A tale of two players.
The first, we're certain, used PEDs. The second, almost certainly, did not. One is likely to make the Hall; the other, not so much. Their stories, after the jump.
Both players were seasonal age 23 in 1987, the season in which both lost their rookie eligibility. Both played 1B for their entire career. From 1987 through the Strike of 1994 -- eight total seasons -- here were their cumulative totals:
235 homers, .251/.363/.509. 144 OPS+, averaging 122 games per season. Lead the league in home runs once, top three four other times, six All-Star selections, appeared on MVP ballots five times (one top-5 finish)
262 homers, .288/.389/.542. 153 OPS+, averaging 143 games per season. Lead the league in home runs twice, top four six other times, one All-Star selection, appeared on MVP ballots six times (one top-5 finish)
Player one, of course, is Mark McGwire. Over the next and final seven years of his career, he -- with the assistance of all sorts of stuff most likely -- crushed an additional 345 homers and put up a sickening 1.113 OPS. But again, this was the post-Strike, "Chicks Dig the Long Ball" era. We'd expect 31 year old McGwire to slow down; he, instead, went into hyperdrive.
Player two slowed down. Over the next seven seasons, he put up a more-than-respectable 120 OPS+. He hit 186 homers over that time period. He'd play one more complete season after McGwire's retirement and pieces of two more. Fred McGriff finished his career with 493 homers.
For the eight years before the Strike, however, McGriff was as good as anyone. McGwire's 235 homers over that period put him 5th. McGriff's 262 set the pace. And to put McGriff's numbers in perspective even more? The other members of the top five were Jose Canseco (238), Barry Bonds (243), and Joe Carter (245, starting at age 27, and amazingly with merely 110 OPS+). You can see the full list here.
McGriff's contemporaries, therefore, were three guys who ended up using PEDs (and Carter). Canseco's career sputtered, but he still collected over 460 homers. McGwire we've already addressed, and Bonds -- well, I've long said that his ego couldn't handle being merely superhuman, and he'd not have been happy being in the 500 homer club when such an honor lost its luster to guys like McGwire.
This isn't to say that McGriff -- who Jay Jaffe says isn't a Hall of Famer regardless -- should make the Hall. However, it should be clear that he was one of the best players in the game before the game changed. In a very real way, assuming he was PED-free, McGriff is likely to be a victim of that change. Had he been able to add even four homers a year and gotten away with it, he'd be a clear HOFer. Instead, he's left in the dust by those who, most likely, found solace in a syringe.