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Must-click link: a career minor leaguer talks about the PED pressure felt by the non-superstars

Feb 26, 2013, 2:06 PM EDT

syringe

While most of you like to call me a steroids apologist, the fact of the matter is that I am not pro-steroids. I am anti-hysteria and distortion. I am also against a baseball writing community that overwhelmingly thinks that the most worrisome and therefore most newsworthy aspect of PEDs in baseball is what it means for the record books and the Hall of Fame when there are far more important implications of PED use.

If you don’t believe me, allow me to quote myself from April 2007 — the very month I began blogging about baseball on a regular basis. It was around that time — months before the Mitchell Report came out — that Kirk Radomski was making news and the names of some marginal players to whom he dealt were coming out.  I opined then that, once we know more about PEDs in baseball, we’ll see that it’s likely a bigger problem among those marginal players — the guys trying to crack the bigs or hang on; the 26th man in the organization who feels he need that extra oomph — than it is among superstars:

I don’t say this in an effort to minimize the steroid problem. Indeed, minor leaguers and players who aren’t superstars constitute the vast majority of professional ballplayers. If my theory holds, the problem could be far greater than that which is portrayed by sportswriters who like to caricature only the most prolific sluggers as juicers. If I’m right, our concern over records and the Hall of Fame would seem pretty petty in comparison to the scores of regular Joes who are ruining their health as they walk the line between a lifetime of comfort and a job at a warehouse. Players that the steroid moralizers in the media almost uniformly ignore.

Now, I got a few things wrong back then, of course. I probably underestimated the number of superstars who used PEDs and I hilariously lumped Alex Rodriguez in with the non-users because that’s the best information anyone had back then. But I think the dynamic still holds: it’s a way, way bigger moral problem for a marginal player to feel like he has no choice but to take steroids than it is  for an already great baseball player to feel like he should take steroids to break some records.

This doesn’t mean that the superstars aren’t cheaters if they take PEDs and it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be held to account. What I’m getting at is that, in the great baseball conversation about PEDs, we should not care nearly as much as we do about records and legacies and we should care far more about what PEDs are doing down at the lower levels of baseball.  We should spill way less ink about who we think “the real Home Run King” is — as if that matters — and think way harder about those frequent minor league suspensions and what they mean to the people who are faced with the choice to take dangerous drugs or wind up out of baseball.

Against that backdrop is this excellent column from Eric Knott. Knott pitched 11 years in the minors and 24 games in the majors. He is the quintessential borderline guy who, if he had an extra couple of miles per hour on his heater, may have stuck.  But he didn’t get those miles per hour, and he didn’t try PEDs in an effort to do so.

Knott gives a fascinating, clear-eyed and detailed rundown of the environment in baseball during the height of the Steroid Era, as well as what factored into his decisions about whether to use.

It’s an absolute must-read. There’s more useful information in this piece than anything that can be found in the Mitchell Report or the latest bombastic anti-PEDs screen from Johnny Sportswriter.

  1. Chris Fiorentino - Feb 26, 2013 at 2:09 PM

    Great piece. Reminds me of the piece by Doug Glanville, where he was coming to the end of his career and had to decide between trying PEDs and retiring and he chose not to use PEDs. Anyone who is average or lower is pressured when others are using PEDs and that is where the most unfairness lies.

  2. Matthew Pouliot - Feb 26, 2013 at 2:32 PM

    I’ve already spent too much time trying to link up his steroid stories to former teammates. Pretty sure they’re all about Craig Counsell.

  3. cur68 - Feb 26, 2013 at 2:37 PM

    What an incredibly frank account of a guy who could have had an MLB career. I’m amazed that he doesn’t recognize how much amphetamines did for him as a pitcher. His performance on greenies was noticeably better than without. Pretty good read. I bet I saw him pitch when he was in Edmonton, too. I went to a lot of Trappers games in those years.

    • The Dangerous Mabry - Feb 26, 2013 at 2:51 PM

      This is exactly what you’d expect, though, and is the same sort of thing that McGwire was called out for. A guy who’s taking something doesn’t want to believe that thing makes much of a difference. But of course the stuff everyone else is taking is hugely valuable. You see that here. “Greenies don’t make you play better. Steroids are a HUGE game changer.”

      Find an article written by a guy who used steroids but not greenies and you have a good chance of finding something that reads exactly the opposite.

      Note that I don’t think he’s being dishonest at all. In fact, the candor of this article is fantastic, and it’s a wonderful look inside the world of a guy living right on that edge. I appreciate what he’s written, and I’d recommend the article to anyone. Just take it all with a grain of salt.

      • cur68 - Feb 26, 2013 at 3:07 PM

        I’d kill for that focus he describes. A person could actually finish editing a chapter in a couple hours if he weren’t constantly distracted with HB…stuff.

