Apparently Roger Craig just publicly said something to the effect that the San Francisco Giants lost the 1989 World Series to the Oakland Athletics because of steroids. Well Roger, you're wrong, and so are all you Giants fans who agree with him. Let's just break down why that is.
1. Any team can win the World Series, provided they get there.
In mid-June of 1989, the A's lost three of four to the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles didn't make the playoffs. Of the first six games the A's played against the Kansas City Royals, the A's lost four. The Royals didn't make the playoffs. But none of that matters, because short periods of time don't matter. The best team in baseball does not always win the World Series. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the best team in baseball DIDN'T win the World Series more often than it did, particularly in the expanded playoffs era. Steroids might influence a season, but any given team can win any given game, or even four out of any seven given games.
2. Most of the team wasn't even juicing! Part 1: Hitters
I mean, there's no indication that they were. If they were, it wasn't doing much. Let's look at the offensive leaders for the 1989 A's, by WRC+.
Let's start with Rickey Henderson. Plenty of people have giggled and whispered about whether or not Rickey used PEDs over the years, but it's never been proven, and that's probably because it didn't happen. Rickey, of course, is on record as saying he hates all medication, but even Jose Canseco didn't point the finger at him, and you gotta think he would have. That would have been the bombshell of bombshells. But he didn't. But don't take my word, or Rickey's word, or Canseco's not-word: Look at the numbers. From 1980 through 1993, Rickey never had a WRC+ below 127. He didn't dip below 112 until 1998. In fact, he only dipped below 100 three times: his first (partial) season in 1979, his 2000 season when he was 42, and his final season in 2003, when he was 45.
Let that sink in. Everybody who was involved with steroids had very marked increases in production. Hitters generally had increases in power. And a lot of players had troubles with injuries and shortened careers. But despite what our memories might tell us, Rickey was pretty consistent in terms of playing time. He had a couple of injuries, sure, but if you exclude his artificially shortened 1979 and 2003 seasons, he averaged 129 games a season. And he played until he was Goddamn 45 years old. That's like Jamie Moyer territory. By comparison, Mark McGwire, who definitely did use PEDs, was first called up to the big leagues in 1986, at the age of 23, when Rickey Henderson was in his seventh full season, and he retired in 2001, at the age of 38, when Rickey Henderson was in his twenty-second full season. And then Rickey played some more seasons.
Next up, Jose Canseco. Yep, Jose juiced. We know this. So did the fourth guy on the list, Mark McGwire. So let's take a look at Carney Lansford, the man whose motto was "stay focused," who publicly disliked Canseco, and who in pretty much every way defined the kind of guy that commentators say "played the game the right way." In 1978, Lansford's rookie season, his WRC+ was 113. In 1992, his final season, his WRC+ was 102. His career WRC+ was 111. His median WRC+ was 111. So it's fair to say he was an above-average hitter. In 1989, his WRC+ was 136. Now it's true that 136 is higher than 111. But he'd also put up that number in 1981 with the Boston Red Sox. If accusations of steroid use have plagued the 1981 Red Sox, owners of a 59-49 record and no playoff berth, I haven't come across them. Lansford also put up a 131 WRC+ in 1983, his first year in Oakland. Again, I haven't heard about the 1983 A's (74-88, fourth place in their division, seventh-worst record in baseball) being steroid users. So let's go ahead and clear Carney Lansford's name.
Dave Parker. There was a time when people could legitimately say, on national television, during the All-Star Game, that Dave Parker might be the greatest player in the game. Those days were behind Cobra by 1989. His WRC+ of 108 was significantly lower than his eventual career figure, and stunningly lower than the numbers he used to put up in Pittsburgh. He had bad knees, he was (or should have been and would be today) a DH-only guy, and his OPS was .740. Not bad for a 38-year-old slugger, but nothing that special. You know what Barry Bonds did when he was 38, Giants fans? He hit 46 home runs, which was a significant dropoff from the year before, when he hit 73. So while Parker probably was involved with cocaine in some way, I think we can safely say he wasn't juicing.
