To Cheat or Not to Cheat (cont.)
Naulty was not raised in a religious home. In January 1997 a friend asked him to go to church, and Dan agreed. At the end of the service, the preacher invited people to come to the front of the room and confess their sins. "And I did," Naulty says. "I never heard the gospel before. I walked to the front of the room and accepted Christ as my savior. But nothing happened. My lifestyle didn't change."
Naulty was shocked at the participants in the Yankees' daily devotionals: star players with huge contracts. "I was just floored that people who made that much money needed God," he says. "Why on earth would I need God when I was with the Yankees and I've got hundreds of thousands of dollars and I've got whatever I want?"
When the players bowed their heads to pray, Naulty lifted his and added up the salaries in the room. The devotionals did not change him. "By day I would hang out with the Christians and talk to them about God," he says. "When I left the park it was a Jekyll and Hyde thing. I'd run around Manhattan with my head cut off all night and just get loaded up and start the whole process again."
Years later, Pettitte, Stanton and Grimsley, like Naulty, were named in the Mitchell Report. "Shocked," Naulty says. "It would obviously contradict everything we believe as Christians. That was certainly shocking."
Off steroids, something else was changing with Naulty. He was beginning to realize that he didn't love baseball anymore. One day during a rain delay at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Naulty was watching television on a clubhouse couch. Centerfielder Bernie Williams, famous for his ability to fall asleep anywhere, was dozing next to him. Suddenly word came that the game was back on. Williams awoke.
"What's going on?" he asked.
"Oh, man, they've got the game back on and we've got to play," groused Naulty.
"Awesome!" Williams shouted.
"What? You want to play?"
"Yeah. What else would I want to do?"
Naulty didn't say it, but he was thinking, What else would I not want to do?
It began to hit him: Naulty started playing baseball because he loved it, but he kept playing it because he had nothing else in his life. "My motives were no longer like Derek Jeter's," he says. "He plays -- and this seems to be the case with all the great ones -- because he loves it. I loved it as a child and parts of high school, and it started to fade and I should have stopped. Then I was tied to this steam train and couldn't get off. I thought I had to do anything I could to stay on this steam train because I had nothing else."
It was closer to sunrise than it was to midnight, and Naulty was the only one in the backseat of the limo who wasn't passed out from the night of drinking. The Yankees had won the 1999 World Series the previous evening, with Clemens finishing off a sweep of the Braves. Naulty had stopped drinking at three in the morning, an unusual act of restraint for him. The limo was rolling through Manhattan, making its way to the George Washington Bridge and eventually to Naulty's New Jersey condo. Naulty needed somebody to talk to. He did not know the limo driver -- didn't even know his name -- but he was the only other one in the car who wasn't asleep.
The driver pulled over. Naulty jumped out, opened the front passenger's door and sat down. The driver studied him with a bewildered look and resumed driving.
Naulty began to talk to the stranger. He had poured his very being into baseball, sacrificing character, health, friendships, education, morals ... everything. And yet at the pinnacle of that pursuit -- he had just won the World Series as a New York Yankee -- he felt a profound emptiness.
But he did not think about life at that moment. He thought about death. It was far from the first time. Naulty often thought about killing himself during his drug-and-alcohol-addled years. "Suicidal thoughts were a regular pattern for me," he says. "I'm surprised I'm living, man. Between all the drinking and driving I did and all the suicidal thoughts, how I'm alive is only by the grace of God."
The thoughts, however, never had been this powerful. Even at this late hour, the traffic on the bridge was heavy. The limo was crawling along. Almost once a month somebody leaps off the bridge, some 200 feet above the Hudson, to his or her death. Naulty had his hand on the handle of the door.
"Tell me," he said to the driver. "Tell me if this is all there is to life. Because if this is all there is, just stop this car right now and I'll jump."
The driver looked at Naulty like he was crazy.
"He was so scared, he didn't say anything," Naulty says. "But I was serious. I had no hope. I had sold myself that bill of goods so long that I believed it. But I realized at that moment I had totally destroyed my life. And I had destroyed countless other people's lives. I was ready to die."
