Derek Jeter played his final home game for the New York Yankees yesterday, bringing him ever closer to being one of the four best players to never be linked with substance abuse in an era rampant with steroid use. He is a part of that rare bunch that slipped through with success while, supposedly, keeping their veins and bodies clean, and that is to be celebrated just as much as his and their accomplishments. The following takes a look at these four select players that brought baseball to new heights without the taint of an era.
This list is neither ordered nor definitive; plenty of hall of fame players came from this era without needing artificial help. Also, this is not an instant damnation of those simply accused of steroid use, but never found guilty. These players have had no affiliation with the drug during their careers and played for a majority of the time between 1995 and today.
First among the four is the position player that retired first, Ken Griffey Junior, who played for the Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox during his 22-year career. During that time, Griffey had moments of brilliance that made him the top outfielder of the 90s and one of the top hitters. His lifetime .284, 111 R.B.I. and 38 homerun per 162-game average made him feared at the plate, and 10 straight Gold Gloves for Seattle, punctuated by his famously gruesome collision with the center field wall, took away that area of the field. Injuries slowed his career in Cincinnati, and some say he would be the all-time homerun king with those three seasons of fewer than 100 games played back. Even so, his dominance of the game was apparent every time he played.
Randy Johnson, who was a nomadic pitcher for many years, lit the batter’s box on fire with his fastball-slider combination. Playing for the Seattle Mariners, Houston Astros, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, Montreal Expos and Arizona Diamondbacks, he was an imposing figure that became synonymous with the strikeout. He won five Cy Young Awards and surpassed 300 strikeouts a year six times including four consecutive. On average, he struck out 1.2 batters an inning for his career and sits in second on the all-time strikeout list with 4,875. He also lead the Diamondbacks to a World Series victory by pitching in two starts and a relief appearance, earning the Series co-M.V.P. for his efforts.
Another player joining Jeter among the four best during the steroid era of baseball is the pure hitter Ichiro Suzuki. Playing with the Mariners for most of his career, he was an almost guaranteed .300 average a year with over 200 hits in each year but his final full season in Seattle. As another dominate outfielder, Suzuki held down right field with his speed and electric arm, making only 37 errors in his career to date while accumulating 110 assists over the same time. Many experts say that Suzuki would have passed Pete Rose as the all-time leader in hits if he had played all of his games here instead of Japan, but he currently sits at 2,840 hits for his Major League career. He currently plays for the New York Yankees in the final year of a two-year contract.
Derek Jeter, his teammate for a few more days, stands out amongst these four best players from an era of steroids by being the only one to play for one team his entire career. The Captain sports the most World Series victories, most hits, and the second highest career batting average out of everyone else on this list. He is the last remaining piece of the Yankees dynasty that lasted for four championships and six appearances in the Series in the eight year span between 1996 and 2003, he being the M.V.P. for their 2000 run. Jeter has been one of the stalwarts of professionalism in an era that lacked that very ideal, and the Yankees, and baseball, will miss his presence in the clubhouse and at shortstop.
Opinion by Myles Gann