Dave Henderson's WRC+ was 102. Pretty well in line with his career number of 109. You might have a case that he juiced in Oakland if you note that his WRC+ with the A's was 118, noticeably higher than his career figure, but those were also his age 38-34 seasons. That's a hitter's peak. And in that last season, his production dropped off. Hendu is on public record being pretty anti-steroid, although that certainly doesn't mean anything, as we've learned time and time again. But as he has talked about several times, Henderson was also around for "the cocaine era," and he was never tarnished with that scandal either. Bottom line, no one has ever accused the man of using PEDs, and no one is likely to.
Who's next...Tony Philips had a down year in 1989. His WRC+ of 104 is lower than his career figure of 112. His best offensive season came in 1993 with the Tigers, when his WRC+ was 136. Terry Steinbach, similar story. Luis Polonia...Mike Gallego...Stan Javier...if any of those dudes were juicing, can it really be said to have mattered?
3. Most of the team wasn't juicing! Part 2: Pitchers
I admit I don't know what warning signs I'm even supposed to look for, statistically, in a juiced pitcher. But I assume one would see his numbers spike, right? So I took a look at the A's pitching leaders in 1989 to see if any of their numbers did.
Mike Moore's didn't. He had a great year, sure--2.61 ERA, 3.15 FIP, 4.5 WAR, more than twice as many strikeouts as walks, 19-11 record--but not his best by WAR (1985, Seattle Mariners, 5.7 WAR), or by K/BB ratio (1988, Seattle Mariners, 2.89), by park-adjusted FIP (1985, Seattle Mariners.) It was certainly one of his best years, and one might even argue it was his best full stop, but it wasn't some kind of insane leap from what he'd already been doing for seven seasons in Seattle.
Dave Stewart. Everyone at all familiar with Bay Area baseball knows the Dave Stewart story, but to recap, he started out with the Dodgers looking like a promising young gun, but the potential never seemed to blossom into actual on-field success. He spent time with the Rangers and Phillies and just never seemed to put it together. Then he was traded to the A's, and things clicked. Now I'm sure some wags will consider that just more evidence of a steroid bump, especially since Stewart's first full season with Oakland coincided with Jose Canseco's rookie season. But such thinking ignores the fact that Stewart developed a new pitch that year! Up to that point, he was a two-pitch guy. He threw a fastball and a slider--and to be honest, some commentators called him a one-pitch pitcher, because the slider was so seldom used. He added the forkball in 1986, and it became his most effective weapon. It's not weird that a guy could start out promising with a good heater, hit a wall due to the lack of an effective breaking pitch, and then finally break out when he added something new to his arsenal. It's also notable that Dave Duncan, a very well-respected pitching coach--maybe THE most respected pitching coach ever--joined the A's in 1986. Stewart has never been accused of having used PEDs, and his career declined right when you would have expected it to--his mid-thirties. Not guilty.
Bob Welch. Welch joined the A's at the age of 31, having spent 10 productive years with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Although A's fans remember him fondly, his best years in Oakland (1988 - 2.8 WAR, 1989 - 3.0 WAR) would have been about average during his time in LA. His strikeouts were dropping and his walks were increasing. It would only be a few more years before he retired at the quite normal age of 38, having spent his final season primarily working as a relief pitcher. Sure, he won 27 games in 1990, but he actually wasn't that great of a pitcher that year. Win-loss record is kind of a crappy measuring stick that way. If you pitch basically pretty good, your arm is durable, and your team is a nigh-unstoppable juggernaut on offense, you might stumble into 27 wins. For example, the major difference between Welch's 17-8 record in 1989 and his 27-6 record in 1990 was ten no-decisions. The A's won several of those no-decisions and nearly won a few more. They also nearly won several of his losses. He didn't have an incredible year in 1990--the A's had an incredible year, and he had a lucky one. Not guilty.
