Thursday, October 28, 2010

Steroid dealer Radomski has a lot to share on PEDs

We were inundated last year with books on baseball's performance-enhancing drug scandal. Some releases examined usage by fallen heroes Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens. One of the central figures in the steroid scourge, former Mets clubbie Kirk Radomski, even came out with his own book on the subject.

I resisted the urge to read any of them. It wasn't tough. Generally speaking, the more headlines a book garners for its gotcha factor, the less I'm interested in reading it. Add in an "author" who didn't even write the book himself and I'll pass, thanks.

That's the route Radomski took, collaborating with David Fisher on his tell-all Bases Loaded: The Inside Story of the Steroid Era in Baseball by the Central Figure in the Mitchell Report. Fisher has also written books on behalf of umpires Ron Luciano and Ken Kaiser, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, and quarterback Terry Bradshaw, among others. Entertaining in a bathroom reader sort of way, but none of them will go down among the classics in sports literature.

Recently I've been doing some research into PEDs for a side project. I've read Will Carroll's The Juice and spent a little more time than I'd like to admit scrolling through body-building forums on the internet. But I kept coming back to Radomski's book and eventually figured it was worth at least a quick skim. Last week I swung by the library (with my 11-month-old son in tow to see the gigantic fish tank) and checked it out.

My first impressions matched exactly what I expected after having read a few reader reviews on Amazon. Radomski is a blowhard. Everything he did as a clubhouse employee and afterward he was just doing to help his friends (the players). He wasn't a bad guy or a pusher; when he hooked his first player up with steroids, he "was simply doing a favor for a friend." (A phrase you'll read ad nauseam). He also had an uncanny knack for "predicting" when players were going to run into trouble for not following his advice.

If you don't get too caught up in all that, Radomski's actually got a lot to say. The man does know his PEDs. And for a guy who vowed for so long to keep his secrets, he certainly drops a lot of names.

The players he mentions aren't newsworthy to anyone who has scanned the Mitchell Report, though many of them have yet to fess up. Of course, while some of them have disparaged him publicly and/or pretended they never met him, they haven't sued Radomski for libel, either. And you know why. Most people won't approve of what Radomski did, distributing steroids and advice to players throughout the league, but his role in baseball's big bulk-up doesn't discredit him as a source. His story was supported by his phone records and cancelled checks. George Mitchell's team checked and doublechecked everything he told them and found him to be truthful.

The names, of course, weren't really what I was reading for. I was hoping to learn more about how PEDs are used and which of them do what. (Note: I'm not about to start using them myself. That is not my side project.) I was not disappointed. Radomski details the pros and cons of several of the more popular anabolic steroids (Deca-Durabolin, Primobolan, Winstrol, etc.). He also goes into some depth on the benefits of human growth hormone and the difference between HGH and steroids. In short, steroids build muscle while HGH promotes recuperation. HGH got so popular because it allowed players to get through a long season without being sidetracked by nagging injuries. It also decreased time required to rehab from serious injuries. (I'm using past tense here because no one uses it anymore. Right?)

Radomski describes his arrest and subsequent cooperation with both the government and Mitchell's investigation. Without his assistance, the Mitchell Report wouldn't have grabbed many headlines. The union strongly discouraged players from talking and baseball had no power to make them do so.

He also spends a fair amount of time on the Brian McNamee-Roger Clemens feud. If you had any lingering doubts about Clemens' use of PEDs, you won't after reading that chapter. Well, you might if you were the kind of person who believed Clemens this long.

For a long time I wanted to buy baseball's Pollyanna proclamations that the percentage of players using PEDs was small. Most players were clean. It was just Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Jason Giambi, etc., who were using. When players would toss out estimates like 50 percent or 80 percent of their colleagues were using I wanted to believe they were full of it. But they probably weren't. After reading Bases Loaded I can't doubt those numbers any longer. I hope baseball and the union are serious about ending PED usage, but to pretend it wasn't as widespread as it got is naïve.

So great literature? No. But Bases Loaded is informative. You'll certainly learn a lot more than you will from The Umpire Strikes Back. You might even gain a little respect for Radomski.

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