This Annotated Week in Baseball History: May 20-26, 1963

On May 20, 1963, David Wells was born. What does he have in common with Ray Oyler and Ned Williamson? Read to find out, but here’s a hint: It’s something he doesn’t have in common with Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi

As they seemingly always are these days, steroids have been much in the news lately. Between Jason Giambi’s comments to the press about using that “stuff” to Barry Bonds getting closer to Hank Aaron, hardly a day goes by without media commentary on the subject.

Among the most popular type of media (and fan) commentary is the speculation about who was using. Although this speculation is sometimes baseless—questions about Chris Shelton sure dried up once May rolled around last year, didn’t they?—that doesn’t stop people.

In the spirit of providing a contrasting view, I am going to present three players, from the contemporary to the decidedly ancient, who I am positive, as sure-as-sure-can-be, never used steroids.

David Wells: Being that Boomer is the most recent player on this list, he might be the most controversial. Some would claim that all the evidence they need to say Wells must be on the juice is that he is still pitching (albeit not especially well to this point) at age 44. Wells has looked finished at various times over the past few years, needing back surgery in 2001 and posting an ERA near five with the Red Sox last year, but has always bounced back.

So why am I so convinced of Wells’ clean status? I mean, just look at the man. He’s currently listed at 250 pounds, a number the Padres apparently arrived at by taking Wells’ actual weight and rearranging the numbers to a more favorable figure.

Wells also has suffered a number of injuries that suggest he can’t be bothered to take ordinary care of his body, let alone special steps requiring illegal medicine. During spring training in 1998 with the Yankees, Wells missed time with a case of the gout. Gout! Although there are generic factors, one’s diet is still considered a major element of preventing gout and you would think someone who is (ostensibly) a professional athlete would be able to prevent it.

As if that were not enough, earlier this year Wells was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. According to one source, the three leading factors in causing the disease are weight, lack of exercise and family history. I’m not trying to make light of these ailments (or any family history of the disease Wells might have) but I’m having a hard time imagining a disease an active athlete is less likely to get. Scurvy, perhaps.

All in all, if you can’t take good enough care of yourself to keep from being inflicted with sicknesses like those despite being a major league baseball player, I doubt you have the drive—let alone the inclination—to take advantage of the bonuses offered by steroids.

Ray Oyler: The suspensions of players like Alex Sanchez (career slugging percentage: .372) has led people to point out, validly, that it isn’t just the Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco types who might be roiding up. And while it is true that steroids can do as much for slap-hitting middle infielders as it can for hulking first baseman, I don’t think anything could have helped Ray Oyler.

There are a lot of ways to describe how poor a hitter Ray Oyler was. One could point to his career .175 batting average. Or maybe his lifetime .251 slugging percentage, which was nearly a 125 points shy of league average during his career. You earn that kind of slugging percentage when you come to the plate nearly 1,500 times in a career but manage only 60 extra base hits. Had Jose Reyes hit 10 more doubles last season, he would have topped Oyler’s career totals for doubles, triples and home runs in one year.

I think the best way to illustrate Oyler’s offensive ineptitude is the story of the 1968 World Series. So desperate for offense was Tigers manager Mayo Smith that he moved outfielder Mickey Stanley (career games at SS prior to September 1968: zero) to shortstop and stuck Oyler on the bench. Mind you, this was the World Series. Smith decided Oyler was so useless offensively that he was willing to put a guy with as much major league shortstop experience as I have in the spot for the biggest games of the year. (It worked, incidentally. Detroit won the Series in seven games.)

In my junior year of high school, my French teacher accused me of cheating on a test. We were friendly, and the incident was more-or-less put to bed when I observed that at the time I was holding down a solid C+ average in the course. Unless I was really bad at cheating, I surely would have been doing better. I don’t know just how much steroids can help you, but I refuse to believe it is possible to have a lifetime OPS+ of 48 and still be up to no good.

Ned Williamson: What might you say about a player who hit more than 40 percent of his career home runs in a single season? “Why, that’s Brady Anderson,” you would say. But that’s wrong, as Anderson actually hit less than a quarter of his career homers during his now highly questionable 1996 season.

The man in question is Ned (or “Ed,” sources vary) Williamson. In 1884 Williamson, playing for the Chicago White Stockings—confusingly, that’s the franchise that would become the Cubs—hit 27 home runs. The rest of his career he hit just 37, and never more than nine in a single season. So where did the unexpected boost of power come from?

Not from a bottle, or a needle, but rather from a ground rule. Williamson played in Lakefront Park (also known by other names), which featured a right field fence fewer than 200 feet away. As such, any ball hit over the fence was considered a ground-rule double. In 1884, the club changed the rule to a home run. Not surprisingly, homer numbers shot up. The previous year the team as a whole had hit 13; in ’84 five of the starting nine tied or bettered that total.

Williamson’s 27 home runs stood as the single season record until Babe Ruth in 1919. Though all those home runs might have been radically out of line with the rest of his career, I’m confident in saying Williamson, just like David Wells and Ray Oyler, never went near a steroid.

Print Friendly
« Previous: Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week
Next: The Case for a Quicker Hook »

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current day month ye@r *