“The Captain” Derek Jeter is calling it a day … after a whirlwind tour to relish in his greatness in every U.S. ballpark in the MLB. He says, “This is the right time.” Of course, with A-Roid out of the way, we all agree with that summation.
However, that announcement got me — and many of my ilk — thinking, “Thank God Jeter never used steroids.” I detest the Yankees because, well, they are the Yankees, but I love Jeter. So do many devotees in this sport. And it’s people like Jeter who allow some of us homers to believe there is still some sense of purity in baseball.
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Well, at least, we pray to sweet baby baseball Jesus that’s the case. And there is the inspiration for another version of “The Hit List,” the Top 12 baseball players we hope never used steroids. As I opine, cross your fingers, toes and whatever else tattooed appendages you have that these soon-to-be mentioned greats of the game will never be considered to use HGH, Andro, steroids, cream and clear, gummies and whatever else there is to enhance pitch and catch.
12. Fred McGriff. The “Crime Dog” is thought of highly in major league circles because he was not only a great player but an even better clubhouse guy. In 19 years of baseball, no one ever associated his name with steroids. And that’s saying something considering the guy is tied with Lou Gehrig at 493 home runs. His numbers were consistent. His game never seemed to slack. His attitude was always complimented. And while the gomers who control the gates of Cooperstown haven’t called his number, maybe that will change considering all the cheaters out there who have been forbidden.
11. Omar Vizquel. For those who remember his so-sweet defensive game, imagine this guy being your base coach. That’s what Tigers fans get to dream about on a daily basis this season considering “Little O” retired at the young age of 45. In 23 seasons, the guy only had 183 errors. Ever. These days, that kind of defense reeks of HGH but thankfully, Omar strayed from the stuff and became a great leader for how the game was supposed to be played. While his offense wasn’t great (.272 AVG/.352 SLG), he is widely considered one of the best defensive players at his position. No baseball steroids talk. That’s the way it should be done, and now, he will coach it that way, too.
10. Rickey Henderson. Best base runner in MLB history. Period. And he was just naturally that fast. No needles. No cream. No Polydent. Just God-given talent to go one season and steal 130 bases. Before that, no one except the great Lou Brock had swiped more than 100 in close to 30 years (112 in 1974, shout out to Troy Brisbin for the clarification). He was a five-tool player — 3,000 hits, 297 dingers, a deadly glove, a career .401 OBP/.820 OPS, and did we mention that speed? Sure, he has an ego and paid no respect to the aforementioned Brock, but he is Rickey Henderson. Many think had it not been for bum wheels, he could have taken Pete Rose’s all-time hit record. Regardless, the guy was as smart of a baseball player as he was talented. And he did it without steroids in baseball. Prayerfully.
9. George Brett. If a guy gets that pissed over pine tar, imagine what would have happened to the ump if he said Brett used steroids in baseball. He would have beat him like he owed his mama money. Lots of it. The guy is historically one of the cleanest players in baseball, aside from being one of the grittiest. Regretfully, for newcomers to the great game, George Brett is known more for a Grammy-winning song and a picture in National Geographic, but he’s still kind of a big deal. You need another reason that he did not use PEDs, steroids or any other enhancer? He played in Kansas City. Voluntarily. For more than two decades. What else do you need to know?
8. Jim Thome. The guy hit 612 home runs and never raised an eyebrow. Think about that. A-Roid wanted to pimp-slap Willie Mays and the world goes nuts. Thome smacks a ball around for a .402 OBP/.554 SLG and everyone just golf claps. It helps that he was a class act, too. A journeyman by most standards, Jim Thome will be in the Hall of Fame someday. He has to be with those numbers, but people keep hoping that a steroids case sticks to him someday. It won’t. Thome wasn’t the type, thankfully. Do you remember when Jim Thome crushed his 500th homer in 2007? Of course you don’t. It wasn’t a big story. Sure, it was all over ESPN for a day and a half, but not once did pundits did accuse the guy’s head of swelling insurmountably. It will when he gets to the hall, but that’s to be expected.
7. David Ortiz. “Big Papi” has big pop, without a doubt. And if there is anything sacrosanct in this game, keep this guy clear of all baseball steroids talk. Because of his game, the Red Sox smashed the “Curse of the Bambino” — not with a needle, but with a bat and a lot of heart. “Boston Strong” became a thing and Ortiz was its champion with his “This is our [beep] city” exclamation. An entire city crawled on Ortiz’s shoulders, not because they were swollen to gorilla-like proportions due to horse roids, but because they were just that big bolstered with pride. He didn’t need PEDs for that. He didn’t need to cheat for that. He just needed heart, like most role models in this game. And he has that in the aforementioned gorilla-like proportions.
