, and that can't be explained by his increased HR totals resulting from steroid usage. But wasn’t his career high average .336, again in 1993, and his second highest average .312 before this outburst. Hell, as recently as 1999 he hit .262. Did he really become that good of a hitter in two years? At the age of 36? He is a special player! Or, his skills began to diminish, his speed was leaving him, he was bothered by injuries and he was a big ego guy in the Bay Area in the late 90's and gave the juice a whirl. Which theory makes more sense? And oh by the way: his intentional walks ALONE account for a significant part of his increased walk production.


I don't know when you think Sheffield started using steroids, but his best season was 1996.

Bonds after his 527th home run 

Seems to me that he was pretty dandy last season


And I hope you have seen enough of the Cubs to know that Sammy Sosa broke out because he became more disciplined at the plate and learned to hit to the opposite field.


…which seems to me to be a luxury afforded him when pitchers became less aggressive with him as a result of him hitting balls out of the park in 1998.


What I'm saying is that you can't just throw out a steroid season any more than you can throw out a pre-1903 season when evaluating a player's career.


I'd say that I am treating them exactly the same. I treat Cy Young and Fred Clarke and Honus Wagner and Nap Lajoie based on the type of player they were after 1901 (or 1903 if you prefer) and I am arguing that I will treat steroid suspects as the players that they were before 1998. By the way, the argument could be made that a better cut off year was 1996, aka "the year of the homer" when Brady "what, me take steroids?" Anderson hit 50 home runs. I am kind using 1998.

Sammy Sosa pictured in 1990...bunting! 

You also can't assume that if a player takes steroids and improves that the improvement was solely due to the steroids.

Asher: Hitting home runs tends to do a lot for your numbers.


Analogy: The Cubs improved by 21 games in 2003. The Cubs got Mike Remlinger in 2003. Mike Remlinger was therefore responsible for the Cubs improving by 21 games in 2003.


Bad analogy.


I personally don't plan to make any adjustment for steroid seasons. (If you prove that 5 players used steroids, is it fair to rate them differently than all the others that we don't know about?)


Nothing has been proven, but the cloud of suspicion has fallen, and it has taken Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, and Sheffield with it. I am not penalizing anybody else on the top 100 list, because no one else seems affected (as they are not on the list). All signs point to these guys using steroids, and that seems enough to me to discount their accomplishments much as one would Chuck Kleins or Al Simmons for excelling in the 30's but not performing as well in other seasons


Sosa, noticably bigger in 1998, but still human-looking... 
I can certainly see an argument for making some adjustment, but if you make an adjustment that, say, moves Bonds out of your top 10, then I really won't have any respect for your list.


Why is Barry Bonds better than Willie Mays?

Keith: - March 4, 1998 -

Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, and Barry Bonds all meet in secret with the evil Dr. Warlock who distributes illegal steroids to this "Pentagon of Power." Prince Jeff Bagwell, who was offered steroids by Dr. Warlock, politely declines, yet does not rat out any of the PoP Stars.

- March 5, 1998 -

The Pentagon of Power each gain 25 pounds of muscle overnight, and owe the rest of their careers to the one little injection that can turn Tom Foli into Alex Rodriguez.

It's hard to believe, but these are fictitious news flashes. You don't actually do steroids, get strong, and dominate baseball. Here's what happens:

In 1993-1994, Mark McGwire sits out two years with injuries. Rather that sitting on his ass and collecting undeserved paychecks, he

1) Develops one of the quickest, shortest, most compact swings ever seen in professional baseball.

2) Revolutionizes the way ballplayers condition themselves in the offseason by adding unprecedented amounts of muscle though nonstop workouts.

Now does he supplement these workouts with whey protein, creatine, or steroids? Does it really matter? He still put forth the effort to do the workouts. Steroids might put the muscle on a little quicker, or might allow him a couple more pounds of maximum muscle than going without steroids, but that little extra push didn't make the main difference between McGwire pre-1993 and McGwire post-1994, the work in the weight room did. And working out was an option open to any player in baseball history.

