"I'm not looking for size," says Pete, who asked that his real name not be used. "I do it for my fast-twitch muscles. If I don't feel good that week or if my hands don't feel good, if they're a little slow, I'll take a shot or get on a cycle. It helps immediately. I notice the difference. My hands are quicker, so my bat is quicker."
Pete began his steroid use through a familiar gateway: Latin America. He was playing winter ball in Venezuela in 1997 when, after hearing other players talk about the easy availability of the drugs, he decided to purchase a steroid, Winstrol, at a farmacia. A year later he was introduced to a female bodybuilder in California who made steroid runs to Mexico. Pete would place orders with her or an intermediary.
While making contacts in the steroid subculture, Pete eventually found a supplier, his current source, in the U.S. Pete places his orders by telephone with the supplier, who ships the steroids and needles to him in a FedEx package. A user of Winstrol and Sustanon, Pete says 10-week cycles of steroids cost him $300 to $400, or about $12 a shot. He says steroids obtained in Mexico are cheaper, but the quality of the foreign product is not as reliable.
"You pay a pretty good price for the U.S. stuff, but it's worth it," Pete says. "The guy I have runs a fair business. He's got the needles, which are not always easy to get. And he cares about his guys. He's not just about making money. He wants you to use the stuff right. He's got just baseball players—a bunch of them."
According to Pete, steroid use is discussed so openly among players that everyone knows who's using and who's not. He says one player can walk up to another in batting practice, bring the subject up, and tell by his answers whether he's using. "There are code words or street names that everybody knows," Pete says. "Listen, this is not my choice. I'd rather not [use]. I discussed it with my wife, and she understands. When you want to get to a higher level of competition, it's pretty obvious that it's worth trying."
Last year Pete tested positive for steroids under the program administered by Major League Baseball. So did several other players on his team. Here's what happened to them: nothing.
Major League Baseball randomly tests minor leaguers during the season. The best prospects, those on the 40-man major league roster, cannot be tested because they fall under the protection of the collective bargaining agreement. (Pete was not a 40-man-roster player.) That exemption explains why players in the Arizona Fall League, which is filled with top prospects, are notorious, one scout says, for driving by the carload into Mexico to stock up on steroids for the winter.
According to two highly placed baseball sources, physicians for Major League Baseball reported at an internal meeting among doctors and trainers last December that 10% to 15% of the minor leaguers tested came up positive for steroids. The sources acknowledged that the number of users is probably significantly higher than that because baseball does not test in the off-season, when many players follow the traditional steroid training regimen: They shoot up in November, December and January, then get off steroids to start a four-week flexibility program before spring training. Two minor leaguers told SI that they attempt to cheat the tests by gulping water and diuretics when a test administrator arrives to take urine samples.
Virtually all of the 20 or so minor leaguers interviewed by SI described the use of steroids and other drugs (including amphetamines and marijuana) as rampant in the minors. They said that testing is spotty. A Class A player in the Kansas City Royals system says he was not tested at all last season. One former pitcher in the Detroit system even says, "Two coaches approached me and suggested I do steroids." Two players say they easily obtained steroids from contacts at their local gyms. "When you were in college, everybody knew someone who could get them pot," says one minor leaguer. "In baseball everyone knows someone who can get them steroids."
Pete says the follow-up to his positive test was familiar to any minor leaguer on steroids: A club employee told him he had tested positive, warned him about the danger of steroids and sent him on his way.