Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Our Heroes Juiced Too

Before anyone in the city of San Diego gets overly outraged about Alex Rodriguez becoming the latest face of the Steroid Era, I suggest they take a long look in the mirror.  This one:

This is one of San Diego's most beloved baseball stars.  People still, after his death and to this day, talk admiringly of Ken Caminiti.  His hustle, his willingness to lay it all on the line for his team, play with pain, and step up in the clutch helped the Padres win the NL West in 1996 and he was the unanimous MVP.  I got to cover his MVP press conference for XTRA Sports 690, one of my first ever appearances as a reporter.  Charles Steinberg gave me a Cammy MVP T-Shirt 
which I still own to this day.  In 1998 Cammy was part of the Padres' second World Series appearance and the sight of him falling down in the batter's box was one of the all-time tragic hero moments in the Fall Classic.  

All the while, you wondered.  You figured.  It was the Steroid Era and here was a guy who was bulked up like a balloon, injured constantly and capable of superhuman feats.  Then, after he had fallen all the way down, through a second (and final) plunge into addiction and out of baseball, Cammy admitted that all of his heroics with San Diego were juiced; done with the aid of an array of steroids that would make a 1970's East German weightlifter smile with approval. Furthermore, Caminiti said that 50% or more of his fellow players were on performance enhancing drugs, or PEDs.  At the time many or most baseball pundits scoffed at the figure and pegged the percentage more around 10%.  Now what do you think?  

Cammy wore his heart on his sleeve.  His poster was the only one Mom and son could agree upon in the room.  And when Caminiti came back to Qualcomm Stadium one last time, when he walked on the field for a final ceremony, the cheers were as loud as for any other player.  But it was all based on a fraud, a glaring violation of the spirit of the game.  Cammy juiced, he wasn't alone, and in fact you have to look at just about every Padres power hitter in the Steroid Era and wonder, how much of it was real and how much was chemical?  

I'm just thinking about the teams I covered every day.  Bret Boone, Ryan Klesko, Phil Nevin, Bubba Trammell...who's clean?  Who's all natural?  And it's not fair just to look at the bulked-up power hitters.  Pitchers used too, and players who you would never figure dipped their needles in the jar.  

Simultaneously, our town boos and jeers Barry Bonds, and it's at Petco Park where Barry gets to pick up a turkey baster disguised as a steroid syringe and toss it to the security guard.  Cheer Cammy, Boo Barry.  It's a hypocritical posture at best.

But it's hard to reject the fondest memories in your sports history.  It's hard to disavow the final weekend of the '96 regular season, when Cammy won Friday's game by himself.  It's hard to give up the whole run of the '98 team, with Kevin Brown's remarkable(!) strength and players coming out of nowhere to have big years.  It's much easier to make excuses for OUR guys and OUR feats of strength.  Well, everyone was doing it.  Well, there were no penalties in MLB for juicing, never mind it being illegal.  Well, er, hey...it was Cammy!  C'mon, man?!!?  

Sorry, but if you're going to boo Barry Bonds and reject his place on top of the all-time HR list, you need to reject Cammy too.  If you're going to throw ARod to the wolves and cast out his run to the top, you've got to toss out the flags from '96 and '98 along with him.  And if that makes you uncomfortable, I understand completely.  

Other Thoughts

·         Acee on the RB contract problems for the Chargers…why should LT accept a reduced contract?  If he does so I hope he understands that the Bolts are just as likely to cut him after next year as they were before…next year is THE year for the Chargers so I think using the franchise tag on Sproles is a regrettable necessity, but agreeing to a more manageable long-term deal is the much preferred option…

·         I don’t know what Lorrenzo Wade has, but it’s not the flu…when’s the last time you were bedridden for two weeks with the flu?  I wish him well, would it be a NCAA violation to give him a box of Emergen-C?

·         Cliff Floyd was a great veteran add for the Rays last year, and is exactly wrong for the Padres…this seems to be a blind spot for KT…he likes having the big, strapping left-handed power bat to loft fly balls into the Death Valley in right-center field…but everything that made Floyd attractive to the Rays should make him unattractive to the Padres…he was able to stay moderately healthy last year as a DH, but will be forced into the field for San Diego…his right-field power profile fit the Tropicana Dome but puts him in the Tony Clark/Brian Giles abyss at Petco Park where homers go to die.  Is he going to play left field?  First base?  Just pinch hit and get rusty?  Spend the year on the DL?  The Padres need to play to their ballpark, and Cliff Floyd doesn’t fit…

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