6. Cal Ripken. One of the greatest ambassadors this game has ever welcomed into its warm embrace. He will always be known as the “Iron Man” because he gave the term “everyday player” a new meaning. In fact, when people look up that phrase, Cal’s steel blue eyes peer back at them. In 21 years, his proclivity for extra-base hits made him a nightmare for pitchers, on both sides of the plate. And 431 home runs wasn’t too shabby, during final All-Star games or not. His name is attached to a few records, all of them unblemished by any baseball steroids juice. He was an All-Star 19 times in a row. He played 2,632 games in a row. And he did it all clean forcing those who tripped on a needle after him to ask, “How’d he do that?” Easy. He said “No.”
5. Mike Piazza. Few people in this game — much less, this world — can say they were hand picked by the great Tommy Lasorda and can call the even greater Vin Scully his “homeboy.” Name a better hitting catcher in MLB history. G’head, I’ll wait. While you try to think of someone at his position with better numbers than .922 OPS/.377 OBP/.545 SLG, I’d love to remind you that, while the rumor mill has tried to run him over, nothing involving baseball steroids has stuck to him. And there was ample opportunity given his numbers and the fact he hit a home run that made an entire nation cry as a New York Met. There has even been the whispers of bacne, but that didn’t stop anyone from extolling his greatness hailing from the 62nd round of the MLB draft.
4. Randy Johnson. No one in baseball has ever earned respect like the 6′-10″ albatross known as the “Big Unit.” Although everyone in baseball thought he could be a poster child for roid rage, no one ever accused him of it. That mullet of his may leap off his head and kick your tail Chuck Norris style. If you recall, the guy can throw a ball so hard that he can single-handedly make birds explode on impact. Did any baseball steroids stories latch on to his thick mustachioed frame? I suppose his frame helps those nasty rumors not be hurled in his direction. I suppose his game helped it, too. Not a one. Not when he threw a perfect game. Not when he scared John Kruk off the plate. Not when he averaged 10.6 Ks each nine innings. Not when he threw 4,875 strikeouts. Not once.
3. Tony Gwynn. Not since Ted Williams has there been a greater hitter than Tony Gwynn. And given the man’s sheer greatness in the game and respect outside of it, would anyone consider this man for a steroids user. Not even Jose Canseco and all his questionable scruples would hurl a cowpie in Gwynn’s direction. Besides, a guy with his, um … shall we say … Rubenesque physique never really created the need for people to connect him to steroids or anything of the like. His swing was too sweet. His eye for the ball was dead on target. His ability to snuff out a fast ball and launch that joker into left field is of the stuff of legend. Fitting, huh?
2. Albert Pujols. Baseball. Steroids. The two shall never meet in the life of young Albert Pujols. He is today what Cal Ripken was yesterday. Even though his Cards squeaked out a win in the World Series against my Rangers (thanks, Nelson Cruz), everyone hearts this guy. Even me. Many pundits compare his contact hand-eye coordination to that of Barry Bonds. And BTW, that particular talent was not enhanced by the cream and clear. Pujols is a role model to many young players on how to act on and off the field. While he is “the machine,” he is also quite the man in the diamond. Preferably one away from the junk because if he was ever caught dipping his toe in that gene pool, MLB would cave in. Just say no, Albert. Just keep saying no. Please?
1. Ken Griffey, Jr. I never saw Ted Williams, the Mick or Joe D live, so I’ll stick with the many of my generation — Junior had the sweetest swing ever. It was natural. It was pure. And, oh yeah, it was clean. Just like him. It’s obvious the guy wasn’t full of juice because his body was prone to breaking down long before he ever had a Hall of Fame spotlight on him. And even given all the years he accumulated on the DL, he still hit 630 home runs. He was a five-tool player who wasn’t just a big tool. He loved the game, and everyone loved him for it. If Junior was ever attached to baseball steroids and HGH, it would deflate the dreams of so many players and fans who grew up watching the younger Griffey. Not to mention, the home run numbers would be a figment of baseball’s imagination. Let’s pray that never happens because a kid needs to dream, right?