Now that, thankfully, a fair amount of dust has settled over the steroids-era of our national pastime, its amazing to think about how altered our collective perspectives have become. A few contrasts demonstrate just how drastically our beliefs about big league sluggers and hurlers have been altered:
Rodger Clemens & Randy Johnson
Just a few months ago, the public would have unanimously agreed that Clemens was the greatest pitcher of his era, and undoubtedly one of the all time three best. His numbers spoke for themselves, or so we thought: seven Cy Young awards, an MVP award, one of only four pitchers with more than 4,000 strikeouts, two pitching triple-crowns. Now, who knows if any of those are legit. At least as far back as a decade ago, he was getting plugged in the ass with Winstrol by Brian McNamee. Not hard to strike dudes out when your on the same 'roids as the horses in the Derby. With recent accusations of an inappropriate relationship with Mindy McCready (when she was as young as 15), Clemens has gone from loved, to suspected, to hated, and now pitied. Oh, and all that "I might come back or I might stay retired" BS, or even just the on-again off-again retirement stuff, just looks even worse now. I guess his ass just didn't handle needles as well in his old age.
Randy Johnson, on the other hand, was able to utilize his freakish frame and God-given talents to put up some of the most impressive numbers this side of Satchel Page, all without a whiff of impropriety tainting his name or numbers. His five Cy Young awards are second only to, you guessed it, steroids-butt Clemens. But, since three of Rodger's came in '98 or later, I will personally always regard The Big Unit as the Cy Young king (until Adam Wainwright eclipses the mark). It was especially gratifying to see him pass Clemens on the all-time strikeouts list. And its good to see Johnson back this year in as good of form as can be expected from a 44-year-old. Who wouldn't mind seeing Johnson win another World Series? And if the D-Backs can roll out Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, and Randy Johnson in a short series, who's to say they can't? (Extra props to Johnson for his appearance in Little Big League, and for not being ashamed to sport a truly beautiful mullet throughout most of his career.)
UPDATE: EXTRA big-ups to Johnson for not being afraid to basically single-handedly incite a bench-clearing brawl today just like its 1989. After the game, he told a reporter that if Doug Mentkewicz had actually bothered him "he (Mentkewicz) would be on a stretcher and I'd be out of the game-classic).
Barry Bonds & Ken Griffey Jr.
This has become the classic good vs. evil debate in recent years. Unquestionably two of the most naturally gifted ball players of all time, one who decided to start using chemical crutches in his later years, and another who surely could have and had opportunities to, but decided to keep playing the right way, even if it did mean missing months upon months of multiple seasons, likely costing him the home run title that was rightly his.
Barry Bonds. Son of an All-Star, godson of Willie Mays. Cousin of Reggie Jackson, notorious transvestite. The pedigree is all there. And when Bonds showed up in the mid-80's, nobody asked if he was good, only how good (or great) he would ultimately be. Even before he pulled an incredible hulk act that would have made Eric Bana/Ed Norton proud, he had Hall of Fame branded on his chest like the "S" on Superman. Unfortunately, jealously of chemically-enhanced freaks Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire promped Young Bonds to hit the juice...and the rest is history. About 250 HR's, three hat sizes, multiple grand jury indictments, and a handful of bizzaro press conferences later, Bonds is a national pariah. But since he is, and has always been, a major league ass-hole, it looks like the ultimate just desserts. (He doesn't even get cred for a Rookie of the Year cameo that surpasses the Unit's guest spot).
Ken Griffey Jr. Wow. The Kid just keeps on swinging. Through at least a half-dozen heart-breaking DL stints and a body hanging together by duct tape, he has truly established himself as the best hitter of his generation. He is a true class act. And by the way, does anyone else look happier to be playing the game he so obviously loves? Griffey Jr. is a guy who has "for the love of the game" written all over his face. How many other players of his caliber would be so gracious about moving over from center field (where he was a member of the all-century team) to right because he just couldn't cover the ground anymore? This season he will surely pass Sammy Sosa's 609 career dingers, and from then, on to Cooperstown. Rock on Jr.