"I'm glad I wasn't introduced to steroids in my mid-30s because I probably would have taken them," says Van Slyke. "There was no incentive not to. And if I knew I could play into my late 30s and early 40s on steroids, with no cloud of shame over me, I certainly would have done it."
One summer Van Slyke stood outside a batting cage in Houston and watched Astros slugger Ken Caminiti, 25 pounds heavier than during the previous season, smoke ball after ball over the fence. Van Slyke pointed to Caminiti and twice, to a Pirates coach, pantomimed injecting a needle into his own rear end. "I had worked my ass off that off-season," says Van Slyke, "and gained seven pounds."
Still, it is without condemnation that Van Slyke names several players he is certain took steroids. "I didn't see them put needles in their asses," he says, "but Scott Peterson is going to the gas chamber on just as much evidence." He is amused by the self-righteous evasions of those embroiled in the BALCO trial. "I think of the line from The Shawshank Redemption," he says. "'Everyone is innocent in here, don't you know that?'"
Every Sunday night in St. Louis, Van Slyke plays bridge with three of his teammates from the '85 National League champion St. Louis Cardinals. "We sort of create a clubhouse environment, a place where you can rip on your partner in a fun way," says Van Slyke. "My partner is Tom Lawless, and we play against two lefthanders, Rick Horton and Kenny Dayley. It's the athletes against the pitchers. The host is responsible for the chips and beer. Cigars aren't allowed, but there is chewing and dipping."
Van Slyke pauses, acutely aware that these are strange times even forretiredballplayers, especially as regards anything ingestible. "I want to make it clear," says Van Slyke. "In no way do I condone tobacco use for young bridge players." ?
? For a collection of Steve Rushin's columns, go to SI.com/writers.