Not long after the 1999 World Series, the National League champion Braves invited Jeff Horn to their major league spring training camp. Horn had been one of Naulty's closest friends. They both grew up in Southern California, and when Horn arrived at Cerritos Junior College after transferring from Oklahoma State, Naulty had reached out and made him feel welcome. The Twins drafted Horn in the 47th round in 1992, the same year they took Naulty, Linebarger and Legault. Over the next five years Naulty and Horn were teammates in three cities in the Minnesota farm system. But while Naulty moved up to the Show, Horn became a real life Crash Davis, a hard-nosed catcher who loved loud guitars, hard rock and the nuances of catching.
Horn had never been in a big league camp. By the end of 1999 he was 29 and had kicked around the minor leagues for eight seasons as a career backup, never playing more than 79 games in a season. The Twins dumped him after he played in only 24 games in '98 at Triple A. The Dodgers picked him up and released him. Then the Braves signed him for the 1999 season and demoted him to Double A, where he hit .229.
The idea of major league camp with the NL champions was powerful. "It's all I ever wanted since I was eight years old," he says. "After so many years, I was finally getting an opportunity, an opportunity to use everything at my fingertips to make a good impression."
As Naulty was thinking of leaving baseball, Horn was contemplating whether to take the plunge with steroids. By then PEDs were so prevalent in the game that players had started to whisper among themselves about who was on them and what worked best. Horn knew a handful of players who were juicing. He noticed guys reporting to camp with 30 pounds of muscle they didn't have five months earlier. He overheard hushed conversations about steroids.
Horn knew steroids were wrong, illegal and dangerous, but ... this was big league camp! He talked to a guy at the gym, a bodybuilder who was a chemist, to learn about steroids. He went back and forth in his mind for weeks.
One day Horn sat down at his computer and went on the Internet. He found a website. They would ship steroids from Europe to his front door. He placed his order, typed in his credit card information, and it was done. He panicked a bit. He worried that as soon as he accepted the package on his front porch an entire police department would be there to arrest him. He worried that his heart would explode as soon as he injected the steroids.
He took the steroids that winter and something incredible did happen: He got better.
"I was, at best, an average hitter," Horn says. "A good fastball could tie me up. When I had the stuff in me I could get to those pitches easier. With steroids you could do those things you otherwise couldn't do. The things that kept you in the minor leagues all of a sudden didn't hold you back anymore.
"It's not like you could take a guy off the street, give him steroids and he can hit a Jered Weaver fastball. But if you have the ability to do it, you can get a little help doing things you were not able to do."
Horn loved big league camp. He played golf with Chipper Jones and Greg Maddux, picked the brains of Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and especially Maddux. "For some reason he took me under his wing and taught me a lot about pitching," Horn says.
One time he asked Maddux, "When you're 0 and 2, do you want me to move even further outside? Because if I do, I'll be in the other batter's box."
"Nah," Maddux said. "Just stay in the same spot. I'll decide when I miss."
Says Horn, "He could put the ball exactly where he wanted it." There was nothing like this in the minors.
"It felt like the eight years prior were worth every minute to have those two months in big league camp," he says. "I feel very lucky and blessed. That was only spring training. I can only imagine what the regular season is like."
During a game in camp, Horn suffered two herniated disks in his neck in a collision at home plate. He wound up playing just 13 games in Triple A in 2000 before he needed surgery. He was done for the year. Horn had been 220 pounds, but dropped to 178 pounds after the surgery. "I needed some help to get back to where I was," he says.
He went back on steroids. He returned to Double A in 2001 and hit close to his career minor league average of .258. Then one day in June, somebody told him he needed to give a urine sample for a drug test. It was the first year of a Bud Selig-mandated program under which all minor leaguers who were not on 40-man rosters would be tested for PEDs. (Players on the 40-man roster were protected by the union, which was holding firm to its stance against random testing.) Horn wasn't worried. He hadn't taken steroids in three months.
Weeks later a trainer told him, "You tested positive." Horn thought it was a joke. He was about to turn 31 and was a known drug cheat in Double A in his 10th minor league season. He analyzed the situation, calculated the odds of getting another opportunity and came to a quick decision: He retired. His big league dream was done. "For a number of years I felt like a failure because I didn't quite get there," Horn says. "Now I know that's not the case. No one thinks about the guys that never get there."
Legault and Horn played together at every level of the minors. They roomed together through six spring training camps. But until a reporter told him last month, Legault didn't know that Horn had used steroids.
