It's difficult to say exactly what year marked the beginning of baseball's steroid era. Was it 1988 when A's outfielder Jose Canseco was serenaded by the Fenway Park crowd with "sterrr-roid" chants during the American League Championship Series that October? Was it the summer of 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, sluggers with arms as big as Hulk Hogan's, staged the greatest home run derby in baseball history?
Or maybe it was 1996, the first year an admitted steroid user and a suspected one won the MVP awards in each league. The late Ken Caminiti was named NL MVP that season and Juan Gonzalez edged Alex Rodriguez for the AL MVP award. In fact, six of the top 10 finishers in the AL voting that season are players who either used steroids or have been implicated. Besides Gonzalez and A-Rod, the others were Mo Vaughn, Rafael Palmeiro, McGwire, Ivan Rodriguez.
A-Rod and Gonzalez became teammates with the Rangers in 2002, the same year Caminiti told Sports Illustrated that he took steroids during his MVP season and estimated 50 percent of the players in the game were doing them. SI.com reported Saturday that Rodriguez tested positive in 2003.
"One of the guys that everybody had hoped would be clean," former Red Sox outfielder Mike Greenwell said by phone from his Florida home. "Alex has been a great player in the game for many years. Unfortunately, it's been a continuing thing going on. Not good."
It still bugs Greenwell that he finished a distant second to Canseco in the MVP voting in 1988. Several years later, the two were teammates in Boston.
"I'll tell you what he told me one time," Greenwell said. "I got my third hit in the game, I think it was a double and I ended up scoring. I came in and I'm sitting down next to him and he says, 'Dude, I wish I could hit like you.' And I said, 'Shoot, I wish I had your power. Are you kidding me?' He goes, 'Well, you come down to Miami and I'll be able to hook you up, but I'll never be able to hit like you.' He probably didn't realize it, but that meant a lot to me. It kind of always burned me that I lost [the MVP] to someone that I really suspected and later knew was doing steroids at that time. It always bothered me. That meant a lot that he said that to me because I said in my own head, 'Well, I did it clean and you didn't.' That's kind of how I looked at that."
Perhaps others who finished second or third in the MVP should feel like Greenwell. Maybe that's how A-Rod felt in '96 when he finished three points behind Gonzalez or after he was once again runner-up in 2002 to Miguel Tejada, who was in the Mitchell Report.
Of the 26 MVP winners (13 in each league) since 1996, 14 have either tested positive for steroids or have been implicated. Leading the way is – you guessed it – Barry Bonds (with four MVPs), followed by A-Rod (three), Gonzalez (two), and Jason Giambi, Sosa, Tejada, Ivan Rodriguez and Caminiti with one each. And with SI.com reporting that A-Rod tested positive for steroids in 2003, it means five of the top 12 home run leaders of all-time have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
It's a sad day for baseball, but the players and MLB commissioner Bud Selig made it this way. If people were more forthcoming, this mess could have been avoided.
"Unlike most people and maybe most players, I think what Jose Canseco did was a good thing for baseball," Greenwell said, referring to Canseco's book, Juiced, that accused several sluggers of using steroids. "I'm sure the commissioner and everybody else doesn't like him, but I think what he did was a good thing. It brought everything to the front, it really did, and it made everyone realize that maybe we do have an issue and maybe we do have to clean the game up. In that respect, I think it's been a good thing."
When the Mitchell Report came out, Canseco said he was surprised that A-Rod's name wasn't on the list. A-Rod, you may recall, never denied it when asked. That right there should have been a red flag.
"I played with Jose and I know one thing he's not, he's not a liar," Greenwell said. "So if he's saying he injected somebody, he probably did."
Greenwell was teammates with Roger Clemens for 12 years. Does he think the Rocket was ever injected?
"That's probably the hardest one for me of all," Greenwell said. "It's simply because Roger, without a doubt, was the hardest working man I've ever met in my life. His work ethic was unbelievable. This guy would pitch seven or eight innings in a game and be one of the first ones at the ballpark the next day, put on his shorts and go for a four- or five-mile run. He was just a very, very hard worker. It's still very hard for me to believe that he did [steroids], and I don't know if he did. He's probably one of the biggest questions that I have. But again, he's probably guilty until proven innocent, unfortunately.
"I don't really know about Roger. I was his teammate for 12 years and I still can't say he did or didn't. I never suspected it, and I'm still not sure. His work ethic was always what I thought kept him there for so long. He had twice the work ethic of any pitcher I ever met. That's a fact. He was the guy that started weight lifting when no pitcher was allowed to weight lift. But fortunately he was good enough and he said, 'I'm lifting weights, shut up!' He kind of did his own thing and more guys tended to follow that and it became sort of mandatory in baseball. Roger really started that.
"Before he went in front of Congress, I said to some of my friends, 'Roger's an intelligent guy. He certainly has lawyers advising him, and I said I certainly hope if he did them that he's not dumb enough to get up there and deny it. Be man enough to say I did them.' So if he did do them and he does get caught, shame on him. If Alex has already come out and admitted it and says, 'Hey, it is what it is. I'm done, I'll never do it again. Life's got to go on.' But I do understand why guys do them. There's so much pressure to compete.
"I negotiated my own contract and I would go upstairs to meet with the GM and they would say, 'Mike, you're one of the best hitters in the game, but you don't hit enough home runs or drive in enough runs.' Eight-five-90 RBI is not enough because the numbers were starting to get skewed. That was very hard for me to take, so I was very tempted to do them, and I didn't do them, but I wanted to. I wanted to because I felt the pressure of staying in the game and performing at that level. So I understand why players have done them. I necessarily don't have bad feelings or blame them for doing them. I understand why they did them. But I think now that the knowledge iis out there, let's clean the game up. That's really what it comes down to."