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TO CHEAT OR NOT TO CHEAT
TOM VERDUCCI
June 04, 2012
A DECADE AFTER KEN CAMINITI HELPED PULL BASEBALL'S STEROID PROBLEM OUT OF THE SHADOWS, THOSE WHO CHASED THE BIG LEAGUE DREAM IN A DIRTY ERA STILL WRESTLE WITH HOW THEY DEALT WITH THE DILEMMA OF A GENERATION
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June 04, 2012

To Cheat Or Not To Cheat

A DECADE AFTER KEN CAMINITI HELPED PULL BASEBALL'S STEROID PROBLEM OUT OF THE SHADOWS, THOSE WHO CHASED THE BIG LEAGUE DREAM IN A DIRTY ERA STILL WRESTLE WITH HOW THEY DEALT WITH THE DILEMMA OF A GENERATION

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And then Naulty's jacked-up body started breaking down. In August his arm suddenly went numb; he was shelled in two appearances before doctors figured out he was suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition in which his first rib was pressing upon an artery. Doctors went through his neck to cut out the rib. In 1997, Naulty tore his right triceps. The year after that his groin muscle ripped off his pelvis. By then he weighed 240 pounds, 60 more than he did when he was drafted six years before. His body wasn't built to handle such muscle mass.

Naulty started taking human growth hormone to help him recover from the injuries. He was also using so much synthetic testosterone that his body's natural production of the hormone shut down. He was taking 7 to 10 cc's a week of testosterone—seven to 10 times the dosage for someone who would be prescribed testosterone replacement therapy.

Naulty pitched in 97 games for the Twins from 1996 through '98 with a 4.61 ERA, which was better than the league average. (As steroids took hold, the American League ERA in 1996 swelled to 4.99, the second-highest in history. This season it is 4.00.) While he says no one talked to him about steroids in those years, players talked openly about amphetamines—so openly that Naulty estimated that "80 percent of guys used drugs, no question." Speed was socially acceptable in the clubhouse. Naulty would take greenies, little light- and dark-green pills, before games. Some guys took "black beauties," massive pills that were so potent they frightened even a drug abuser like Naulty. The greenies were powerful enough. "They were equally as powerful as any drug I took," he says. "You could run through a wall. You had stamina forever. I mean, you never got tired. That's why I had to start drinking because I couldn't get to sleep. It's three o'clock in the morning, and I'm ready to go run a marathon."

Naulty slid into a cycle of addictions. Every morning he would wake up hungover, so he would take amphetamines when he got to the park for an instant boost. He'd then pitch with the benefits of steroids, HGH and speed, and after the game medicate himself with alcohol to come down from the amphetamine high.

It was 1998. The country was enamored with the magic show that was the great home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Both of them smashed through the record of 61 home runs set by Roger Maris, a mark that had stood for 37 years but would be exceeded four more times in the next three years. Don't ask, don't tell remained the unspoken covenant.

The rationalizing and enabling goes on even today by players, fans and media. The popular myth is that before testing, steroids in baseball "weren't illegal" (in fact, their use was made illegal by the federal government in 1988 unless prescribed to treat a medical condition), were "not against the rules" (a 1991 memo by commissioner Fay Vincent specifically prohibited steroids) and that "everybody was doing it, anyway." (Tell that to Legault, Linebarger and Roberts.) But the silence in the culture of steroids is a dead giveaway that the users knew they were corrupt. "I was a full-blown cheater, and I knew it," Naulty says. "You didn't need a written rule. I was violating clear principles that were laid down within the rules. I understood I was violating implicit principles.

"I have no idea how many guys were using testosterone. But I would assume anybody that was had some sort of conviction that this was against the rules. To say it wasn't cheating to me ... it's just a fallacy. It was a total disadvantage to play clean."

In 1998 the Yankees won 125 games, the final four of which came in a sweep of the Padres (with Ken Caminiti at third base) in the World Series. Twenty-six days after the end of the season, the Yankees traded for Naulty. He was amazed that an elite team wanted a middle reliever with a body that was breaking down.

Shortly after the trade, Naulty went to a bar near his home in Southern California. He was a full-blown alcoholic by then. There was a dispute over a woman. A bouncer asked him to leave. Somebody wanted to mess with him, and Naulty was ready. Naulty wasn't about to back down from a bouncer—or two or three or four or five. It took six men to finally bring him down.

"Just more testosterone," he explained. "You're a wild animal. It's amazing I didn't kill somebody, myself included, as much as I was drinking and everything."

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