Arizona Diamondbacks righthander Curt Schilling thinks twice before giving a teammate the traditional slap on the butt for a job well-done. "I'll pat guys on the ass, and they'll look at me and go, 'Don't hit me there, man. It hurts,' " Schilling says. "That's because that's where they shoot the steroid needles."
The Texas Rangers were packing their gear after the final game of a road series last year when a player accidentally knocked over a small carry bag by his locker. Several vials of steroids spilled out and rolled on the clubhouse carpet. The player, hardly embarrassed or concerned, gave a slight chuckle and scooped them up. No one else in the room showed any surprise.
Steroid use, which a decade ago was considered a taboo violated by a few renegade sluggers, is now so rampant in baseball that even pitchers and wispy outfielders are juicing up—and talking openly among themselves about it. According to players, trainers and executives interviewed by SI over the last three months, the game has become a pharmacological trade show. What emerges from dozens of interviews is a portrait of baseball's intensifying reliance on steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. These drugs include not only human growth hormone (hGH) but also an array of legal and illegal stimulants, ranging from amphetamines to Ritalin to ephedrine-laced dietary supplements, that many big leaguers pop to get a jolt of pregame energy and sharpen their focus (box, page 38). But it is the use of illegal steroids that is growing fastest and having a profound impact on the game.
The surest sign that steroids are gaining acceptance in baseball: the first public admission of steroid use—without remorse—by a prominent former player. Ken Caminiti, whose 15-year big league career ended after a stint with the Atlanta Braves last season, revealed to SI that he won the 1996 National League Most Valuable Player award while on steroids he purchased from a pharmacy in Tijuana, Mexico. Spurred to try the drugs by concern over a shoulder injury in early '96, Caminiti said that his steroid use improved his performance noticeably and became more sophisticated over the next five seasons. He told SI that he used steroids so heavily in '96 that by the end of that season, his testicles shrank and retracted; doctors found that his body had virtually stopped producing its own testosterone and that his level of the hormone had fallen to 20% of normal. "It took four months to get my nuts to drop on their own," he said of the period after he stopped taking the drugs.
Yet Caminiti, a recovering alcoholic and former drug user, defended his use of steroids and said he would not discourage others from taking them because they have become a widely accepted—even necessary—choice for ballplayers looking for a competitive edge and financial security. "I've made a ton of mistakes," said Caminiti. "I don't think using steroids is one of them.
"It's no secret what's going on in baseball. At least half the guys are using steroids. They talk about it. They joke about it with each other. The guys who want to protect themselves or their image by lying have that right. Me? I'm at the point in my career where I've done just about every bad thing you can do. I try to walk with my head up. I don't have to hold my tongue. I don't want to hurt teammates or friends. But I've got nothing to hide.
"If a young player were to ask me what to do," Caminiti continued, "I'm not going to tell him it's bad. Look at all the money in the game: You have a chance to set your family up, to get your daughter into a better school.... So I can't say, 'Don't do it,' not when the guy next to you is as big as a house and he's going to take your job and make the money."
Anabolic Steroids elevate the body's testosterone level, increasing muscle mass without changes in diet or activity, though their effect is greatly enhanced in conjunction with proper nutrition and strength training. Steroids are illegal in the U.S. unless prescribed by a physician for medical conditions, such as AIDS and hypogonadism (an inability to produce enough testosterone). Studies have shown that the side effects from steroids can include heart and liver damage, persistent endocrine-system imbalance, elevated cholesterol levels, strokes, aggressive behavior and the dysfunction of genitalia. Doctors suspect that steroid use is a major factor in the recent increase in baseball injuries, especially severe injuries such as complete muscle tears (box, page 44).
Unlike the NFL and NBA, both of which ban and test for steroid use—the NHL does neither—Major League Baseball has no steroid policy or testing program for big leaguers. (Baseball does test minor league players, but violators are neither penalized nor required to undergo counseling.) Any such program would have to be collectively bargained with the Major League Baseball Players Association, which traditionally has resisted any form of drug testing but now faces a division in its membership over this issue (box, page 42). "Part of our task is to let a consensus emerge," says Gene Orza, the associate general counsel for the players union.
"No one denies that it is a problem," says commissioner Bud Selig. "It's a problem we can and must deal with now, rather than years from now when the public says, 'Why didn't you do something about it?' I'm very worried about this."