The House That Steroids Built was still a few years away, and we are not arguing here that the San Francisco Giants had this master PED plan all along. But when they married themselves to a garbage human being like Barry Bonds, the front office lost control of the organization—and the decency of the prior ownership entities the franchise had since moving west from New York for the 1958 season.
At this point in franchise history, the Giants had made just 5 postseason appearances since moving to San Francisco: 1962, 1971, 1987, 1989, and 1997. That means it was 40 seasons of relative suckitude for the Giants as they headed in the 1998 season—where they would win 89 games and have to play in a one-game “playoff” against the Chicago Cubs for the NL Wild Card. We know how that turned out …
Exhibit A: Barry Bonds
Let’s begin one more time with the reminder of the slash line for Bonds before BALCO and after BALCO:
- BEFORE 1999: .290/.398/.556
- AFTER 1998: .319/.505/.721
So this 1998 season, Bonds should have been the NL MVP, as we argued. Having to watch his team lose to the Chicago Cubs and Sammy Sosa—who Bonds knew was cheating, according to Game of Shadows—in front of thousands of adoring Wrigley Field fans really chapped Bonds’ hide. Sosa would win the MVP, and Bonds was livid. That is what began the BALCO exploration.
Bonds was an all-time great player by the end of 1998. In our analyses here, he should have won 5 MVP awards, which ranks him among the best ever in our book. But … but … but … he saw inferior players cheat, get away with it, be adored, and win awards. Bonds snapped, simply as that. He was never the most level-headed guy, anyway, but the end to this season, again without a World Series ring, did him in.
Exhibit B: Marvin Benard
He admitted later that he used steroids during the 2002 season, but his MLB stat line tells a different story (just as it does with someone like Mark McGwire, as we explained). We think Benard was juicing in 1998, because after scuffling for 232 games with the Giants previously to the tune of a .252 batting average, Benard suddenly had a career year (.322 BA) just as he hit arbitration.
Posting an .830 OPS in 1998 and .816 OPS in 1999, Benard earned himself over $12M in contracts through the end of his MLB career in 2003—while his OPS just went straight downhill from 2000-2003. His association with BALCO was made clear in the Mitchell Report, and his numbers make it probable he was doing the juice before Barroid. We know BALCO landed its first big-name, Bay Area client in 1996.
For a guy like Benard, it would have been easy to be seduced by the potential paydays if he juiced and landed a long-term deal. What we find more amusing is his “admission” he was doing it in 2002 (when he posted a .727 OPS). He satiates his own guilt by admitting something, but again, numbers tell a different story. Also, with the team going to the World Series in 2002, no one would even care, right?
Exhibit C: Joe Carter
Yes, that Joe Carter ended his playing career with the 1998 Giants, and it looks like he may have dipped his toe in the PED pool. In 1997, over 157 games with the Toronto Blue Jays at age 37, Carter posted a .683 OPS. He was clearly washed up, despite driving in 102 runs on the back of his .234 BA. In 1998, the Giants traded for aging star, who was now 38 and playing with the Baltimore Orioles (.721 OPS).
So, Carter comes to Candlestick Park and proceeds to put up an .884 OPS over 41 games in San Francisco. Sound familiar, old guy coming from a great-hitting park where he stinks to a bad-hitting park where he’s rejuvenated? We thought so. That OPS mark is literally the highest one of Carter’s career, in terms of a single season’s effort with a singular team.
In 2013, after he was never voted to the Hall of Fame (and rightly so), Carter complained to the Canadian media that PED cheaters got off too easy. He never mentions playing with Bonds or the Giants on his way out the MLB door. But this “complaint” sounds like one of regret for Carter, as the statistical analysis seems to show he only realized he could have used those PEDs to extend his career after it was too late.
Exhibit D: Rich Rodriguez
At age 31 in 1994, this lefty reliever posted the worst season of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals (4.03 ERA in 56 appearances). He would pitch in just one game in 1995 before being out of the majors entirely in 1996. When he resurfaced with the Giants in 1997, who could have guessed he would have had two very good seasons at ages 34-35? Must give credit to that amazing coaching staff, right?
Rodriguez posted an 8-3 record for the 1997-98 Giants, to go along with a 3.44 ERA in 139 appearances. He made almost $3M after being out of the majors in 1996, even though his ERA kept rising after the 1998 season (5.61 combined from 1999-2002). So, did this guy just suddenly forget how to pitch? Did the coaching staff suddenly forget how to coach? It’s pretty obvious what happened here.
Conclusion: Boston and Chicago were showing the way already
The Giants simply fell into the trap of cities like Boston and Chicago—long deprived of a title team, both cities; their baseball organizations; and their fans ignored the signs and rewarded players/teams for cheating and winning. Baseball was more popular than ever despite the 1994 strike because of the home-run chase between Sosa and McGwire. All of this behavior was enabled, for profit, by the sport.
Bonds simply married the S.F. organization to whatever he ended up being, and we will remind everyone that the Giants never even got slapped on the wrist for letting Bonds play under the obvious influence of PEDs. They profited financially like never before, as well, since it’s clear the vast majority of baseball “fans” in San Francisco didn’t care that Bonds was a cheat: He gave them hope for a ring.
And therein lies the rub.