The other two main starters for the A's were Storm Davis and Curt Young. Davis had one of the worst years of his career by objective metrics like FIP and WAR, but people thought of him as a pretty good pitcher because he went 19-7. By WAR, it was his worst season, excluding those in which he didn't reach 150 innings. Young had a good season by his own standards, which is to say that he was not worth negative WAR. Over about seven seasons' worth of innings (eleven actual seasons), he ended up being worth about a half a win per full season. And that was just about his value in 1989. Not guilty for Davis and Young.
Over in the bullpen...who fucking cares, man? Don't even front like Dennis Eckersley was on PEDs, and after Eckersley, is anyone really going to say that the A's won the World Series in 1989 because, like, Jim Corsi was on 'roids? I have no reason to think that he or any other member of that bullpen was, but even if he was, it really didn't impact those games.
4. You could maybe argue that the A's only got to the World Series because of steroids...
Sure, you could make this claim. Let's investigate. The A's finished seven games ahead of the Royals in the AL West, and they were also ten games better in Pythagorean expectation record. (Their relationship to the Blue Jays, winners of the AL East, was just the reverse: they were ten games better by raw record and seven games better by Pythag record.) Can their AL West pennant be chalked up to steroids? Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco were certainly juicing. How much value did they add to the team? 6.4 WAR. Even if you round that up, that's seven wins. But Canseco and McGwire did not derive all of their value from steroids. In fact, it's arguable that McGwire used steroids at all in 1989. Look at him. He was about as physically imposing as legendary home-run threat Daric Barton.
That's not the juicer who hit 70 in 1998. That's just a strong young power hitter. In fact, 1987-model McGwire had one of his most pedestrian seasons with the bat in 1989. But forget all that. Let's just assume that he was using PEDs in 1989, because everyone else assumes it. I don't think you can ascribe all of his value to steroids, so let's just try to figure out what the A's would have had instead of McGwire. Let's say steroid-free McGwire never even makes the big leagues. Who do the A's have at first base in 1989? It could be argued that they would have played Ken Phelps, who showed he was probably good for 2-3 WAR per season when he was given the chance in Seattle. But we don't know what they would have done. So let's just take a league average first baseman for the year. League average first baseman, with at least 400 plate appearances, in 1989...about a 2.5-WAR player. To make it simple, let's just chop off two fill wins from what McGwire provided.
Now over to Canseco. Now this dude was obviously juicing. Dude was probably born juicing. Who would the A's have played had there been no Jose Canseco? In one sense, we actually know the answer: Stan Javier, who played more right field for the A's in 1989 than Canseco did, and actually played more than any outfielder other than Rickey Henderson and Dave Henderson.
It's also possible that Lance Blankenship, a rookie that season, would have gotten a chance to play the position. The previous three AL Rookies of the Year had been A's players, and Blankenship had gotten some buzz to the effect that he might be the fourth. It didn't happen, because there was no position for him, but while A's fans might remember him as a second baseman, he started nearly as many games in the outfield as he did at second base, both for his career and in 1989. In Blankenship's bright, shining year, 1992, when he was worth 3.3 WAR, he started one-third of the A's games in the outfield. That was an A's team that won its division by six games and took the eventual World Champion Blue Jays to a Game Six in the ALCS. Honestly, come to think of it, my next FanPost may well be called "Why The F*** Didn't We Play Lance Blankenship More?"
For now, I would feel pretty comfortable saying that the A's would have gone with some combination of Javier and Blankenship, which would probably have amounted to 1.5 WAR or so. Maybe 2.0. That's actually slightly lower than what a league-average outfielder with at least 400 PAs was worth in 1989, but I'm still going with it. So that represents a dropoff of...one-tenth of a win. Canseco's defense was not great and he didn't play a full season. He was worth 2.1 WAR that year. Hell, even if you want to give the whole year to Stan Javier, screw Blankenship, that's still only going to be a dropoff of about a win and a half.
