The debate about whether steroid users should be admitted into the Baseball Hall of Fame rages on. With commissioner Bud Selig getting inducted this year, the sentiment among voters appears to be changing. It seems awfully hypocritical to keep out players who used performance-enhancing drugs, while honoring their chief enabler.
Much of the discussion surrounding the steroid era centers around superstars such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez and other all-time greats. But when looking back at that period in baseball history, the most striking part is the sheer number of players who were putting monstrous power numbers. In 1999, for example, 13 players hit at least 40 home runs. Last season, only eight players reached the 40-home run plateau.
McGwire and Sosa’s home run chase in 1998 may symbolize the steroid era, but it’s true essence isn’t fully appreciated until one dives a little deeper into the record books. The number of “one-hit wonders” –– previously anonymous players who put up MVP caliber seasons only to quickly disappear back into oblivion –– is incredible. Five players who put up some of the most eye-popping “lost seasons” are below:
Brady Anderson (1996): .297/.396/.637 50 HR 110 RBI
For most of his career, Anderson was a pedestrian leadoff hitter with a little bit of pop. By 1996, his career batting average was down to .250 and he seemed to be heading into the twilight of his career. But then, something clicked.
At 32 years old, Anderson belted 50 home runs and posted an OPS north of 1.000. He averaged nine home runs per season during the previous eight years of his career.
In the four years after that mysterious power surge, Anderson averaged 20 round-trippers per year out of the leadoff spot. But he never touched the heights he reached in ’96. I wonder why …
Richard Hidalgo (2000): .314/.391/.636 44 HR 122 RBI
Hidalgo was a highly touted prospect who raced through the Houston Astros’ minor league system and posted an impressive rookie season. But after slumping during his sophomore campaign, he took his production to another level in 2000. He blasted 44 home runs with 122 RBI, surpassing his totals in those categories during his first two big league seasons.
Amazingly, Hidalgo only finished 20th in MVP voting that year. That says one of two things: either voters were jaded when it came to appreciating one-year power surges, or they just didn’t recognize talent. Given that closer Rob Nenn finished 12th in MVP voting, signs point more to the latter.
Hidalgo hang around for a few more seasons –– he hit .309 with 28 home runs in 2003 –– but then stopped playing baseball in 2005, which is one year after drug testing was implemented. What a coincidence.
Luis Gonzalez (2001): .325/.429/.688 57 HR 142 RBI
The most memorable hit of Gonzalez’s career was the bloop single he hit off Mariano Rivera in Game 7 of the World Series to bring a championship to Arizona. But he spent most of the 2001 season clearing fences.
During the first decade of his career, Gonzalez was a solid hitter who averaged 16 home runs per season and put up an .816 OPS. But then, at 33 years old, he turned Hercules. His 57-home run campaign placed him third in MVP voting and helped propel the Diamondbacks to the World Series. Unsurprisingly, Gonzalez never touched 50 home runs again –– and didn’t even crack 30 for the rest of his career.
John Jaha (1999): .276/.414/.556 35 HR 111 RBI
Jaha could’ve been included on this list for his 1996 season, too, in which he blasted 34 home runs with the Milwaukee Brewers. But for some reason, it seems more appropriate that he appears on this list as a member of the Oakland A’s.
The Oakland A’s bred steroid users, producing two generations of notorious juicers. In the 1980’s, they were led by the Bash Brothers, McGwire and Jose Canseco. When the late 1990’s came around, Jason Giambi emerged as the face of the franchise. They couldn’t have found a more appropriate choice.
There’s no hard evidence that links Jaha to steroid use, but that’s probably because nobody cares to look. The injury-riddled slugger was out of baseball two years after his huge 1999 season, only playing 45 games in 2000 and 2001.
Jay Bell (1999): .289/.374/.557 38 HR 112 RBI
We return to the Diamondbacks to find Jay Bell, a nondescript middle infielder who didn’t show any signs of power until the late 1990’s rolled around. Despite being 34 year old in 1999, he blasted 38 home runs –– more than he had hit in his first six big league seasons combined.
In addition to a mysterious late-career power surge, Bell also retired from baseball just two years after his breakout campaign. Those are two telltale signs that something nefarious may have been taking place.