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Sports Then and Now

Best of the Decade: Steroids Rule The Baseball World

Posted on December 29, 2009 by Dean Hybl
St. Louis Cardinals Albert Pujols breaks record

Albert Pujols was the toast of the league during the last decade.

The most prevalent storyline in Major League Baseball during the decade wasn’t a player or even a team. Instead, the subject of steroids dominated the decade. There were so many of the best players of the era linked to performance enhancing drugs that no player was above scrutiny.

For that reason, selecting the best players of the decade is a very difficult challenge. Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds posted statistical seasons that rank among the best of all time, yet Rodriguez has admitted to using a PED and Bonds is under federal indictment for supposedly lying about his use of drugs.

Because I have no true idea which players actually have used PEDs, I chose not to make potential use a major factor in selecting this list. Instead, it was a secondary factor in where a couple of the players on this list were ultimately placed.

Who Was The Best Major League Baseball Player Of The Decade?

  • Albert Pujols (47%, 14 Votes)
  • Ichiro Suzuki (13%, 4 Votes)
  • Derek Jeter (10%, 3 Votes)
  • Randy Johnson (7%, 2 Votes)
  • Barry Bonds (7%, 2 Votes)
  • Chipper Jones (7%, 2 Votes)
  • Roy Halladay (7%, 2 Votes)
  • Ryan Howard (3%, 1 Votes)
  • Manny Ramirez (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Mariano Rivera (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Alex Rodriguez (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 30

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Below is my top 10 list of the best Major League Baseball players of the decade:

10. TIE – Randy Johnson and Roy Halladay – This has not been the best decade for starting pitching. Several pitchers had periods of greatness, but none were at the highest level for the entire decade. Overall, the two best starting pitchers of the decade were Roy Halladay and Randy Johnson. Together, they earn the number 10 spot on our list.

When the decade began, Randy Johnson was unquestionably the best pitcher in baseball. He won three straight Cy Young awards between 200 and 2002 and in 2002 claimed the pitching triple crown by leading the league with 24 wins, a 2.32 ERA and 334 strikeouts. He was named co-MVP of the 2001 World Series as he won three games, including the decisive seventh game the day after pitching seven innings in winning game six. Johnson pitched a perfect game for the Diamondbacks in 2004 at the age of 40. Though he was not as dominant over the final years of the decade, he still finished the decade with six seasons of 16 or more wins and averaged 14 wins a season despite missing most of two seasons.

In a decade where no pitcher sustained greatness, Roy Halladay has been the closest thing to a consistent winner. A two-time winner of 20 or more games in a season, Halladay won 16 or more games six times in the decade. Halladay won 139 games during the decade and had an ERA of 3.40 with four seasons in which he had an ERA below 3.00. He won the 2003 Cy Young Award while posting a 22-7 record with a 3.25 ERA.

Ryan Howard has averaged 50 home runs and 143 RBI during his four full seasons with the Phillies.

Ryan Howard has averaged 50 home runs and 143 RBI during his four full seasons with the Phillies.

9. Ryan Howard – Considering that he played only four full seasons during the decade for the Philadelphia Phillies, the fact that Ryan Howard is even on this list illustrates just how great he was during the first years of his career. He earned NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2005 despite playing in only 88 games. The next season, he was the NL MVP after leading the league with 58 home runs and 149 RBI and hitting .313. He has driven in at least 136 runs in each of his four full seasons and led the league in RBIs three times. He has blasted at least 45 home runs for four straight years and has 222 career home runs and 640 RBI. He helped lead the Phillies to the World Series title in 2008 and has finished in the top five in the MVP voting in each of his four full seasons.

8. Chipper Jones – In many ways, Chipper Jones has been the forgotten superstar of the last decade. The league MVP in 1999 as a third baseman, Jones moved to the outfield for the 2002 and 2003 seasons, but even after moving back to third base he was no longer mentioned among the elite of the game even in years when he posted big numbers. Jones eclipsed the .300 batting mark seven times during the decade and won his first batting title with a .364 average in 2008. He also drove in 100 or more runs five times. Overall, Jones averaged 27 home runs, 92 RBI and a .311 batting average during the decade.

