The House That Steroids Built had not opened yet, but the preparations were being made. The San Francisco Giants played the 1999 season in Candlestick Park, but the financial commitment had been made to build the new stadium in the City by the Bay. The big question was how to pay for it, of course, since the team had been rejected 3 times for taxpayer support in a proposed Santa Clara County move.
The Giants famously made fans sign contracts for 7 years of season tickets, a time period that almost perfectly coincided with a lot of PED use in the organization—starting with this 1999 season. It’s almost as if the S.F. ownership knew what it needed to do to win and pay off debt: cheat. For a team that had made only 5 postseason appearances since moving to California in 1958 … yeah. Do the math.
Exhibit A: Barry Bonds
Let’s begin again with the reminder of the slash line for Bonds before BALCO and after BALCO:
- BEFORE 1999: .290/.398/.556
- AFTER 1998: .319/.505/.721
He played in just 102 games, due to a torn triceps tendon—no surprise after clueless PED use. However, overall, he still hit 34 HRs and posted his best SLG mark (.617) since the 1994 season when he was just 29 years old. At age 34, the inevitable decline should have begun for Bonds, but we know it did not.
Exhibit B: Brent Mayne
The prior season at age 30, Mayne started to show signs of decline, posting an OPS mark 30 points lower than what he posted at age 29. So, what’s a guy to do at age 31 if he still wants to keep his MLB job? Peer into Bonds’ locker, maybe … and boost that OPS 89 points in just one season, while also hitting over. 300 for the first time in a hitherto-mediocre career (.258 BA from 1990-1998).
Mayne went on to make around $10M more in his crappy career, after this season, once again showing us how this all works. After topping 100 games played just once prior to 1999, Mayne managed to play in 117 games with the Giants at age 31, demonstrating the stamina that can come with probable PED use. He would replicate the 117 games in 2000 with the Colorado Rockies, but he would never top it again.
His .680 career OPS is telling in that his two best stops where San Francisco (1998-1999, .767 OPS) and Colorado (2000-2001, .786 OPS) when he was ages 30-33. Artificially boosted in both places, for sure, albeit in different ways. But the 1999 leap earned him a lot of money, and it’s too coincidental to write off as being just “one of those things” statistically.
Exhibit C: F.P. Santangelo
He was our NL ROTY pick in 1996, but by 1998, Santangelo had fallen upon hard times, hitting just .214 with a .623 OPS in Montréal. He ended up spending just this one season with the Giants, but guess what happened? You got it: a .260 BA, a .792 OPS, and career highs with 12 SBs and 53 BBs. Alas, that was not good enough for the S.F. organization to keep him as they moved to The House That Steroids Built.
With a career OPS of .715, this age-31 season is a suspicious time for someone to “peak”—and then drop off the face of the planet elsewhere (OPS well under .600 from here to the end of his career). We have seen players dabble and decide they don’t want any part of the PED action, though, so maybe that is what happened to Santangelo.
Of course, as a late-blooming rookie, perhaps this was just his short career arc; we have seen that with clean players, many times. But this season with the Giants did get him a $200K raise for the following season as a free agent, so … we don’t know, for sure, but you know which way the precedents tilt. Perhaps the deciding factor would be the proximity of his locker to Barroid’s personal space.
Exhibit D: John Johnstone
Yeah, we don’t really remember him, either. In 8 MLB seasons, he compiled a 4.01 ERA from 1993-2000, before being out of the majors for good before an age-32 season. But hazard a wager on which season in his career was the best when it comes to ERA? Yep, you guessed it: This 1999 season. His second-best season was the prior one (1998), so it becomes somewhat fishy.
Prior to 1998, Johnstone posted these ERA marks: 5.91 (1993), 5.91 (1994), 3.86 (1995), 5.54 (1996), and 3.24 (1997). What is interesting is that in 1997, Johnstone bounced back and forth across the Bay Area between the Giants and the Oakland Athletics. He started with S.F. and was waived before the A’s claimed him. Oakland then waived him, and the Giants signed him again. Why? Curious, no?
We do know someone named José Canseco was in Oakland that season: Draw your own conclusions. Either way, he delivered a 3.07 ERA for the Giants in 1998 and a 2.60 ERA in S.F. for the 1999 season. Looks like he learned something in 1997 that paid off for him. What’s amusing, though, is that at age 31 in 2000—pitching in the new ballpark, which favored guys on the mound—his ERA reverted to 6.30!
Johnstone never pitched again in the majors, but the Giants were still on the hook for his $2.175M salary in 2001, so we see the motivation and perhaps the realization that someone wasn’t comfortable with his decision-making processes. But after that 1997 season, Johnstone got around $4M more in salary from the Giants, which is pretty good for a guy of his mediocre talent level. And the PED connection is there.
Conclusion: In the beginning …
There was BALCO, right there in the Bay Area since the 1980s, although it was not until 1996 that the firm landed its first big-name client: Oakland Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski. We also know from Game of Shadows research that Bonds was so angry about the chemicals used illicitly by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Bonds won our NL MVP nod for 1998, but obviously, his ego was out of control.
The Giants only won 86 games this season, continuing a decline from the 90 games they’d won in 1997 when last clinching a playoff spot. To open the new ballpark with a big bang, the team needed to win big time—and Bonds’ PED use would give them that chance, and it would be hard to imagine that it didn’t rub off on other players in the clubhouse, of course, with varying degrees of success.
And so it continues, the origin story of The House That Steroids Built, deeper into the past.