So how much value did steroids add to the 1989 Oakland A's? Arguably 3.5 wins. Round that up, make it four. More likely, the A's only gained two wins from steroids, but let's go nuts and call it four. Even without adjusting for Pythagorean expectation, the A's still take their division by three games. The only way to remove seven wins from the A's record is to get rid of Canseco and McGwire's production and replace it with zero-WAR players. In other words, the A's would have had to replace these two guys with two other guys who were worse than any replacements the A's actually had available. You would have to come up with players who were somehow worse than the Stan Javiers and Lance Blankenships of the world. Nope, not gonna happen.
5. But did steroids impact the ALCS?
For this question, the answer is tougher, because statistics don't mean much. It's a small sample size. So we have to go anecdotal and just look at what actually happened.
Game One: A's win 7-3. Canseco does not score or tally any RBI. McGwire hits on home run, otherwise does nothing at the plate. I'm gonna say the A's win this game regardless.
Game Two: A's win 6-3. Canseco again doesn't factor into the A's scoring, only getting on base once via a pinch-hit walk. McGwire hits an RBI double and scores a run. Perhaps more importantly, his single early in the bottom of the sixth allowed what would become a two-run rally to blossom. But if you're going to argue that steroids won this game because Mark McGwire hit a single with the bases empty in a game his team already led 3-1 and would eventually have won 4-3 even without the rally he facilitated, you're taking an interesting position.
Game Three: Blue Jays win 7-3.
Game Four: A's win 6-5. Canseco finally does something that matters, hitting a famous home run into the upper deck, the first player ever to do so at the SkyDome. The solo shot gives the A's a 3-0 lead. He also has an RBI single. McGwire does not score a run or drive one in. So here you go. Here's a game the A's might not have won had it not been for Jose Canseco. The A's won by a run and Canseco hit a solo homer. Additionally, he had a key two-out RBI base hit in the seventh inning. That's a run that might not score if he doesn't get that hit, but again, are you really going to say that Jose Canseco hit a single because of steroids? I'll say this game goes into extras without Canseco's home run, and who knows from there.
Game Five: A's win 4-3. Canseco has an RBI and McGwire scores a run. Neither gets an extra-base hit.
The A's won the series four games to one. Between Games Four and Five, I might grudgingly grant you one Blue Jays win if you imagine the A's not playing with Canseco and McGwire. But check those numbers from the previous section again. Take away four wins from the A's season and they're still a better team than the Blue Jays, even after adjusting for Pythag. A sixth game would have pitted Mike Moore, one of the stronger pitchers in the game that year, against a pedestrian Todd Stottlemyre, who had given up four earned runs in five innings in Game Two while walking a pair and giving up a home run, striking out just three. Had the Jays somehow managed to push it to seven, they might have won, as they'd have been sending Jimmy Key to the bump against either Storm Davis or a short-rested Dave Stewart. But I'm having a pretty hard time imagining things playing out that way.
6. So...how did steroids affect the actual World Series games?
Game One: A's win 5-0. Hard to blame the steroids when you don't score, Giants fans. On top of that, neither Canseco nor McGwire scored a run or drove one in.
Game Two: A's win 5-1. Gee, I'm detecting a pattern here. Canseco scores one run, McGwire scores none, and neither tallies an RBI. Canseco walked to lead off the bottom of the fourth and scored on Dave Parker's almost-home-run double. After a Dave Henderson walk and a Mark McGwire strikeout, Terry Steinbach hit a three-run jack that sealed the game. So even if you replace Canseco's walk and run-scored with an out, the A's still win 4-1.
Game Three: Earthquake wins eleventy-billion to zero.
