|Wednesday, May 29
Updated: May 31, 5:19 PM ET
Steroids taint Caminiti's career
By Tony Gwynn
Special to ESPN.com
Ken Caminiti was the most competitive player I ever played with. He was an incredible all-out player the four years he played in San Diego. He would dive around third base to make plays and dive head-first when he was running the bases.
As a former teammate who was on the field working alongside him, it is disappointing to know Caminiti was doing something to enhance his abilities. While the steroids did not give him the heart of a lion, they make you wonder how much could be attributed to him and how much to his steroid use.
I am not surprised Caminiti was taking steroids. Reading the newspaper reports Wednesday morning, some players who were interviewed guessed or assumed he had used steroids. When I played, I was somewhat oblivious to what was going on around me. I kept to myself and focused on my own preparation. I am sure, though, there are a lot of players who have done the same thing as Caminiti and are doing the same thing now. You don't know for sure when a player is using steroids. But when players see a teammate go from 190 pounds to 215 pounds of sheer muscle, they wonder.
Caminiti said half the players in the major leagues are using steroids, but I would guess the number is around 20 percent. He also said players either talk or joke about it, but I remember having only one conversation about steroids with a bunch of players between games of a doubleheader in Houston.
Someone asked, "If you had the opportunity to extend your career and maybe make more money, would you take them?" Being the older player on the club, I said no. I said the thrill of the game for me was being able to go out and perform at a higher level than other people. That was my drug.
But then someone asked another question: "If you were on the bench and had a chance to sign a two-year deal where you could take care of your family and have an opportunity to play, would you consider taking steroids?" As an everyday player, I hadn't thought of it that way. The question made me think.
A few players said they would have to consider it. I said they were crazy. They could play two years and make enough money to support their family for life, but the steroid use could also take two years off the back end of their lives.
Everyone knows steroids give players extra strength and allow them to play longer without getting fatigued. But one thing I always noticed and questioned was why so many players were going on the disabled list. Players were getting dinged up and taking longer than they should to recover.
Major League Baseball and the players are both at fault for allowing steroid use to continue. Caminiti was talking about taking steroids in 1996, but who knows how long it has gone on?
The union has fought hard to prevent testing of any kind, and it will probably continue to oppose testing. But, when I was a player rep for the Padres, I felt the players had nothing to hide. I thought we needed to show the fans that the players were clean and were just better ballplayers than everybody else. Not everyone agreed with my perspective.
In the last five years, balls have been flying out of the ballpark at a faster rate than ever before. Records that have stood for years are being threatened or improved each and every season. When fans go to the ballpark to watch a game, they are expecting the major-league players to be more talented than the average person. But here's the scariest part: When steroids or other drugs are added to the mix, people will begin to question their ability. Is drug use the reason for the big numbers?
Think of the numbers players such as Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Ted Williams put up during their careers. The issue of steroid use in today's game shows how good they were.
Unfortunately, much of what happens at the big-league level trickles down to the college and high school levels. You would think banning the use of steroids would remove the temptation. But would it, considering the type of success a lot of players are having?
If Major League Baseball banned steroids, the only way to know for sure that players were clean is to test every year. At the same time, is there a test that would just test for steroids? I didn't know then and I don't know now. If the union agreed to testing, a lot of players would probably test positive. But the way athletes have masked drugs in the Olympics, baseball players could probably do the same thing.
At some point, someone has to take a stand. Major League Baseball should be concerned not only about Caminiti's revelation, but also about more revelations coming out. There has to be a way for the league and the players to work together to find a solution to a continuing problem.
Otherwise, I guess we will wait and see who Jose Canseco names in his book.
ESPN analyst and future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn was Ken Caminiti's teammate in San Diego from 1995 to 1998.