BTW, McGwire's homer rates 1995-1997 are pretty darn close to his 1998-2000 rates, so if you're convinced that everybody started taking steroids at the same time in 1998, then there's really no difference with or without steroids. (Except maybe that he stayed healthier while on steroids, which doesn't make a lot of sense.)

You seem to think that the Sosa chronology went like this:

Take steroids==>Get bigger==>Hit more homers==>Learn to hit

When it really was:

Learn to Hit==>Hit more homers==>Take steroids(maybe)==>Get bigger

Sosa 1998 was not much bigger than Sosa 1997. Notice that he still stole bases in '98. His real big jump in size came in either '99 or 2000, I forget which.

Bonds walk totals are no doubt influenced by his increased threat of homering, but that still doesn't explain the lower strikeouts and higher average (I never mentioned walks). What, pitchers didn't want to strike him out because he was a home run hitter???

Again, I'll say that muscle's effect on hitting homers is overrated. Ted Williams, one of the most prolific power hitters of all time, wasn't that much bigger than I am. Neither was Fred McGriff, for that matter. Vladamir Guerrero's homer rates were almost as good when he was 160 pounds as they are now (60 pounds later). And he's in his prime, now.


Steroids have but a marginal effect on muscle growth. Muscle growth has but a marginal effect on power. So whether or not someone used steroids just isn't that big of a deal. Sure, it's illegal, but if it were illegal for Barry Bonds to wear earrings and he did it anyway, it wouldn't make him any less of a player.


You have convinced me of one thing: the steroid usage certainly did not begin in 1998. It is obvious that as recently as 1993, there were certain players who were willing to use steroids. McGwire took 93 and 94 off to get big. It appears that Sheffield took 94 and 95 off to get big. Hmm. Common pattern? Major League players have a down year or two, or injury plagued years, or never were that good to begin with, and then suddenly come out of no where with break out years (McGwire in 1995, Caminiti in 1995 or 1996, Sheffield in 1996, Bonds in 2000, Luis Gonzalez in 1999, Sosa in 1998, Canseco in 1998, Greg Vaughn in 1998, Aurillia in 2001, Santiago in 2002, Lopez in 2003, Juan Gonzalez in 1996). No really, it could just be a coincidence. I also suppose that 1999 was just the year in which Jason Giambi went from being the equal of Matt Stairs to being a baseball superstar. At the age of 28. Makes perfect sense. Jason Giambi once gave Mark McGwire credit for teaching him how to take his walks. That's probably all he helped him learn to take.

So, I suppose that Luis Gonzalez just worked out and just got better before joining the D-backs.

I suppose Javy Lopez pulled a move similar to Mark McGwire when he was pseudo hurt in 2001 and 2002, and his 2003 season is just a reflection of hard work.

I suppose that Brady Anderson's season in 1996 really was just an anomaly.

I suppose that Jason Giambi just wants to hide his raw male sexuality when he appears in deoderant commercials wearing long sleeve turtle necks.

I suppose Bonds really did just figure the game out one day in 2000, take his already considerable talents to the next level, the "where no man has gone before" place, and has since done what no other player ever has done at an age where most other great players are winding down or are already out of the game.

I guess the 25 pounds of muscle that Sosa added after the 1998 season was just a result of working out hard in the off-season. What I find particularly interesting about your absurd defense of Sosa, the oft argued "learned how to hit" argument, is that 1998 came on the heels of a 1997 season in which Sosa average dropped from .273 to .251, his OBP dropped from .323 to .300, and his slugging dropped from .564 to .480, and his OPS+ went from 128 to 99, while his HR total dropped from 40 (in 124 games) to 36 (in 162 games), and he set a career high with 174 strikeouts and managed to walk only 45 times. Then, suddenly in June of 1998, he learns to hit and becomes a complete player instantaneously. No, really, it could happen.

