This was the year that The House That Steroids Built almost won a World Series by cheating, but thanks to the Anaheim Angels, the MLB world was spared that horror (for the time being). We can also thank the managerial ineptitude of Dusty Baker, who would also blow it during the 2003 playoffs, once again in historic fashion. We know Dusty is fine with cheating, too, as it has been his pattern.
We still believed back then that cheaters would not prosper in baseball, although the 2004 Boston Red Sox deprived us of that hope, and since then, it’s been a lot of cheating champs parading through America with the rewards of their fraud on display. You’d think the majority of fans would reject this reality, but alas … some fan bases are so depraved, they’re fine with it when it benefits them.
Exhibit A: Barry Bonds
Anyway, we start with the usual suspect: Barroid himself. Over four consecutive PED-infused seasons (2001-2004), the Steroid King himself topped his peers in OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+. This was the season he set his career high in OPS+ (268) while also posting a .370 batting average at age 37. His career best up to this point had been the .336 he hit during the 1993 season, his first with the Giants.
Note, too, that this was first season of Bonds’ MLB career where he did not steal double-digit bases. With just 9 steals, it was clear he didn’t have the leg speed any more that he’d had prior to his PED use (28 steals in 1998). Thus, again, you know Barroid wasn’t legging out infield grounders to get his batting average so superficially high. Nope, something else was at play here, cleanly and clearly.
So, how did it all rub off on his teammates this year? Let’s see …
Exhibit B: Benito Santiago
At age 37, this former All-Star catcher boosted his OPS by 100 points suddenly, and he was later implicated in the BALCO scandal, too. Santiago claimed, “Yeah, I got the steroids, but it was a mix-up with the pharmacist. What I needed was hemorrhoid cream—you know, like George Brett—and they thought I ordered steroid cream. Soon as I saw what it was, I sent them back. Hey, don’t laugh. You think it’s fun squatting behind the plate for nine innings with hemorrhoids?”
Seriously, that’s what he said. When you’re done laughing, consider that in 2001, he watched Bonds explode for 73 HRs, while he managed just a .664 OPS at the same age as Barroid. Obviously, Santiago wanted some magic for himself heading into the 2002 season, and he got it, boosting that OPS to .765—a number he had not managed in a full season since 1996. Coincidence? He would have you believe so.
After posting a .753 OPS at age 38 in 2003, Santiago secured $4.35M in contracts from the Kansas City Royals (2004) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (2005). This guy clearly made the decision—perhaps in conjunction with the organization—in December 2001 to commit to PEDs, because after the Giants paid Santiago a mere $500K in 2001 to stink, they re-upped him for 2 more years and almost $4M in salary.
Exhibit C: Kirk Rueter
This junkballer somehow carved out a 13-year career in MLB despite striking out less than 4 batters per 9 IP throughout his time in the majors. At age 31 in 2002, though, he posted a career-low ERA (3.23) despite coming off four prior seasons where he put together a combined 4.54 ERA in 750-plus innings. How did he suddenly turn a corner in 2002? Good question.
Two things stand out: Rueter gave up 9.0 hits per 9 IP in 2002, another career low for a full season, and his WHIP (1.267) was the lowest ever for him, as well. His K rate didn’t rise, either, so somehow Rueter had something extra on his pitches that gave hitters less of a chance than ever before to hit the ball well. What could possibly have made this happen for Rueter in Year 10 of his otherwise forgettable career?
Gee, we wonder. Ahem. What we do know is that Rueter’s salary in 2001—almost $4.9M—was ridiculously high for a bad pitcher, and after 2002, the Giants proceeded to give him more than $19M more in salary before they waived him after the 2005 season. His 2003-2005 combined ERA? Just a tick under 5.00, actually (4.94). All that for a guy who never made an All-Star team or earned Cy Young votes.
Exhibit D: Jay Witasick
This is a classic San Francisco move: trade for an age-29 pitcher with a career ERA of 5.32 at that point, after four other teams have given up on him, and in the one season he pitches for the Giants, he turns in an unbelievable performance (2.37) as the S.F. organization pays him the same amount he’d made in the prior three seasons combined, when he was terrible. Why would a team do that? You know why.
Witasick then moved to the San Diego Padres in 2003, managed by PED enabler Bruce Bochy at the time, and made another $2.5M. Overall, he made more than $5M more in salary after his one year in The House That Steroids Built—which is impressive for a guy with a full career ERA of 4.64 who struggled to stay in the majors for 12 years while playing for 7 different organizations.
His 1.5 WAR was the highest single-season mark of his career, and with the Giants clinching a postseason spot by just 3.5 games over the Los Angeles Dodgers, you see why he had potential value for the S.F. organization. It’s the little guys like that you don’t expect to be cheating who are actually doing so, in all probability, and winning you games. No wonder the Giants gave him a raise for being a sucker.
Conclusion: Same old story in the City by the Bay, in truth
We often think of what Doug Glanville said/wrote about PEDs being worse cheating than sign stealing: We see three players who had careers dwindling or hanging by a thread, and they chose to use in order to get more paydays. The Giants dutifully supplied the financial reward(s), and it turned into a win-win situation for both players and team, basically.
The Giants were desperate to win, being massively in debt after being gifted the Bay Area baseball market by Bud Selig—they needed a winner. They almost got there in 2002, and in the grand scheme of the universe, we always be thrilled an asshole like Bonds never won a championship. At least most of the 2010/2012/2014 Giants were “nice” people—sit down, Aubrey Huff.