      • clydeserra - Feb 26, 2013 at 3:45 PM

        youknow, cur, you don’t have to kill for that kind of focus. There is a way to get it. You just have to know a guy,

      • raysfan1 - Feb 26, 2013 at 10:03 PM

        Cur, as a physician, knows lots of people who could supply him “greenies” but knows there is a price to pay for that temporary boost in focus.

      • ericknott74 - Feb 26, 2013 at 10:40 PM

        I never said that they didn’t make you play better. The point I tried to make was it was acceptable to take them in baseball and no one in the game was trying to hide the fact that it was going on. If, coming up through the ranks their use had been more stigmatized, I might have not even taken one in the first place. I once had a coach say that he wouldn’t watch the Game of the Week from his couch without “beaning” up first. It was a joke but the point was that you would not be looked at as a cheat in the clubhouse if you were using them. Not saying that is the right viewpoint to have, just saying that was the way it was then.

    • ericknott74 - Feb 26, 2013 at 10:33 PM

      My focus was incredibly better at times. I wouldn’t say my numbers were better, no way to tell. I loved playing in Edmonton as a Trapper and as a member of a visiting team. The Edmonton/Calgary roadtrip was always guaranteed to result in good times after the games were over. Opened the season on that trip one year and we were snowed out for 6 out 8 games. Great city.

      • cur68 - Feb 26, 2013 at 10:50 PM

        Glad you liked my home town. Not many do. Hard to like frostbite.
        I bet all that focus really did help, though. Tuning out distractions would be real important when pitching

      • raysfan1 - Feb 27, 2013 at 12:14 AM

        Erick,
        Thank you for writing your article, and thank you more for your answers to some of the comments. Players like you stepping forward does much for bringing understanding of PEDs to fans. The more understanding, the more open discussion the better for putting the “steroid era” behind us–for putting a proper, not judgmental, not hysterical historical perspective on it.

      • badintent - Feb 27, 2013 at 1:37 AM

        Thank you for your great essay. Wish you write more on the game in the future. You confirm a lot of what a 1975 Detroit baseball player told me about his greenie use.I think Red Bull is the liquid greenie now for most folks.What do you think ?

  4. nobody78 - Feb 26, 2013 at 2:44 PM

    I have much more sympathy for a marginal player who takes steroids because he can’t bear the thought of giving up his dream playing baseball than I do for someone who takes them to add more millions to his millions and break home run records. Isn’t that why we focus on the superstars – because their reason for juicing is so much less compelling?

    • The Dangerous Mabry - Feb 26, 2013 at 2:53 PM

      No, the focus on the superstars is because you can’t get people to read an article about someone they’ve never heard of, but society just loves to tear someone down. Your point about the purity of motivations may be valid, but that’s not why the media and society at large focus on Barry Bonds instead of Yamid Haad.

  5. mj1818 - Feb 26, 2013 at 3:14 PM

    That’s just it. There is so much pressure on every player to do it because they guy who is starting in front of them is using, so they try to level out the curve to stay on par with everyone else.

  6. stlouis1baseball - Feb 26, 2013 at 3:18 PM

    Wow. I am surprised at how candid he is. Great read!

  7. IdahoMariner - Feb 26, 2013 at 3:29 PM

    great read. thanks for this, craig.

  8. schlom - Feb 26, 2013 at 3:37 PM

    How do we know that he’s telling the truth about his non-use of steroids?

    • ericknott74 - Feb 26, 2013 at 10:43 PM

      You don’t know, that is for you to decide. I wouldn’t have written the piece if I did use them and felt is necessary to outline my greenie use so as not to come off as hypocritical to the my former teammates who actually read the piece.

  9. DelawarePhilliesFan - Feb 26, 2013 at 3:46 PM

    “we should care far more about what PEDs are doing down at the lower levels of baseball.”

    I agree – and would take it a step further. The “lower levels” of baseball are still a very elite group of athletes in the grand scheme of things. So if players juice to get to that level, what does that say to your average High School kid who wants to get drafted? Which in turn puts pressure on anyone who just wants to make the High School team…..

    There is a lot of pressure from above on a lot of players

  10. jessethegreat - Feb 27, 2013 at 12:47 AM

    Babe Ruth is still the home run king in my eyes if the title does not get to be held by Barry Bonds.

    And to think of how much better The Great Bambino’s records would look over time compared to his peers if he hadn’t been so hard on his body or if he had the added benefit of amphetamines or steroids.

    • Cris E - Feb 27, 2013 at 3:14 AM

      You may as well add Mantle to that list. Oh, and go ahead and restore his knee while you’ve got the hood up.

      • Cris E - Feb 27, 2013 at 3:18 AM

        Hmmm, my clever tag thing didn’t appear because of the angle brackets. To be clear: that’s not how things work, and Babe and Mickey were hard on their bodies and missed time and wore out early and managed to be ridiculously great anyway. Enjoy their achievements for what they are.

  11. BigBeachBall - Feb 27, 2013 at 7:22 AM

    Craigs credibility as a sports writer diminishing faster than arods nutsuck….

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