I guess Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti really are the only players that ever used steroids.

Sosa: Spring Training 2004! 
Gosh, Mark McGwire is such a hard worker. I really shouldn't have failed to give him credit for turning himself around with hard work and determination. I mean, so what if he is the largest player in the history of the world. So what if he admitted using creatine, but only after there was proof. So what if he has literally shrunk since his playing days. So what if nagging injuries at the age of 36 and 37 seem to indicate some sort of steroid use. He is CLEARLY just a product of hard work and determination that comes from having been too injured to play more than 47 games in two consecutive seasons only two years removed from hitting .201 for the year with 22 HR in 154 games.

About your theory on Ted Williams: are you really arguing that since Ted Williams was able to hit a lot of home runs well that there is no way being bigger allows you to hit more home runs. You are arguing that because the opposite of x is true, then x can not be true. A common mistake, but a mistake none the less.

I guess your overall point is right, though, that there is no way that these guys could possibly of taken steroids. I mean, just because their production skyrocketed, their bodies vastly increased in size, they have been accused of taking steroids, and they refuse to talk openly about steroids without throwing a temper tantrum, or take a drug test publicly which would QUICKLY exonerate them if they were telling the truth, does this mean that they have taken steroids. No way. There shouldn't even be a cloud of controversy, and we should blindly stand behind them regardless of any possible transgressions or advantages.


Actually, the very first thing I did in response to your steroid craze was to assume that the players you mentioned DID take steroids. Well, the first thing I did was talk about Craig Biggio, but it's still pretty alarming that you missed that.

One of my points was that steroids alone do not make you bigger. If you started doing steroids for the next year, you would look exactly the same as you do today. Well, maybe you'd break out in acne and maybe your dick would shrink, but you certainly wouldn't look/be any stronger. You need to work out hard for that, no matter what supplements/hormones you take.

Another of my points was that getting bigger doesn't necessarily make you a better player. You're the one who convinced me that Sosa wasn't better in '99 than '98, remember? And Sosa wasn't all that bigger in 1998 than in 1997. I can show you a poster in my room if you want. Bigger than he was in 1990, well, yeah. But his VAST improvement from 1997 to 1998 was rooted in Jeff Pentland's coaching. Pentland changed Sosa's hitting philosophy from 'try to pull every pitch out of the park,' to 'work the count and go with the pitch.' And thank you for supplying the statistics that so ably prove this point; his home runs were hardly his only improvement from '97.


Giambi may have been a little too blatent with his use of "the cream" 
I will concede the Sosa issue RIGHT NOW and here's why - you are absolutely right about his size in 1998. This is actually a point I have often made myself. The fact that he put on 25 pounds of muscle after that season may be an indication of usage, but he really didn't benefit from it in any way. Plus, he has suffered almost no injuries since 1996, and his play has been consistent throughout. I concede Sosa.

You have to concede Giambi. Until Bonds and McGwire walk up to you and tell you personally that they use steroids, I'll let you deny deny deny, but you have got to concede that Giambi is a junkie. Look at his commercials. Look at the changes in his physique. Look at the crazed eye-bulging way he poses for pictures. Look at his dramatic increase in production, coupled with his recent down slide. Look at his one dimensional game. Look at him, people.


Just Silliness


Now Luis Gonzalez has probably benefited from adding muscle more than anyone else in the history of the game. It always bothered me when announcers talked about how his open stance led to all of those homers in 2001. Hello, he always used that stance. Duh, he put on like 40 pounds of extra muscle.

However, it's not like he got smaller after the 2001 season. He's as big now as he was then. Why the sudden dropoff? Hmm, maybe part of the reason Gonzo did that well in 2001 was that it was a career year.

