It’s time to tackle the ‘roided-up elephant in the room: PEDs. We understand each and every voter has their own opinion (and that changing it is virtually impossible) but we’d like to point out that Jeff Bagwell has never, to our knowledge, tested positive for a banned substance; he wasn’t named in Jose Canseco’s book, the Mitchell Report, the BALCO investigation, the Biogenesis investigation, or any other high-profile, PED-related scandal. And he hasn’t been implicated by a former teammate, friend and/or trainer. Heck, he has two ex-wives and was involved in a high-profile, contentious divorce trial… Nada.
Many writers – not scientists, not doctors but baseball writers – have boiled the PED issue down to “muscles = steroids,” and that’s disappointing both for its simplicity and, honestly, ignorance. The impact of performance enhancing drugs is complicated and multi-faceted. After all, did Lance Armstrong develop incredibly large muscles? Think about this: before steroids were an issue, which would you consider least likely: an athletic 22/23-year old packing on muscles; or an athlete maintaining above-average production into their late 30s/early 40s? Greg Maddux (deservedly) sailed into the Hall of Fame without a hint of suspicion, despite the fact that we know, from the players themselves, that steroids improved recovery time, increased endurance and prolonged careers. So why not be suspicious of Maddux? Because he didn’t pack on muscles? Again, take a long look at Lance Armstrong and tell us PEDs are as easy as “steroids = muscles.”
The other precarious link to Jeff Bagwell’s alleged PED use is the late Ken Caminiti, a teammate and friend who, in many ways, is ground zero for the steroid era in baseball. In a now infamous Sports Illustrated article, “Totally Juiced” (originally published June 3, 2002), Caminiti copped to doping, claiming, “At least half the guys are using steroids.” Boom. In terms of seismic impact, Caminiti’s statement shattered the Richter scale, exposing, for the first time publicly, baseball’s rampant drug problem.
But here’s the thing – and in a game of nothing more than innuendo, conjecture, and lazy guesswork, it’s a mighty big thing: Caminiti didn’t start using steroids until 1996; two years after Bagwell and Caminiti were teammates. From the article:
Spurred to try the drugs by concern over a shoulder injury in early ’96, Caminiti said that his steroid use improved his performance noticeably and became more sophisticated over the next five seasons.
That’s not to suggest Bagwell is, by extension, innocent. It certainly isn’t to suggest that, once they ceased being teammates, they never spoke again – we know they were friends and that someone “spurred (Caminiti) to try the drugs.” (Though Caminiti would later frame that possible influence by stating, “When you play in San Diego, it’s easy to just drive into Mexico (to obtain steroids).”) But it does throw some cold water on an already tenuous link, doesn’t it? And the numbers would seem to back up Caminiti’s claim.
Between 1991-1994, Caminiti hit 57 home runs and slugged .422 in 541 games as an Astro. In 1995 (his first as a Padre), he hit 26/.513. In 1996 (the year Caminiti claimed he started using steroids): 40/.621. More specifically – after trying steroids “to get me through the second half of the season,” Caminiti went 28/.760 post-All-Star break. His second half home run pace was 55, which would have been a 111% increase over the previous year.
Bagwell? Here are his numbers with and without Caminiti:
’91-‘94: .309/.394/.520/.914; 92 HRs; 155 OPS+; 2,435 plate appearances
’95-’99: .300/.432/.564/.996; 129 HRs; 163 OPS+; 2,684 plate appearances
(Note: we picked 1999 because it was Bagwell’s last year in the Astrodome.)
Bagwell hit 28 more home runs in 249 more plate appearances; or, roughly, 5.6 more per year. His slugging percentage rose 44 points. As a means of comparison, Caminiti, from 1995-1999, hit 64 more home runs (12.8 more per year) and his slugging percentage rose 118 points. And that was in just 114 more plate appearances.
Creating flaccid connections to denigrate someone’s accomplishments and character is a terrible waste of time. And it’s a dagger that’s too often wielded irresponsibly. Tony Gwynn, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine have shared a locker room with Caminiti. Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez have shared a locker room with Derek Jeter. If the standard is that the entire era was dirty and thus no one’s above suspicion… while remarkably small-minded, at least it’s consistent. But to arbitrarily draw unfounded, specious conclusions to fit your own narrative while a degree in journalism hangs from a nearby wall displays a total lack of integrity.
We’ll end this section where it began: Jeff Bagwell has never, to our knowledge, tested positive for a banned substance; he wasn’t named in Jose Canseco’s book, the Mitchell Report, the BALCO investigation, the Biogenesis investigation, or any other high-profile, PED-related scandal. And he hasn’t been implicated by a former teammate, friend and/or trainer.