Griffey Ages As a Vet Should

Ah, the dreaded steroids era.  This era of baseball will forever be an injustice against the sport, as records were broken left and right by cheaters with no dignity or honor for the game.  Perhaps more importantly, many players are guilty by association in the public eye, even if they never took steroids.  Unfair?  Absolutely!  My sympathy goes out to the clean players who were cheated out of millions of extra dollars and starting jobs that might have been their own.  I also feel bad for those clean players who wonder if fans suspect them of steroid use at all.

Perhaps the cruelest injustice of the steroid era is the sheer quantity of steroid users.  With so many users, we have absolutely no idea how many players were clean!  Were ten percent of the players clean?  Five percent?  Perhaps fifty percent?  Nobody knows.

Let’s look at the numbers of three of baseball’s biggest superstars in the past 20 years.  These superstars are Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds.  Ken Griffey Jr. is believed by many – myself included – to be a clean superstar.  McGwire and Bonds both used steroids.  McGwire had confessed recently to his steroid use; Bonds’ leaked grand jury testimony indicates that he indeed took steroids, but he claims he did so unknowingly.  Is Griffey clean?  None of us know.  Many people believe he is, and the stats I display below will lend credence to that belief.

Ken Griffey Jr. (630 HR)
(believed to be the cleanest superstar in steroid era)

Griffey entered the majors at the young age of 19 back in 1989.  Between the ages of 19 to 30, Griffey hit .296 with 438 HR (1 HR in every 14 AB).  Between the ages of 31 to 39, Griffey hit .263 with 192 HR (1 HR in every 17 AB).  Incredibly, 70 percent of Griffey’s HR were hit before the age of 31!  Naturally, only 30 percent of Griffey’s taters were hit after the age of 31.  Griffey has experienced the ebbs and flows and then steep decline that is expected in the career of an aging veteran.

1989 (19): 16 HR, 455 AB, .264 AVG
1990 (20): 22 HR, 597 AB, .300 AVG
1991 (21): 22 HR, 548 AB, .327 AVG
1992 (22): 27 HR, 565 AB, .308 AVG
1993 (23): 45 HR, 582 AB, .309 AVG
1994 (24): 40 HR, 433 AB, .323 AVG
1995 (25): 17 HR, 260 AB, .258 AVG
1996 (26): 49 HR, 545 AB, .303 AVG
1997 (27): 56 HR, 608 AB, .304 AVG
1998 (28): 56 HR, 633 AB, .284 AVG
1999 (29): 48 HR, 606 AB, .285 AVG
2000 (30): 40 HR, 520 AB, .271 AVG

2001 (31): 22 HR, 364 AB, .286 AVG
2002 (32): 8 HR, 197 AB, .264 AVG
2003 (33): 13 HR, 166 AB, .247 AVG
2004 (34): 20 HR, 300 AB, .253 AVG
2005 (35): 35 HR, 491 AB, .301 AVG
2006 (36): 27 HR, 428 AB, .252 AVG
2007 (37): 30 HR, 528 AB, .277 AVG
2008 (38): 18 HR, 490 AB, .249 AVG
2009 (39): 19 HR, 387 AB, .214 AVG

Mark McGwire (583 HR)
(confessed to steroid use)

Assuming that McGwire told the truth in his confession, we know the timeline of when he took steroids.  If you want a pre-steroids vs. steroids breakdown of McGwire’s numbers, then click here for that breakdown.

The McGwire stats displayed below will focus on his production by age.

McGwire entered the league as a rookie in 1986 at the age of 23; however, he technically had two rookie seasons.  His 1986 season was a brief stint in the majors in which he only reached 53 at-bats.  As a second-year rookie in 1987, McGwire hit a dazzling 49 HR!

Between the ages of 23 to 30, McGwire hit .250 with 229 HR (1 HR in every 14 AB).  Between the ages of 31 to 38, McGwire hit .294 with 320 HR (1 HR in every 8 AB).

When McGwire was 30, he had only nine HR in 84 AB.  This does not skew the before-31 and after-31 breakdown at all, because McGwire also only hit nine HR when he was 31 as well.  Due to injuries, McGwire had back-to-back nine-HR seasons (and a combined total of 219 AB) at the ages of 30 and 31.

Of McGwire’s 583 career HR, 55 percent of them came between the ages of 31 to 38!

