To Cheat or Not to Cheat (cont.)
In four years Naulty gained 50 pounds and added 10 miles an hour to his fastball. (He would eventually top out at 248 pounds.) His legs were enormous. His shoulders looked like cantaloupes, with the rounded, watery hallmark of steroids. He loved the way his body looked, loved to take his shirt off, loved the compliments he got from coaches and loved the way nobody in baseball asked, How? The Steroid Era was taking hold, made possible by a don't ask, don't tell policy. "Everybody is telling you how great you look," Naulty says. "Nobody ever asked if I was using drugs. I never had one discussion about steroids around another baseball player. All my discussions about steroids were with bodybuilders."
Ninety percent of all drafted players never spend one day in the big leagues. Steroid users made the odds even worse for clean players.
Thirty-three players appeared in at least one game for the 1994 Fort Myers Miracle. Only six of them reached the majors long enough to earn $500,000 in their careers. Half of those players are known PED users: Naulty, outfielder Matt Lawton (who tested positive in 2005) and pitcher Dan Serafini (who flunked a test in '07).
Kevin Legault was one of the naive ones. He was a three-sport star at Watervliet (N.Y.) High, near Albany. As a sophomore, he once threw a complete game and told his coach he was ready to pitch relief in a playoff game the next day. The coach took him up on the offer, and Legault threw another 150 pitches or so over seven innings, striking out 11 and walking six. He always took the ball. Years later in Triple A, his Salt Lake City team once used him in nine straight games.
Legault says it never occurred to him to use steroids. He was afraid of drugs and afraid that the bulk that came with them was anathema to ballplayers. He only threw 89 mph, and, he believed, "there would have been no way to juice up" enough to make a difference. He was unaware of how potent steroids could be, and that his natural velocity was already better than Naulty's. Though the two were drafted in 1992, they didn't play together until the following year. "He was already throwing [in the 90s], so I'm shocked he would even do it," Legault says.
Legault grew up and remains a fan of Roger Clemens, whose perjury trial for allegedly lying to Congress about his steroid use is now entering its seventh week. Legault collects Clemens memorabilia and believes that the seven-time Cy Young Award winner had to have come by his 354 wins naturally. "People say, 'Your stuff is worthless,' " Legault says, "and I'm like, 'No way.' I just think with steroids you get so much bigger. He didn't get any bigger. I just don't believe it."
Linebarger, also, says he "had no clue about the steroid thing at the time." Steroids, he says, scared him because of the medical risks they carried. Plus, he could not imagine living with "the guilt that never went away." He played clean -- and he never did gain velocity after the Twins drafted him.
Roberts never gained velocity either; in fact, he lost it because of arm trouble. "I would have known I was cheating," Roberts says, imagining how he'd have felt if he had taken steroids. "I would have felt guilty the entire time. These guys were my friends. I couldn't look them in the eye knowing I was cheating."
In 1996 the Twins invited Roberts and Naulty to the club's major league spring training camp in Fort Myers. Naulty, after his fourth off-season doping regimen, again reported with increased size and velocity. He made the team. Roberts was sent back to Triple A Salt Lake City. Three months later, Roberts was sitting in a hotel room in Vancouver with his roommate when the phone rang. It was Jim Rantz, head of minor league operations for the Twins. Minnesota needed a pitcher because of an injury.
"Hey, Brett. Gosh, I see your numbers are really good," Rantz said.
Roberts's heart began to leap.
"Keep it up," Rantz said. "Hey, is Danny there?"
His heart sank. He handed the phone to his roommate: Serafini. Rantz told Serafini that he needed to get on a plane right away: He was pitching against the Yankees in a few days.
Says Roberts, "I was crushed. I was like, 'I don't know what else I could do.' That was one of the lowest points of my career, other than getting released."
Serafini was a lefthanded pitcher who, Roberts says, used to joke about steroids. The Twins selected Serafini out of Junipero Serra High in San Mateo, Calif., with their first round pick in 1992 -- the same year they drafted Naulty, Linebarger and Legault. He stood 6'1'' and weighed only 160 pounds. He went 15-16 with a 6.04 ERA for six major league teams. In 2007, just after MLB and the union tightened its penalties for steroid use, Serafini became one of the first players banned for 50 games for flunking a PED test. (Serafini says he was given steroids by a doctor to recover from an Achilles injury, and that it was the only time he used steroids.)
