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Steroid-Free Baseball Records

Daniel J. Castellano (2010)

[Go to the charts]

It has long been abundantly clear that Commissioner Bud Selig has no intention of addressing the impact of the "steroid era" on baseball's hallowed statistical records, most notably the fraudulent home run records established by Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and others. There will be no stricken records, nor even so much as an asterisk. Selig just hopes the whole sorry episode will be pushed into the past, as any inquiry into what to do about records and awards would force us to examine concrete questions of guilt or innocence, and would once again focus attention on how badly the commissioner mismanaged the sport. Much like McGwire at the steroid hearings, Selig does not want to talk about the past.

Yet, if we are to keep records of anything, we have no choice but to talk about the past. What do we make of Barry Bonds' position at the top of the career home run leaderboard? Is there any intelligent person who considers that position legitimate? If not, why continue with the charade? What baseball purists, and even not-so-purists, need and want is a record book purged of fraudulent records. The commissioner will never provide us with one, so we will have to do the work ourselves.

First, we should nip in the bud some of the excuses made (by people who should know better) for keeping the records as is. The first is that performance enhancing drugs were not forbidden at the time. This, of course, is Bud Selig's greatest failing, which is why it would be hypocritical for him to penalize the steroid users of that era. Nonetheless, everyone who did steroids or HGH certainly knew what they were doing was cheating by commmon moral standards, or else there would be no reason to do it covertly. For the steroid users to go to such elaborate trouble to hide their activity and then claim they did not know they were doing anything wrong is an insult to our intelligence. In many cases, the substances were obtained through criminal means.

Another tired claim is that performance enhancing drugs do not significantly enhance performance. It doesn't help you have better eyesight or timing, the apologists say, and the athletes still need to train hard. True enough, but no one questions that steroids significantly improve recovery from intense training, and enhance arm strength. The whole reason for resorting to such drugs is to improve performance, and one of the ways its was first suspected was because of the eye-popping numbers of the steroid era, particularly in the ridiculous home run frenzy of the late nineties, led by a past-their-prime McGwire and Bonds. Arm strength can turn fly balls into home runs, thereby improving home run totals, RBIs, slugging percentage and on-base percentage, as well as drawing more walks. This is all corroborated by the statistical evidence.

Another approach for excusing the steroid era is to relativize it, saying there were cheaters in every era, so it would be arbitrary and unjust to penalize the steroid users only. This argument might have merit for things such as Hall of Fame consideration, but hardly carries weight regarding the legitimacy of records. The means of cheating in earlier eras were hardly capable of causing the enormous statistical variance we saw in the steroid era. Throwing a spitball won't add nine years and four Cy Youngs to your career, nor will amphetamines turn a second-rate All-Star into a player with Hall of Fame statistics. Yet this is exactly what we witnessed in the steroid era.

Lastly, it may be argued that there simply is no way of knowing who was guilty of significant performance enhancing when. This excuse is beginning to wear thin, with the abundance of leaked evidence and belated public confessions. Combining public testimony with an analysis of unusual statistical variations in performance, I believe I can identify the periods of steroid use for the players who have impacted major league records in batting and pitching. The "steroid era" of baseball can be dated roughly from 1995 to 2005, the peak period of abuse, though there are significant instances of use before and after this period.

The Users

Jose Canseco, the self-appointed apostle of steroid use in baseball, has correctly directed our attention to the dramatic change in physique among baseball players in the mid-nineties compared with previous eras. After the steroid scandal broke and testing became required, some players, most notably Sammy Sosa, reverted to a more modest physique. Based on public or leaked testimony, compared with dramatic increases in performance, I can with reasonable certainty identify the following periods of substance abuse for these users:

Adjusting the Records

Based on the above findings, we can correct the record books by striking out the statistics for the period of infraction, just as one would do in any sport with strong anti-doping regulations. This deletion will affect both the single-season and career records of the doping players, as well as any awards won for that season.

In the charts linked below, I have listed the statistics of doping players for the seasons of probable substance abuse, followed by their career totals. Statistics that led the league in a particular season are emphasized in boldface. After the career totals, I list an additional line of adjusted career totals, subtracting the statistics achieved during periods of substance abuse.

The charts include revised lists of season leaders in statistical categories affected by steroid abuse. Where a statistical league lead has changed hands due to substance abuse, I highlight the new, non-steroid using title holder's name in blue. If the league-leading statistic itself has changed, that number is also colored blue. Only seasons from 1986 onward are listed, as only those are affected.

Season awards such as the MVP and Rookie of the Year are also revised, awarding these to the runners-up in vote totals when the nominal winner was doping. Only the seasons from 1986 to 2004 are affected.

Finally, the major league baseball records affected by steroid use are presented in their unadulterated form, after adjusting the statistics of steroid users. The top 20 in every major statistical category affected by steroids, in both single-season and career records, are listed plainly, without qualification or asterisks. These are glimpses of the true record books that Major League Baseball has not seen fit to bring into being, being content with irrevocably tainted and meaningless records, in order to avoid bringing further attention to its sorry mismanagement of the sport.

These records are current as of the end of the 2009 season. Using the data I have compiled on steroid abusers, it is easy for any reader to update these records on his own in future years, though I will also do so at the end of each season, time permitting. Without further ado, here are:

The Steroid-Free Baseball Records

© 2010 Daniel J. Castellano. All rights reserved. http://www.arcaneknowledge.org