Game Three: A's win 13-7. The A's hit five home runs in this game, which is probably what's sticking out in Roger Craig's mind when he says the Giants lost because of steroids, but four of those homers were hit by Dave Henderson, Carney Lansford, and Tony Phillips. Would Craig like to accuse those gentlemen of something? It's true that Canseco's was a three-run shot, but it's also true that he was at the plate with nobody out and two men on base. Someone probably drives those runs. But even no one does, even if the A's don't score at all in that inning, guess what, they still win 9-7. McGwire also had an RBI, but it came on a groundout. Bottom line, you have to do some impressive mental gymnastics to imagine a scenario in which Canseco and McGwire are the reason the A's win this game.
Game Four: A's win 9-6. They lead from the third pitch of the game, as Rickey Henderson hits it out of the yard, and never let the Giants get closer than a two-run deficit. Canseco scores one run, McGwire doesn't cross the plate, and neither man gets an RBI. Canseco's only contributions at the plate are a pair of singles and a walk; McGwire does not reach base. Two of Canseco's three times reaching base did come in the early portions of innings in which the A's scored. It's conceivable that had someone else been playing instead of him, the A's would not have scored three of their runs. But again: mental gymnastics.
7. You know who did have a career year in 1989?
Will Clark. He had, by far, his best year. He was worth 8.1 WAR. He hit .333/.407/.546, good for a .953 OPS, a .416 wOBA, and a 174 WRC+. Even his defense was better than usual. He would never even sniff a year that good again. I'm not saying he did steroids, but, you know, I mean, hey, what if, right? That's the logic Giants fans use, isn't it?
And hey, check it out, look who else had a career year in 1989: Kevin Mitchell! I'm not the first person to suggest this, you know. Mitchell is known for having a bit of a temper, which is common to steroid users. He was arrested for beating up his dad and suspended for punching an opposing team's owner in the face. He was also arrested once for losing his shit on a golf course, which is like the most placid place you can be, right? Even if you're having a bad day...it's golf, dude. But anyway, in 1989, he was worth 6.9 WAR. He hit .291/.388/.635, good for a 1.023 OPS, a .431 wOBA, and a 184 WRC+. He hit 47 home runs. In every facet of his offensive game, he was waaaaaaay above his career norms. He would never again have a full season in which he reached any of those numbers. You take his best full-season numbers that were not from 1989, put them together, and you have a guy who hit .290/.360/.544 for a 1.004 OPS, a .393 wOBA, and a 148 WRC+ with 35 home runs oh wait that's just his line from 1990, the very next year. So much for the one-season fluke.
So let's get that straight. This dude, who had never before OPS'd higher than .824 and had never slugged higher than .474 and had never hit more than 22 home runs suddenly out of nowhere becomes one of the best hitters in baseball for two years, does so while playing in the San Francisco Bay Area, a known hotspot for steroid use, then never plays another full season because of a bunch of injuries--something which commonly happens to steroid users--and I'm not supposed to ask questions? And yes, I know that some of those injuries supposedly happened because he was vomiting so hard, which happened because he was drunk. First of all, that doesn't matter. Secondly, pointing out that a fellow abused one drug isn't a great way to prove he didn't abuse another. Again, I'm not saying it happened. I'm saying that if Roger Craig's logic convicts a guy like Carney Lansford or Dave Stewart, it had damn well better convict Kevin Mitchell.
I'd look into pitchers, but the Giants didn't have any that year.
8. Shove it, Roger Craig.
You know what, Giants fans? You lost the World Series because anything can happen in a short series and your team was not as good as the A's, with or without steroids. That earthquake didn't help, as it allowed the A's to start their two best pitchers for Games Three and Four, but if your two best pitchers are so much worse than the other team's two best pitchers that losing those games was a foregone conclusion, you weren't gonna win the World Series anyway. You would eventually have had to face Stewart and Moore again, no matter what. And on top of all that, you had at least one hitter who was probably on fucking steroids that year. He hit three postseason homers, including one in the World Series, and generally had a pretty Goddamn good postseason.
Screw you, Roger Craig, and fuck the Giants.