After going 9-7 with a 5.40 ERA in '96, Roberts returned to Salt Lake City the following year. By July his ERA had ballooned to 6.90, but he had just thrown the ball well in an outing against Edmonton. His dad had been in the stands for the game, and the ball came out of his hand with ease. His velocity was picking up. And then one day the manager, Phil Roof, called him at his apartment.
Roberts knew something was up. He figured he was getting traded. Roof came to the apartment and sat down.
"Brett, you're the hardest working guy I've ever had," Roof said. "The way you take care of yourself is second to none. But at this time the organization has decided to go in a different direction. ... . "
Roof's subsequent words floated and dissolved into the air like puffs of smoke. It was your standard-issue release. "Like Bull Durham and all those classic things," Roberts says. "Knowing how I felt at the time, and years later there's Dan Naulty on TV apologizing. ... It's bitter."
Like a flower, a boyhood dream, for all its vibrancy as it grows, is an ugly thing when it dies. The four Miracles all played for the Salt Lake Buzz in 1997: Naulty, who was on a brief injury rehab assignment, Roberts, Linebarger and Legault. All of them would be finished with organized baseball within a year -- except Naulty, the one who juiced. "It's cheating," says Roberts, who bristles at the steroid users who made it. "It sticks in my craw because I know how hard I worked. Was I going to be a guy with a five- to 10-year career? Probably not. But I know I could have been there."
Linebarger was released by the Twins at the end of spring training in 1998. Rantz gave him the choice of taking his release or being stashed on the Triple A disabled list, even though he wasn't hurt. He detected the lack of confidence in him and took the release. But five minutes later, after consulting with a coach who recommended the DL option, Linebarger walked back into Rantz's office and said, "Is that still on the table?"
"Sorry, the secretary already put in the paperwork."
He got the message. Linebarger hooked on with the Cubs organization, pitched poorly in Double A and retired.
Legault, who reported to Twins camp in 1998 after putting up a 7.52 ERA with the Buzz in 1997, was released within days of Linebarger. Legault remembers his first camp, in 1993, when he looked around and saw about 75 pitchers -- all the minor leaguers begin together -- and instantly understood that spring training is a fierce survival game. Players jockey for roster spots as instructors wearing sunglasses cruise the ball fields in golf carts, leaving nervous prospects to guess whom they're watching. Naulty trumped the system by juicing every winter and standing out in the spring because of his peak physical condition and velocity. Others weren't as lucky. The ones identified quickly as nonprospects sometimes were asked in the middle of a workout to leave the field and meet with a Twins official in an office, where he would be handed his release.
It was a day-to-day existence for Legault in 1998. Every day he made it to the morning stretch was a good day. And then one morning, before he could get dressed, Terry Ryan, the Minnesota general manager, called him into his office. Just like that, the dream was over.
Legault walked out to his '88 Grand Am. A few teammates followed him to the parking lot to say goodbye. They fought back tears. Legault, with his upstate New York accent and goofy sense of humor, was especially popular. Naulty once called him the funniest guy he ever played with. Legault drove to his hotel, packed up his stuff and headed north.
It takes 24 hours to drive from Fort Myers to Watervliet. Legault did it straight through except for a brief break at a truck stop to take a nap. "The whole time I was like, Wow, it's over," he said. "You're numb. Since you're a kid, that's what you think about -- playing baseball. And then ... it's over. You're crushed."
Twenty-four hours in an '88 Grand Am is a long time for a released player to ponder the thin line between the minors and the majors, between a dream realized and one broken to bits. But not once did it occur to him that the way to cross that thin line was with steroids. Meanwhile, Dan Naulty was beginning his third season with the Twins, pulling down $185,000 and living the major league life.
He was good at keeping secrets. Steroids? He carried around worse demons for much longer without anybody knowing.
In 1976, Dan Naulty was six years old and living in Pasadena when his father, Richard, and his mother, Una Mae, divorced. Richard stayed in Pasadena while Dan moved to Palos Verdes, Calif., with his mother and older sister, who was 10. Dan saw his father every other weekend. His mother would soon be overwhelmed with the care of his sister, who by her early teens was a heroin and crack addict and a thief who habitually stole from her mother. (Naulty's sister is now clean and sober.)