Baseball’s drug scandal has “widened” again, meaning that, as expected by all but the most naive, there are new revelations, new allegations, another round of astonishment that this whole thing doesn’t stop at Barry Bonds’ outsize head.
The Arizona Diamondbacks released journeyman relief pitcher Jason Grimsley at his request Thursday, two days after federal agents raided his house in search of evidence that he’d used and distributed performance-enhancing drugs and laundered money from their sale.
In April, after investigators confronted him at his house saying they knew he’d just received a shipment, Grimsley agreed to cooperate to avoid an immediate search of his house with guests present. He told the agents he had used steroids, amphetamines and human growth hormone, and he talked about other players who had done so also. A “boatload” of them, in fact.
A week later, Grimsley stopped cooperating.
An affidavit describing Grimsley’s interview with agents, including IRS Special Agent Jeff Novitzky, a central figure in the BALCO investigation, was made public, with the names of those players Grimsley named blacked out.
“Grimsley stated that throughout the course of his Major League Baseball career, he has purchased and used the athletic performance-enhancing drugs, anabolic steroids, amphetamines, Clenbuterol, and human growth hormone,” Novitzky writes in the affidavit. There’s a brief play-by-play of what drugs Grimsley used when, and then, the key sentence:
“Grimsley stated that since Major League Baseball began its drug testing for steroids and amphetamines, the only drug that he has used is human growth hormone.”
Baseball, like the other major American sports, doesn’t test for HGH. There is no urine test for it, and the players union won’t go for blood testing. Even if it did, the blood test for HGH isn’t universally accepted as reliable.
So there it is. That’s what testing does. This is where a law-enforcement approach to the drug problem gets you. It makes the bad guys change their ways.
The cheaters are always about three steps ahead of the cops. When the cops get close, the cheaters put the moves on. The users look for new drugs to use. The chemists get to work trying to oblige them. And the cops are busy holding press conferences every time they pick off some straggler from the herd who’s still on the old stuff.
I’m talking about baseball, but I could also be talking about the larger drug war.
Baseball was rightly criticized for years for first ignoring the drug problem, happy to enjoy the economic fruits of juiced-up sluggers setting home run records, and then hoping it would just go away. People still hammering at baseball for having its head in the sand are fighting the last war. Baseball’s trying to deal with the problem. It’s just racing down the wrong road.
That question you’re thinking of is a good one. If testing and punishment isn’t the answer, what is? I’m happy to provide an answer.
The answer is I don’t know.
But we’re not going to get any closer to that answer until we admit that the current method isn’t working. If you find me whacking my car with a baseball bat and I tell you the car’s not running and ask if you have any idea how to fix it, shouldn’t your first suggestion be, “Stop hitting it with the baseball bat”?
Baseball’s drug culture is deep and wide. Some IRS agents going through players’ checking accounts and some guys peeing into cups once or twice a year isn’t going to knock it out any more than the War on Drugs has knocked out America’s larger drug problem.
“No amount of testing or anything else is going to stop people from trying to cheat,” Diamondbacks catcher Johnny Estrada told the Associated Press. “It’s just human nature.”
You want to know how deep the drug culture is in professional baseball? Listen to Jeremy Affeldt of the Kansas City Royals, who was Grimsley’s teammate during Affeldt’s first two and a half years in the big leagues, from 2002 to 2004.
“He didn’t share anything with me, and I didn’t ask,” Affeldt told the Pittsburg (Kan.) Morning Sun. Affeldt also said he’d spoken to Grimsley Wednesday.
“He’s been a good friend of mine, but I don’t go around asking guys, ‘Do you do steroids?’ I show up and play the game and don’t question guys about what they do to get ready for a game.”
Isn’t that interesting? Let’s think about that. It’s 2002. Jeremy Affeldt is a 22-year-old rookie making the major league minimum salary of $200,000.
Sitting next to him night after night in the Royals bullpen is Jason Grimsley. Grimsley was traded to Baltimore in June 2004, so sometime during those first two and a half years of Affeldt’s career, he says, he and Grimsley became good friends.
And yet Affeldt never talked to Grimsley about what he did to get ready for a game? He never discussed, say, how Grimsley, who in 10 of his 17 professional seasons had gone back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen, prepared himself? That year Affeldt started seven games and relieved in 27. He’d been almost exclusively a starter in the minors.
Grimsley had made his major league debut with Philadelphia in 1989, and from then through 1998, he had spent at least part of every season in the minor leagues. In ’98, he’d spent the entire year at Triple-A Buffalo in the Cleveland organization. Then, in 1999, he signed with the New York Yankees and went 7-2 with a 3.60 ERA and career-best numbers across the board.
In 2000, his salary having been bumped from $350,000 to $750,000, according to Baseball-Reference.com, his ERA slipped to 5.04, but his peripheral numbers were almost as good as they’d been in ’99.
He signed with the Royals in 2001, again for $750,000, and turned in his best season, going 1-5 — relievers’ won-lost records are even more meaningless than those of starters — but with a 3.02 ERA and a career-low WHIP (baserunners per inning) of 1.23. For most of his career it had been around 1.60 or worse, and his two years in New York it had dipped to the 1.40 range.
The next year, 2002, Grimsley had a new contract paying him $1.9 million, and a new teammate, a rookie named Jeremy Affeldt, who never once turned to him during one of those long summer nights in the bullpen, never plopped next to him during one of those long flights or stretching sessions, and said, “Dude, how’d you do it?”
If I spend five minutes talking to someone who does exactly what I do for a living, I’ll probably ask something about the mechanics of how he or she does it. For example: What do you do about that he or she thing?
Or, more seriously: What do you do when you’re stuck and deadline’s approaching. How do you keep up with all the different sports and still have a life? What do you do when you have an editor you think just doesn’t get you? Just nuts and bolts questions about how we do this job.
And I’m not a rookie with a nine-fold salary increase staring me in the face if I can just become as good at this racket as Jason Grimsley is at throwing a baseball, which is to say, in the context of the major leagues, barely passable.
Of course I wouldn’t ask questions like that if I were in the middle of a don’t ask-don’t tell culture. You know, like if instead of sitting in my kitchen writing a daily sports column I was in some business where I knew there was a very good chance the guy sitting next to me was engaged in a criminal enterprise, one that benefited me without putting me at risk unless I wanted it to.
How many times are we going to surprised when the performance-enhancing drug scandal in baseball “widens,” revealing each time that more players than we thought had been involved?
And when are we going to stop expecting a law-enforcement approach to do anything about the drug problem other than change the practices of the users so they can stay a few steps ahead of the cops?
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