7. Manny Ramirez – The legacy of Manny Ramirez took a big hit with his suspension for violating MLB’s Performance Enhancing Drug policy during the 2009 season. However, Ramirez was still one of the most dominant hitters of the decade. He eclipsed the 20 home run and 100 RBI mark in a season eight times. He also hit better than .300 seven times and won the 2002 AL batting title. Ramirez was a key reason that the Boston Red Sox won a pair of World Championships. After being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers during the 2008 season he helped lead them to consecutive appearances in the NL Championship Series. For the decade, he average 35 home runs, 111 RBI and a .317 batting average per season.

6. Barry Bonds – Even with all the other great players who have been fingered for using steroids, Barry Bonds is still to most the face of this dark era in baseball history. Though already a superstar, Bonds played the first half of the decade at an unprecedented performance level. His 73 home runs in 2001 were not only 24 more than his previous career-high, but obliterated the three-year old record for a single season. Bonds was named the league MVP in four consecutive seasons from 2001 through 2004. During the first five years of the decade, Bonds averaged 52 home runs, 109 RBI, 175 walks and a .339 batting average. After missing most of the 2005 season with a knee injury, he had a pair of solid seasons in 2006 and 2007 as he pursued the career home run record. He became the career home run champion in 2007, but to many his records are tainted by steroid allegations.

Derek Jeter helped lead the Yankees to World Series titles in 2000 and 2009.

Derek Jeter helped lead the Yankees to World Series titles in 2000 and 2009.

5. Derek Jeter – Derek Jeter doesn’t have the super-sized statistics of many other players during the decade, but the New York Yankees shortstop was as valuable a player during the decade as just about anyone else in the league. Jeter hit.300 or better in eight of 10 seasons and scored more than 100 runs eight times. He also eclipsed 200 hits five times and won four gold gloves. The Yankees reached the postseason in nine of 10 seasons during the decade and won the World Series title in 2000 and 2009.

4. Mariano Rivera – While no starting pitcher dominated the decade, Mariano Rivera was consistently the best relief pitcher in the game. Rivera twice led the league in saves, including 53 during the 2004 season. He averaged 40 saves and a 2.08 ERA during the regular season. In postseason play, Rivera moved to another level. In 57 postseason appearances, he allowed only nine earned runs (0.94 ERA) in 86 innings while registering four wins and 23 saves.

3. Alex Rodriguez – Another player slightly tainted by the use of performance enhanced drugs, Alex Rodriguez was a statistical machine during the decade. He drove in at least 100 runs in every season of the decade and hit 40 or more home runs six times. He led the AL in home runs five times, runs scored four times and RBI twice. For the decade, he averaged 44 home runs, 124 RBI, 119 runs scored and a .303 batting average. Though criticized for much of the decade for his lack of production in the postseason, Rodriguez finally performed at his highest level in 2009 as the Yankees claimed their first World Series since 2000.

Ichiro Suzuki averaged 226 hits per season during the decade.

Ichiro Suzuki averaged 226 hits per season during the decade.

2. Ichiro Suzuki – Though not a power hitter, it is easy to make a case that Ichiro Suzuki was the best player in baseball during the decade. An All-Star in all nine of his seasons in the league, he also won a gold glove in each season and eclipsed the 200 hit mark every year. He scored more than 100 runs in the first eight seasons of his career and hit above .300 each season. He twice led the league in batting average and led the AL in hits six times. In 2004 he led the AL with a .372 batting average while setting a new record with 262 hits. As a rookie in 2001, Suzuki became only the second player in major league history to earn the Rookie of the Year and MVP Award in the same season. For the decade, he averaged 108 runs, 226 hits, 57 RBI, 38 stolen bases and a .333 batting average.

1. Albert Pujols – So far, Albert Pujols has never been associated with steroid use. In fact, in 2009 he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated claiming that you could believe in him. If Pujols has indeed never used performance enhancing drugs then he is without question the best player of this decade. Statistically, he stands with Alex Rodriguez as the most consistent power hitters of the decade. Since joining the league in 2001, Pujols has eclipsed 30 home runs, 100 RBI and batted better than .300 every season. He has won the NL MVP Award three times and ranked in the top four eight times. For the decade, he averaged 41 home runs, 124 RBI, 119 runs scored and a .334 batting average.

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