"He did?" Legault says. "I thought maybe, but, no, not Jeff Horn."
"It's overwhelming," Horn says, recalling the pressure to cheat. "You're a young man, and you're not fully developed intellectually; and you're forced to make some challenging decisions, and man, it's tough.
"As close as Kevin and I were with the Twins, we never really talked about it. When I made the decision it was very private. It's not black and white. I can understand how it might seem that way to people not in the industry. I didn't make a decision overnight. I went weeks and weeks thinking about it and being nervous.
"If I had to do it again, those would not be the decisions I would make. It's something you want so bad, and you spent so many years in the minor leagues, and you're watching guys leapfrog you. ... I just wanted to get there to prove to myself and the people who didn't have much faith in me that I could do it. It was not a decision to get as big as I could and make millions. I was looking for some kind of personal validation."
Dan Naulty rode down the Canyon of Heroes in 1999, met the President, cashed a World Series check for $307,809, got a world championship ring and bought himself a Corvette. But that winter, the emptiness still gnawed at him. Meanwhile, the Yankees traded him to the Dodgers -- the Dodgers! -- his hometown team, the team that launched his dream in the first place. But by the time spring training began, he didn't want to play for the Dodgers, or anybody for that matter.
He was thinking about being a pastor.
He did report to spring training in Vero Beach, Fla., but his heart wasn't in it. Every morning he would meet with a pastor for breakfast and explain he wanted to quit. "Well, you don't know what you want," the pastor advised. "You should keep going. Maybe this is what God has planned for you."
One day Richard, his father, came to visit. They went out to dinner. What little relationship they did have was dysfunctional.
"Dad," Dan told Richard, "I think I'm going to quit."
"Quit? Quit what? Quit baseball? You're going to quit now? After you've gone all this way?"
"Yes. It's killing me. Don't you understand that? My life is so destructive I could blow my brains out at any moment."
The competitor inside Dan Naulty already was dead. Naulty pitched horribly in camp and didn't care. The Dodgers released him before the end of spring training. He went home to Tustin, Calif., and was happy. He went to church every night. He talked to pastors.
A month after his release, the Royals called. They wanted to see him throw. They flew him to Florida, where he showed enough for the Royals to sign him and ship him to Triple A Omaha. He was horrible there too. The Royals released him after he threw just 12D 3 innings -- long enough to give up eight walks and nine runs.
His agent, Scott Boras, told him if he wanted another shot, he would have to find someplace to keep pitching. He wound up with an independent team in Atlantic City. He went 2-4 with a 5.54 ERA in 17 games. After that, Naulty was sure he was finished with baseball. All he wanted was to be a pastor.
It has been 10 years since Caminiti came clean, the Senate called its hearing and the players and the owners agreed to test for steroids. The game has changed. Penalties for using steroids were tightened in 2005. Amphetamines were banned as well. "I believe they're trying to make it better," Brett Roberts says. "Before Ken Caminiti, I don't even know that they were trying. I want to believe the good in the game. I really do. I want to believe they want a clean game and healthy players."
But every year, the cloverleaves of minor league fields are filled with dreamers. The line between the minors and the majors can be so thin, and yet the difference between crossing it or not is everything.
What would you do to cross that line, even for a day? Even with testing, the answer for many is to use drugs. Since 2005, there have been 527 violations of the drug testing agreement by minor league players and 35 by major leaguers -- about 70 confirmed cheats every year. One of the most common causes of a failed test is the drug stanozolol, also known as Winstrol, an old school steroid that can be injected or taken in tablet form. It is a favorite among body builders and ballplayers because it adds lean muscle mass and strength without excessive weight gain.
Cheaters can use fast-acting testosterone creams and gels to keep their testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio below the allowable 4-to-1 threshold. They can use HGH, which functions more as recovery agent than strength builder, virtually all year long. This season, baseball became the first major American pro sport to use a blood test for HGH, but the program amounts to one announced test: Players know they will be screened when they show up for spring training, and not again during the season. Still, the testing protocols over 10 years appear to have slowed the cheating considerably.
"I think it's a good thing, absolutely," says Horn, the former catcher. "One thing that baseball has is its numbers. Baseball numbers are sacred. Anything to preserve the integrity of the numbers is paramount."
