On The House That Steroids Built miniseries this week, we look at the San Francisco Giants’ first losing season of the BALCO era—and the team’s first losing season since 1996 as well. That mean it was also the club’s first loser to play in the new waterfront ballpark, as well … one the team went massively into debt to build and wouldn’t be able to pay off until 2017—even with all the cheating and profiting from it.
With just 75 victories, the Giants finished in third place; most of the crash was due to the fact Barry Bonds missed most of the season with an injury (or six, no doubt caused by all the juice—but also in response to the BALCO scandal … conveniently suspending himself, really? Hmmm …). That doesn’t mean others weren’t using PEDs, though.
Exhibit A: Moises Alou
The manager’s son was doping? Probably. His career line is interesting, as he was a very good player through age 31 in 1998—and then he missed an entire year due to injury. But when he came back in 2000 with the Houston Astros at age 33, Alou put up a career-high OPS (1.039). Two seasons later, at age 35 in Wrigley Field, Moises posted a career-low OPS (.757). That’s an odd rollercoaster, suggesting a lot.
But then his last two years with the Cubs in a hitter-friendly ballpark, Alou notched OPS marks (.819 and .919, respectively) that defied his age (37 in 2004). It was enough to get the Giants to sign him, of course, to a $13M deal for two seasons in a pitcher’s ballpark. So, of course, Moises—with no Bonds in the lineup—posts .918 and .923 OPS marks in his two seasons in San Francisco, at age 38 and 39.
That netted him another $15M for two years with the Mets, where he still posted an .898 OPS into his early 40s. All of this should stink to anyone with an ounce of critical thinking: This specific season, 2005, saw a .321 average at age 38, when his legs could no longer run out infield grounders, etc. His -0.9 dWAR betrayed his age, while his eyesight clearly was getting … better? Hello, HGH.
Exhibit B: Scott Eyre
When a 33-year old reliever posts a career high in appearances, you know something is amiss. When he does it and posts the best ERA of his career, then you know something isn’t on the level. Welcome to the 2005 season for journeyman southpaw Scott Eyre.
In 86 appearances, he tossed 68 1/3 innings, the most of his career for any season where he didn’t make any starts. The 2.68 ERA is a lot lower than his career mark (4.33), and Eyre also delivered a career-low WHIP (1.083). So what happened to him in 2005 that didn’t happen any other year of his undistinguished career?
Maybe it was the ballpark, but Eyre’s 3.18 ERA over 264 games with the Giants from ages 30-33 suggests something was amiss. It’s possible it was a late prime for him; it’s also possible it was the ballpark effect(s), too. But it was also the last year of his contract, coming off an age-32 season that featured a lackluster 4.10 ERA. After this rando season, he landed almost $13M more in contracts. Bingo.
Exhibit C: Scott Munter
A rookie in his age-25 season, this righty reliever was highly effective in the only good season of his three-year MLB career, all with San Francisco. His minor-league seasons prior to this produced the following ERAs: 5.58 in 2001, 7.41 in 2002, 2.36 in 2003, and 2.57 in 2004. We guess he learned how to pitch at some point in the offseason between Fall 2002 and Spring 2003.
In 2005, his 2.56 ERA was fluky more than anything, considering he walked more batters than he struck out, and his WHIP was pretty mediocre (1.345). But in 45 games, he did well enough to secure a $334K salary for the 2006 season—where he imploded (8.74 ERA in 27 games). He pitched less than 11 innings in 2007 and was out of the majors forever.
We have read the stories of minor leaguers seeing the big leaguers juicing without penalty and deciding they needed to do it, too, to make it in the pros. Munter fits that description: At age 22, he realized he didn’t have what it took, and then suddenly he got a lot better in the minors—enough to earn a season in the big leagues and a big raise in pay. And then … well, he probably didn’t like the way he felt.
Conclusion: The manager was stuck between a rock and a hard place
Manager Felipe Alou took over an NL-pennant roster from 2002 and led it to two straight winning seasons, totaling 191 regular-season wins in 2003 and 2004. And then, without Bonds, the team crashed hard in 2005. The team did what it could to try winning still, but Alou’s great talents could not keep this team afloat, and he was a much better career manager than Bruce Bochy was.
We do wonder what Felipe thought of having his own son on the roster in such suspect circumstances, but that’s a secretive family matter we’d never be privy to. The manager was 70 years old at this point and probably very worn out. Having Moises on the team probably energized him a bit, so was Daddy willing to overlook the son’s obvious flaw(s)? Sometimes we do wish we were omnipotent.