From 1988 to 2005, no Minnesota Twins player hit 30 home runs in a season. This was fairly remarkable, considering we’re talking about the heart of the steroid era.
Because the Twins were struggling to find players who could hit even 20 homers in a season while others around the game were assaulting the record books with 40, 50, 60 and yes, even 70 homer seasons, there was a somewhat common perception that the Twins were a clean team, that they did not harbor any steroid abusers.
This fit comfortably into the Twins narrative of course, that which Dick Bremer, Ron Gardenhire and others have worked so hard to cultivate. You know, the idea that, win or lose, the Twins do things “the right way”, that there was something family-unfriendly about the big-city, big-money, big-muscle teams that seemed so preoccupied with being, you know, “good at baseball”.
Players on teams in New York and Texas and California were willing to take steroids because they had no character, the thought went (and was repeated to me over beers ad nauseum by I don’t know how many silly and delusional Twins saps over the years), while Twins players rejected the shortcuts that steroids provided and tried (and finally succeeded in 2002 and onward) to win honestly.
I never bought this. Never for a minute. I suspected that Chuck Knoblauch and Marty Cordova both used steroids. Knoblauch hit one homer in his rookie season, 10 total in his first four years in the big leagues. From there, he hit 11, 13, 9, 17 and 18 homers year by year. Not a huge explosion, but enough to make me wonder.
Cordova hit .216 with 7 homers in Low Single-A in 1990 and .212 with 7 homers in High Single-A in 1991. In ’92 he repeated High Single-A and hit .341 with 28 homers. Three years later he was the AL Rookie of the Year after hitting 24 homers and stealing 20 bases. Hmmm…..
Knoblauch, of course, was later named in the Mitchell Report. Cordova, to my knowledge, was not. Matt Lawton, the Twins’ All-Star representative in 2001, was named in the Mitchell Report as well.
Of course, Twins reliever Juan Rincon was later nailed in the infant stages of steroid testing, back when it came with only a 10-day suspension (and his career began to peter out shortly thereafter), as opposed to today’s 50-game suspension for a first-time offender.
And then there’s this week’s Sports Illustrated story that focuses on former Twins reliever Dan Naulty, a 6-foot-6 right-hander who went from throwing 85-mph meatballs in A-ball to 95-mph heat that rocketed him through the Twins system back when they were desperate for any remotely capable pitchers.
I remember Naulty well. He was nasty when he came up, at times dominating, with a mid-90s fastball and devastating sinker. He was by far the Twins best reliever in 1996 and it looked like he would get a chance to close (over the horrible Dave Stevens), until he began to break down late in the season. He was never really the same, and, well, you can read the rest of it here. Steroid stories can get tedious, especially since we’ve kind of moved away from that era now, but this is a compelling, personal story.
SI’s Tom Verducci does a nice job chronicling Naulty’s career path, his decision-making process in deciding to use steroids, how he got them, and what it did for him versus three of his close friends and teammates from the minor leagues that never made it the show.
Naulty doesn’t hide his shame, or spare the grisly details of the side effects the drugs had on his personal life. His former teammates also don’t shy away from admitting their bitterness that he got to spend parts of four years in the show and even win a World Series ring with the Yankees.
It’s a great read, and it serves as a reminder that no team or class of player was any more innocent or guilty than others when it came to steroids.