Federal agents use a black marker; baseball breathes a sigh of relief

June 7th, 2006 → 9:16 pm @

Earlier this year, ESPN was showing a graphic on the number of home runs hit this season. After an eight percent decline in the total number of home runs hit from 2004 (5,451) to 2005 (5,017), Major League Baseball players are on pace to more than make up for that loss: if the rest of the season plays out on par with what’s happened so far, there’ll be 5,431 homers hit this year. A reliever was eyeing the ESPN graphic when a bystander remarked that the cause of this year’s uptick must be the recent surge in lighter bats. “Yeah,” the reliever snorted sarcastically. “It must be the lighter bats.”

Thanks to the MLB testing program, there are no longer coffee pots laced with amphetamines and no longer the kind of open sharing of steroids Jose Canseco described in Juiced. There’s also no real doubt that there’s still a serious drug problem in baseball. Earlier today, The Smoking Gun posted the affidavit of a Federal agent in support of a search warrant on Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Jason Grimsley. Grimsley was busted after a postal inspector delivered a package of human growth hormone to Grimsley’s Arizona house, and the search warrant was requested after Grimsley stopped cooperating with the feds. HGH, which is not detectible through urine testing, is recognized within baseball as the post-testing era’s preferred performance-enhancing drug of choice.

The Grimsley affidavit makes for sordidly fascinating reading. “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, Clenbuteral, and human growth hormone,” the affidavit reads. (According to Grimsley, a year’s supply of HGH cost around $3000.) Grimsley also fingered a number of players he’s either used with or received drug tips from; their names have been blacked out, but, as Deadspin’s Will Leitch notes, it’s likely only a matter of time before they leak out as well. (Over the course of his major league career, which began with the Phillies in 1989, Grimsley, who played on the 1999 and 2000 championship Yankees teams, teamed up with Lenny Dykstra, Sandy Alomar, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Alan Embree, Jim Edmonds, Mike Sweeney, Carlos Beltran, Roger Clemens, Rafeal Palmeiro, and Sammy Sosa, among many, many others. Grimsley asked for and was granted his release by the Diamondbacks earlier today.)

The Grimsley affidavit is yet another sign that baseball needs to get serious about the massive holes that remain in its testing program. As Jayson Stark writes, it’s proof that the government still has baseball in its sights. And this could be just the kind of embarrassment that will force the players union to finally talk about allowing blood testing of its players; that way, HGH (and other maskable steroid) users will face the prospect of being found out if and when a more readily available test does become available. It might also force news organizations to put reporters who aren’t also responsible for churning out a game writeup five or six nights a week on the story; it’s not as if movie critics are asked to report out whether or not there are shady doings at the big studios. (It’s no accident that Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, the San Francisco Chronicle writers who broke the BALCO story, aren’t Giants beat reporters.) The Grimsley saga might even be enough to convince casual spectators that it’s not just the freakishly muscular sluggers (check out these before and after pictures) or admitted HGH users like Jason Giambi who might be using. From my time in MLB clubhouses last year, I’d guess relievers–with their high work loads and need to recover quickly from the physical stress of pitching day after day–aren’t far behind.

UPDATE: In Thursday’s New York Times, Jack Curry writes that there is a blood test for HGH that was used for the first time during the 2004 Olympics in Athens. “Only several hundred of the tests have been administered since,” Curry writes, “because there is a limited supply of the antibodies needed for the test.”

Post Categories: Jason Grimsley & Sports Reporters & Steroids

Albert Pujols, home runs, and steroids

June 5th, 2006 → 8:46 pm @

Albert Pujols, the most exciting player of the 2006 season, is out for at least two weeks and maybe much longer with an oblique strain.
As former Sports Illustrated senior writer Jeff Pearlman points out in a recent Slate article, Pujols’ power surge–after 55 games, he was on pace to hit 74 home runs and rack up 180 RBIs, both of which would be new Major League Baseball records–has gone oddly unquestioned. (Pujols says he’s already passed three drug tests this season, and by all accounts is a great guy.) Pearlman makes an excellent point. After several years in which baseball has been regularly humiliated with steroid revelations, most of the sports media seem to be accepting what many experts call a seriously flawed testing program. Clubhouses, executive suites, and newsrooms alike know that the untraceable human growth hormone (HGH) is the new performance-enhancing drug of choice…not that anyone seems to really care. Jason Giambi’s performance fell off a cliff after he all but admitted using steroids; still, he was wholeheartedly embraced even after he appeared to have gained, lost, and re-gained enormous amounts of muscle. Pearlman’s article lays the blame for the lack of old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting into the performances of people like Pujols (and Roger Clemens and Joe Mauer) at the feet of the country’s sportswriters who fear being shut out by the teams they cover. Fans, who often turn a willfully blind eye to the foibles of their local stars, share in the blame. Sports, like movies, is an escapist pastime; unlike movie fans, however, sports fans often choose to willfully ignore their heroes’ warts.

Post Categories: Albert Pujols & Baseball & Steroids