Now... what is it about 6'1" 185 pounds that makes you think Brady Anderson used steroids? I mean, if he did, so did Davey Johnson in 1973 (a much bigger power increase than Anderson's). Fourunately, both players had the moral decency to stop taking steroids after their one great season and return to being just above average players. That was sweet of them.

Jason Giambi: Not afraid to show off his arms in 2001! 
I also heard a rumor that the entire league was given steroids in the spring of 1987 as a promotion. That explains that year.

There was a report that George Foster hid a needle in his sideburns so that he could shoot up between innings.

But yeah, Jason Giambi wearing a long sleeve shirt on a commercial certainly proves that he used steroids. Just like Sosa and McGwire wearing sleeveless shirts for all those postgame interviews prove that they never did steroids.

And what kind of fantastic blowjobs are Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell giving you that makes you cast suspicion at everyone but them?

Alright, enough nonsense.

1) Career years have always happened. They didn't just begin in 1994, 1996, 1998, or whatever year you decide on. And even if they did, I don't see what role steroids or bodybuilding would play (why not keep taking them/doing it and become a hall-of-famer?).

2) Bodybuilding is exhaustive to a point. Yes, Luis Gonzalez was helped because he was so damn skinny at the start of his career. But whatever 5% increase in bodybuilding gains McGwire got from steroids over natural supplements did what for him? Turned his 450-ft homers into 465-ft homers?

3) It is very possible to get as big as the biggest baseball players today are without steroids. Look at football players, for whom steroid testing is mandatory. So do steroids really make that much of a difference?

4) It's not as if only "5-7%" of players are reaping the benefits of this offensive era. Marginal players like Jay Bell, Steve Finley, Tony Batista; these are not players that would have put up great numbers in the late 80's early 90's. Indeed, Bell and Finley did not.

5) We will never know exactly which of the "5-7%" of major leaguers use steroids, just like we will never know exactly what pitchers used a greaseball or which hitters use a corked bat. So let's say Gary Sheffield comes forward, a la Gaylord Perry. Do we penalize him, and then give full credit to guys like Thomas, Bagwell, and Piazza who could just as easily be doing it but we don't know about it?


All kidding aside, I think everyone is misconstruing the "5-7%" thing.

Was it random drug testing, or was it league wide. I believe it was random, which means that not everyone was tested, which means that it could have been more that 5-7 percent. Sure, I understand the theory behind "sample sizes" being representative of the population as a whole, but I also understand how random is not always so random. Anyway, I digress.

No, steroids alone do not make you bigger. But they certainly accelerate the process a lot, wouldn't you agree?

Frank Thomas may have been using steroids in high school in the late eighties. But if you take a look at his 1990 Topps #1 draft pick card, he has ALWAYS been huge. The main reason I am so convinced that Bagwell and Thomas (not to mention Griffey, despite the fact that he shows all the classic signs of steroid use, i.e. his injuries in recent years) aren't on the juice is that they all hit the ground running. There has really never been a sudden increase in any of their sizes, and their games have stayed pretty much in tact since they made their debuts. No reason to doubt them. As to Piazza, he's pretty much the same scenario.

Manny Ramirez is another one. He is so soft it’s pathetic. If he is on steroids, he's wasting his money.

Which brings me to my next point - has Jeff Kent ever seen pictures of Babe Ruth and Lou Gerhig?

Brady Anderson was bigger in 1996 than he was in 1994.

Career years happen. True. Do career years just "happen" directly after injury plagued seasons and after a guy blimps up? Okay, sure. But to see Andre Dawson hit 49 HRs in 1987, or to see George Foster hit 50 in 1977, or to see Henry Rodriguez hit 35 in 1998 without first increasing their muscle mass significantly makes Javy Lopez' 43 in 132 games with veins bulging out of his arms so big you can see them from left field a bit suspicious. That's all.

With regard to the football player argument, I am going to have to again refer to the virtually overnight nature of some of these players' improvements. Football players tend to be big when they get to the NFL. Generally…

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