The House That Steroids Built opened in 2000, to much adoration and celebration. A long time in development and planning, the San Francisco Giants finally got their desired ballpark in the City by the Bay—after getting rejected for a move to San Jose three times by the voters in Santa Clara County. Ironic, isn’t it, that the blight of baseball wasn’t even wanted in greedy Silicon Valley.
Instead, it was liberal and progressive San Francisco that got stuck with the robber barons of the West Coast professional sports scene. After taking a handout from the Oakland Athletics to move to San Jose and claim that territory, the Giants instead built in San Francisco and refused to give the South Bay rights back to the Oakland organization. Sounds a lot like someone else we know.
The inaugural season of the new ballpark on the waterfront was a moderate success, as the Giants won 97 games to claim the NL West Division title before losing in the National League Division Series to the New York Mets. The new joint was very much a pitcher’s ballpark, but the offense put up in S.F. would suggest otherwise. No surprise there, eh? Here’s how it happened …
Exhibit A: Barry Bonds
We again start with the reminder of the slash line for Bonds before BALCO and after BALCO:
- BEFORE 1999: .290/.398/.556
- AFTER 1998: .319/.505/.721
During this season, at age 35, Barroid hit a then-best 49 home runs in a ballpark that suppressed power strokes, especially for left-handed hitters. Obviously, something was a miss for an old guy to power up like that. He also stole only 11 bases, his full-season low at that point in his career. In 1998, he still stole 28 bases, so you can see what the added bulk from BALCO did to this bully.
Exhibit B: Bobby Estalella
Definitely not the biggest name, but this catcher posted a .736 OPS in 76 games with the Philadelphia Phillies from 1996-1999. He showed up in San Francisco this season and managed an .826 OPS in 106 games with the Giants—in the pitcher’s ballpark. His 10 seasons in the minor leagues resulted in just an .802 OPS, so you can see how silly this is to overlook.
Amusingly enough, his combined OPS from 2001-2004 with the New York Yankees, Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Toronto Blue Jays ended up around .725 overall. His career mark (.755) was mostly fueled by this one season in San Francisco, hanging with Barroid & Co. Just another example of a guy who couldn’t hit before coming to the Giants—or afterward … yet still managed nice numbers in S.F.
Exhibit C: Ellis Burks
It’s sad to see his name here, but alas, the stats do not lie. From 1994-1998, Burks played for the Rockies and posted a .957 OPS from ages 29-33 playing in altitude. That makes sense, right? Yet, here we are in the roughest park in the sport for hitters, and at age 35, Burks manages a career-high .344 batting average—with a full-season, career-low effort of just 5 SBs. Again, not legging out hits on those wheels.
His 1.025 OPS in this ballpark at this age is laughable: His only other two seasonal efforts that high came in 1994 and 1996, when he was younger and in Colorado. How could he possibly do that in this park at this age? Well, duh. The batting average was also a 62-point jump from the prior season (1999) at Candlestick Park, which was also a very bad hitter’s scene. It’s obvious what happened here.
Oh, and guess what happened after this season? Burks signed contracts in excess of $20M more as he ended his career with Cleveland (2001-2003) and Boston (2004). His .885 OPS in Cleveland at least made his paychecks “valid”—if you ignore the fraud behind the stats, of course. But you can see the temptation to cheat, for it was being rewarded left and right with big salaries all over the majors.
Exhibit D: Felipe Crespo
Who? Exactly, once again proving you don’t have to be a star player to be using. Most guys just wanted to hold on to jobs and/or extend careers for more paychecks. This utility player managed just a .702 OPS with the Toronto Blue Jays from 1996-1998, and then he was out of the majors entirely in 1999. Sound familiar? We know it does, especially the next part: Crespo resurfaced with S.F. and had his best season.
He played in a career-high 89 games in 2000, posting a .794 OPS and a .290 batting average in PacBell Park, despite its suppression of batting skills. Evidently, though, he did not want to stick with the program, as he was shipped off to the Philadelphia Phillies (.527 OPS there in 2001) and was out of the majors entirely before the start of the 2002 season.
Crespo’s career marks: .245 BA and .710 OPS, including this one “big” season in San Francisco. It’s an interesting psychological study to be made someday on what kind of persona needs/wants to cheat. We see a lot of the bigger stars do it to hang on, while a lot of nobodies try it and realize it’s not worth it. Fascinating to us, in truth. You really never know about people.
Conclusion: We really don’t think the Giants planned it this way, but …
When you dance with the devil, you’re sort of bound to him, and that’s what happened when the Giants strapped themselves to Bonds in 1993 (and to a lesser degree, when Bud Selig bound himself to the franchise). For better or for worse … we do not think the S.F. organization ever planned to cheat, per se, but the money involved became too much to ignore when it came to the desperate-for-a-winner fans.
Speaking of another psych study, why do fans root for teams that cheat? Are American sports fans so pathetic that they’re willing to overlook anything in order to win and gloat over others? Evidently. There’s also the psychological dynamic that even if the Giants never meant to go down this path, once they did, there was both no turning back—especially without chastisement. Selig enabled all this, for profit.
The hypocrisy is hard to stand, though, especially when a PED enabler like Bruce Bochy—both in San Diego with Ken Caminiti, et al, and in San Francisco, obviously—pretends to act like the Houston Astros’ 2017 World Series title, tainted due to the cheating scandal, would be a “hard ring to wear” … Is he fuckin’ kidding? Is he that arrogant? Yep, that is enablement to the worst degree: Welcome to S.F.
(Meanwhile, the Giants current general manager downplayed the Houston cheating … we know why.)