Horn, now 41, went back to school after he retired, was intrigued by an anatomy class and wound up at medical school in Utah, where he is doing his residency as an anesthesiologist. Dr. Crash Davis, if you will. "I don't think there's anybody in my past who thought I'd ever be a doctor," he says. "My parents are still floored."
Keith Linebarger, 41, works as a technician in a metallurgical lab in Georgia, and he coaches kids. Kevin Legault, 41, delivers mail near Watervliet. Brett Roberts completed his college degree, obtained a masters in school administration and is the assistant principal and athletic director at South Webster High in southern Ohio.
"Roberts, Legault, Linebarger, those guys to me, they are men of integrity," says Steve Liddle, the former Fort Myers Miracle manager who's now the Twins' third base coach. "They played the game clean and took their chances on God-given abilities. They didn't seek out any synthetic help. They have nothing to be ashamed of."
Occasionally Linebarger thinks about what his career might have been like if he hadn't played in the Steroid Era. His first thought is, "Maybe I could have made it." One thing he knows: Having played the game clean in a dirty era is not what he considers an accomplishment. "That's not something to be proud of," Linebarger says. "I guess you could look at it and say, 'That's normal.' That's not a feather in my cap. That's just common sense."
The 10:15 service, the second of two on Sunday mornings, is nearly full of worshippers at The Rock Community Church. It's not a church in the classic sense of stone and steeple. It's more like a hotel-style ballroom inside a modern building in a Yorba Linda, Calif., industrial park. There are five sections of chairs, a stage with elaborate lighting, three video screens and singing. Lots of singing. Two men play soft Christian rock, and the worshippers are enthralled. They sway and stand with arms aloft when the spirit moves them.
Dan Naulty attends with his wife, Cassie, and two sons, ages five and seven. He has come back to Orange County a changed man, and not just because his body is lean and lanky again. After he quit baseball, he started the Dan Naulty Pitching Academy, in which he gave baseball clinics as a way to introduce people to Jesus. He has earned a B.A. at Moody Bible Institute, a masters degree from Iliff School of Theology and a postgraduate degree in applied theology from Oxford University. He pastored in Washington state before joining The Rock Community Church, with its congregation of about 500, in April.
Everywhere he went, Pastor Dan told his story, including his experience as a victim of sexual abuse, as part of his testimony. "What I've done as a Christian so far exceeds what I did in baseball," he says. He holds no secrets anymore. "I'm fully transparent, to the point that many Christians are a little uncomfortable."
Horn spoke with Naulty three years ago when Naulty was studying at Oxford. "It sounds like he's real remorseful," Horn says. "You spend your life trying to get the gold ring. A lot of us never get there. He did. I can't imagine what he was going through on that bridge. I'm so glad he didn't jump. He has so many good things to offer people."
Naulty sold the Corvette. He never wears his World Series ring -- he rarely even takes it out of the safe where it is stored. The major league money? Gone. It went to pay for years of therapy and counseling. "It's a funny thing," he says. "I thought I was going to be a millionaire playing baseball, and I ended up using all the money to try to heal myself."
He never thought about Roberts, Linebarger and Legault when he was taking steroids. But as a Christian, what happened between them became too painful to him. Speaking about what he did, and his regret, is part of his therapy. "How do you forgive yourself for screwing over people you played with?" he says. "How do you forgive yourself for abusing all these people? How do you get to that point? It took a long time."
The musicians stop and are replaced on the stage by the lead pastor of The Rock. He is John Werhas. He is also Naulty's father-in-law and a former infielder for the Dodgers and the Angels in the 1960s. Dan and John helped found this church soon after Naulty quit baseball. When Naulty returned this year, he sat down and figured out the minimum salary his family would need to live on and asked for nothing more. "I pastor not because I'm good at it," he says. "Well, hopefully I'm good at it. I do it because I love it. I'm grateful for where I'm at. I love my job."
Pastor John, his camp shirt untucked, walks around the stage and the floor, stopping occasionally to stand behind the rostrum to read a Bible verse. In one of his still moments, he reads from the 12th book of the New Testament, the Epistle of Paul to the Colossians. The video boards highlight the passage he reads aloud: Colossians 3:2.
Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.
Dan Naulty, sitting with his wife and sons, nods. He knows all too well. After all he has been through, the abuse received and the abuse inflicted, his heart is filled with joy. It is, to borrow from his past self, something of a miracle.
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