When can we agree on the time the drug era began in baseball? One of the first times I noticed it was when a player for the San Diego Padres hit his 50th home run at old Bank One Ballpark (now The Chase) in Phoenix on a warm September evening in 1998. I had watched this player for years in Milwaukee. As he trotted across the plate, he was a caricature of his former self. Bloated, muscular beyond his years, hyper-alert. Being behind the visitors’ dugout you could gain such a perspective. That is the day, in my mind, legitimate baseball records ended. Not that the player in question was not a good player. On the contrary, he was a very good ball player. But 50?
Recently, Baseball Digest published a fascinating article on players with the most home runs before the All-Star break. It wasn’t the list that was peculiar; it was a comment one of the readers proposed. He asked, what would this list look like without the drug era players participating?
In order to do that, a line has to be drawn on when the drug era began. My timeline is the year that player hit his 50th home run…1998
By removing all of the players suspected or admittedly used drugs, the list would look very different from the one published. By using the arbitrary HGH Era date, Reggie Jackson of the Oakland A’s would lead the list with 37 home runs before the All-Star break. He would go on to crack 47 in that season of 1969. Second on the list would be Frank Howard of the Washington Senators. He blasted 32 before the All-Star break on his way to hitting 48 during 1969. Ken Griffey, Jr. of the Seattle Mariners would be #3 with 35 dingers in 1994. In fourth place is the legendary Shanley High School star from Fargo, ND, Roger Maris who hit 33 before the break on his way to his 61 in the magical 1961 season. To complete the top five is Matt Williams then playing All-Star caliber baseball with the San Francisco Giants and had 33 homers before the break in 1994 on his way to crashing 43 that year.
I have not included any player after the 1997 season. I simply do not know who was on the juice and who was not. For that matter, I don’t know what the status of any player was before the 1998 season. We experienced the cocaine era, the alcohol era, the chewing tobacco era (if you have never had a chew of ‘baccy’, you can’t understand the buzz that is created the first time you use it and the ‘no-fear’ of a heater past your ears).
Synthetic human growth hormone (HGH) was developed in 1985 and approved by the FDA for specific uses in children and adults. That’s children and adults. For children it was approved for treating a number of medical cases including Turner’s syndrome; Prader-Willi syndrome, chronic kidney insufficiency, HGH deficiency or insufficiency and for children born small for gestational age. It was created for use in adults for short bowel syndrome or HGH deficiency due to rare pituitary tumors or their treatment. It was also approved for uses in muscle-wasting disease associated with HIV/AIDS.
However, most common uses for HGH are not FDA-approved. Some people use the hormone, along with other performance-enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids, to build muscle and improve athletic performance. Because the body’s HGH levels naturally decrease with age, some so-called antiaging experts have speculated and claimed that HGH products could reverse age-related bodily deterioration. The use of HGH for antiaging is not FDA approved. Regardless, some people obtain injectable HGH from doctors who prescribe it for off-label purposes, the uses for which it has not been approved by the FDA, and through Internet pharmacies, antaging clinics, and web sites.
Now we are once again deep within the much publicized HGH era that the Commish, wanting sainthood along with Karol Jozef Wojtyla, before he retires from his $18.4 million salary (equal to what both the NHL & NFL commissioners make), has thrown down the gauntlet on some of the best players in the game because their names were on a piece of paper and a paid informant is spilling his guts about anything and everything he can regurgitate for fame and a little bit of fortune. Plus, there is the possibility of not being persecuted further. More on that after the commish white-washes the game with the spirit of cleanliness once he proclaims the game safe for all young and old.
He plays with the very foundation of the game…its loyal fans.
Nonetheless, here is the list, tainted or not, of what Baseball Digest proclaims as the players with the most home runs before the All-Star break.
Rank Player Team Pre- Season Year
1 Bonds San Francisco Giants 39 73 2001
2 Reggie Jackson Oakland A’s 37 47 1969
3 McGwire St. Louis Cardinals 37 70 1998
4 Ken Griffey, Jr. Seattle Mariners 35 56 1998
5 Gonzalez Arizona Diamondbacks 35 57 2001
6 Frank Howard Washington Senators 34 48 1969
7 Ken Griffey, Jr. Seattle Mariners 33 40 1994
8 Roger Maris New York Yankees 33 61 1961
9 McGwire Oakland A’s 33 49 1987
10 Matt Williams San Francisco Giants 33 43 1994
I do not believe that any of the players who have been tainted with HGH should be honored with any record in baseball. True, proven before guilty is a cornerstone of our democracy. Yet when it comes to baseball, all you have to believe is what you see with your own eyes. In my lifetime, I have seen players who should not be allowed in the record books because they used a substance that gave them an advantage over others in the game. It is a game we played and look forward to comparing the best to the best that have ever played. It is this comparison that makes this game the greatest. Stats shouldn’t lie. But that is just my opinion.
What do you think?