1986 (23): 3 HR, 53 AB, .189 AVG
1987 (24): 49 HR, 557 AB, .289 AVG
1988 (25): 32 HR, 550 AB, .260 AVG
1989 (26): 33 HR, 490 AB, .231 AVG
1990 (27): 39 HR, 523 AB, ..235 AVG
1991 (28): 22 HR, 483 AB, .201 AVG
1992 (29): 42 HR, 467 AB, .268 AVG
1993 (30): 9 HR, 84 AB, .333 AVG

1994 (31): 9 HR, 135 AB, .252 AVG
1995 (32): 39 HR, 317 AB, .274 AVG
1996 (33): 52 HR, 423 AB, .312 AVG
1997 (34): 24 HR, 366 AB, .284 AVG
1998 (35): 70 HR, 509 AB, .299 AVG
1999 (36): 65 HR, 521 AB, .278 AVG
2000 (37): 32 HR, 236 AB, .305 AVG
2001 (38): 29 HR, 299 AB, .187 AVG

Barry Bonds (762 HR)
(in leaked grand jury testimony he states he unknowingly did steroids)

 

Bonds_before_and_after.jpgBonds entered the league in 1986 at the age of 22.  Between the ages of 22 to 30, Bonds hit .285 with 259 HR (1 HR in every 17 AB).  Between the ages of 31 to 43, Bonds hit .309 with 503 HR (1 HR in every 10 AB).  These Herculean numbers show that Bonds had hit 66 percent of his HR between the ages of 31 to 43!

1986 (22): 16 HR, 413 AB, .223 AVG
1987 (23): 25 HR, 551 AB, .261 AVG
1988 (24): 24 HR, 538 AB, .283 AVG
1989 (25): 19 HR, 580 AB, .248 AVG
1990 (26): 33 HR, 519 AB, .301 AVG
1991 (27): 25 HR, 510 AB, .292 AVG
1992 (28): 34 HR, 473 AB, .311 AVG
1993 (29): 46 HR, 539 AB, .336 AVG
1994 (30): 37 HR, 391 AB, .312 AVG

1995 (31): 33 HR, 506 AB, .294 AVG
1996 (32): 42 HR, 517 AB, .308 AVG
1997 (33): 40 HR, 532 AB, 291 AVG
1998 (34): 37 HR, 552 AB, .303 AVG
1999 (35): 34 HR, 355 AB, .262 AVG
2000 (36): 49 HR, 480 AB, .306 AVG
2001 (37): 73 HR, 476 AB, .328 AVG
2002 (38): 46 HR, 403 AB, .370 AVG
2003 (39): 45 HR, 390 AB, .341 AVG
2004 (40): 45 HR, 373 AB, .362 AVG
2005 (41): 5 HR, 42 AB, .286 AVG
2006 (42): 26 HR, 367 AB, .270 AVG
2007 (43): 28 HR, 340 AB, .276 AVG

I’d like to note the transition from the 2000 season to the 2001 season for Bonds.  Despite having four fewer AB in 2001, Bonds hit 34 more HR that season!  If that’s not a red flag for steroid use, then what is?!

Recap
Griffey posted superstar numbers in his prime years and aged as a veteran should age; meanwhile, the numbers posted by McGwire and Bonds after the age of 30 clearly demonstrate the aid steroids provided in their HR totals.  Was Griffey a clean player?  None of us know; however, his post-30 numbers lead me to believe he was a clean player.

I have several things I must say about McGwire and Bonds, however.  While both did use steroids, McGwire was always naturally talented enough to hit 40+ HR (he hit 49 as a rookie).  Bonds, on the other hand, was talented enough to hit 25-35 HR naturally.  Could Bonds have hit 40 before he ever took steroids?  Perhaps he could, although I find it unlikely (unless it were a career year).

McGwire was the better natural HR hitter.  I will say, however, that Bonds was a much better player than Mark McGwire was.  Even before McGwire and Bonds were breaking records, Bonds was the better player and was Hall-of-Fame material.  He was an excellent outfielder who could hit for average, power, and steal bases.  McGwire was a one-trick pony.

Historians will always argue about the greatest players in baseball history.  My pick would be one of Babe Ruth, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, or Joe DiMaggio; however, Griffey is the best player I’ve seen in my lifetime.  For the sake of his talent meaning something special, let’s hope he was a clean one!

 

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