A Look Back at the Statistical Steroid Freak Show That Was MLB 2001
When it comes to baseball's latest steroid fiasco, the Biogenesis scandal, we know of a few familiar names, the most prominent being Yankees third basemen Alex Rodriguez, who hasn't played a meaningful inning of baseball in about a year, and Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, who just got pinched two days ago and won't be playing baseball until sometime in 2014.
The names, by and large, are either unknown at this point or in the grand scheme of baseball history, fairly nondescript. Braun stands above them all because of his power numbers (averaging 37 home runs and a .990 OPS the last two seasons) and his place in the game (MVP of the National League in 2011, runner-up in 2012).
In 2013, those credentials (along with that large black cloud of suspicion that's hovered over him) is enough to at least raise red flags on Braun, because in 2013, his numbers qualify as freaky.
However, if you think steroids are a problem now in the wake of Biogenesis, let's take a trip down the statistical flashback highway to 2001.
If Braun stands out as freaky in 2013 with a couple big 40-ish home run seasons and an OPS near 1.000, then you'd be able to plunk him down in 2001 and he would blend into the tapestry of that testosterone soaked season with hardly an issue.
Because when it comes to freaks, the 2001 season is the Star Wars cantina scenes of Major League Baseball seasons, and quite frankly Ryan Braun's 41 home run career high would barely be a Jawa sitting in the corner at Mos Eisley space station. (And that, my friends, was the dorkiest sentence ever typed in a sports post.)
All you have to do is look at the MVP balloting for that season, and it's frankly a little embarrassing that we weren't all hip to just how juiced up this game was back then.
Consider the following:
1. The top nine vote getters in the National League, all hitters, averaged 49 home runs and 133 runs batted in. For decades, one guy hitting 50 home runs was a big deal. But by 2001, nine guys in one league were averaging nearly that many. By comparison, the top nine NL vote getters in 2012 averaged 29 home runs and 100 runs batted in.
2. Of the top ten hitters in the 2001 NL MVP balloting, five of them had what wound up being their career highs in home runs that season (Bonds, who set the all time record with 73, Luis Gonzalez 57, Shawn Green 49, Todd Helton 49, and Rich Aurilia 37). And I mean not only up to that point, but in the end, these were their career highs. Two others had their second best seasons of their careers (Sammy Sosa 64, Chipper Jones 38).
3. Um, Rich Aurilia hit 37 home runs. RICH FUCKING AURILIA. This should have been ten times the red flag that Barry Bonds 73 home runs and size 12 1/2 lid were.
4. In 2012, Braun's .987 OPS was the best of any vote getter in the entire league, other than Joey Votto's 1.041. In 2001, seven of the top nine finishers had OPS' of over 1.000, led by Bonds' clownish 1.379.
5. I know his numbers were more inflated by Coors Field than by steroids (mostly because he got hurt way too much to be a qualified roid head), but Larry Walker's season of .350/.449/.662 with 38 home runs and 123 RBI being good enough to garner one tenth place vote is just stupid.
6. Four of the top six finishers in the American League were Jason Giambi (2nd), Bret Boone (3rd), Juan Gonzalez (5th), and Alex Rodriguez (6th). We were all cool with this?
7. Manny Ramirez finished 8th. Roger Clemens finished 9th. Repeat, we were all cool with this?
8. Somehow, with a mere 8 home runs, Ichiro Suzuki managed to win the American League MVP Award, which would be like Kate Upton hanging out in a room full of NFL quarterbacks and deciding to go home with me.
9. To me, Paul Lo Duca (Dodgers catcher at the time) is the classic example of steroid lotto ticket desperation. An admitted user and a Mitchell Report alumnus, Lo Duca finally got a full time big league shot at age 29 and finished 19th in the NL MVP balloting. From there, he went on to have a couple more modest seasons (good enough to get into two All-Star Games), got paid, and then shriveled back up into the pedestrian crap knob he was before age 29. But he cashed in -- from 2005 on, LoDuca garnered nearly 75 percent of his $30 million in career earnings while hitting 25 percent of his 80 career home runs. Good for you, Paul. I guess.
So, you see, Ryan Braun, your response to all of the hate, all of the anger, shouldn't be contrition or regret. Merely point back to 2001, and say "Um, people, there was a time when you were all cool with this...."
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