by Todd Jackson
If you’re of a certain age, you remember the transition of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens from superb whipcord youths to monstrously superb forty year-old behemoths. You remember oddities like the year speedy centerfielder Brady Anderson jacked fifty taters. We’ve been properly outraged by all this pharma-muscle for almost twenty years now.
I say it’s time to turn the page. It’s time to ask a new question: Which old-time players would have been the most awesome on steroids? Would Willie Mays on steroids have been better than Henry Aaron on steroids? How about the utility infielder you loved when you were a kid, but who never made much of an impact? Maybe he was just a few shots or pills away from going from being your own private pleasure to a perennial All-Star.
It’s time to ask: Who, among players of yore, would have been not just good, not just great, but freakishly awesome, with just a little help from his friends? Let’s name some names.
I hear your objection already. Koufax was freakishly awesome. Dominating fastball, probably good enough that it was all he ever had to throw, to which he added an equally dominating curveball just for kicks. His numbers were eye-popping: 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA, 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA, a certified legend, always in the discussion when it comes to the greatest pitcher ever. And I’m going to put him on steroids?
Here’s the problem: the entire span between Koufax’s first 20-win season and his last was just a scant four years. He only won 165 games, retiring at 30, a victim of arthritis.
What if Koufax had played ball deep into his forties, keeping his good heater, like Roger Clemens? Imagine Sandy Koufax on the ’70s Dodgers teams with Steve Garvey and Ron Cey. There might be another pennant or two for the Blue, that’s for sure.
Roberto Clemente wasn’t just the best right-fielder anyone ever saw. He was a four-time batting champ who retired with a .317 batting average. In an age dominated by great pitching, Clemente hit .352, .339, .357, .345, etc. And he did it with a body wracked with pain from numerous injuries, particularly a back injury that he struggled with for his entire career.
Enter the miracle of late 20th century black-market pharmacology. A healthy Clemente might well have hit .400. And more: he spent his entire career, at least until the 1971 World Series, in the shadow of Mays and Aaron, simply because his home run totals typically ran in the high teens to high twenties. Well, we have some idea what the juice does for home run totals. Roberto Clemente on steroids? He might’ve made Pittsburgh forget all about those Steelers.
I know what you’re thinking. Who? Well, shame on you. Before Maury Wills, Lou Brock, and Rickey Henderson, Max Carey was one of the great base stealers in baseball history not named Cobb. He played from 1910 to 1929, and his 738 steals remained an NL record till Brock broke it in ’74.
You haven’t heard of him because he didn’t hit home runs. Just 70 in his 20 year career. A few hundred more of those, and you’d know perfectly well who Max Carey was.
Dom DiMaggio was a pretty good ballplayer. He hit better than .300 four times and hit in the .290s twice in a war-shortened career. His problem was his more famous, and far better, brother Joe. “The Little Professor” – has there ever been a less awe-inspiring nickname? – clearly needed an edge. Well, give him a time travel machine and an illicit connection, and we might well find ourselves asking, “Joe who? You mean the guy with the big teeth?”
The possibilities are endless. Could racist owners, security guards, or Patton’s Army have stopped Josh Gibson on steroids from playing in the Major Leagues, or would he have tossed them aside like toothpicks en route to the plate? What about the midget, Eddie Gaedel? That tiny strike zone would’ve been a Disaster Zone for American League pitchers once he started cracking 450-foot bombs off any pitch that found it.
Let the debate begin!