Unmasking the Real Faces of Steroids

By Mike Wise
Saturday, December 22, 2007

A week after George J. Mitchell outed a league of synthetic chemists, violins still play for America's disgraced uberhumans. It's sad to see people -- sycophant fans and media alike -- showing sympathy for Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and other publicly embarrassed stars linked to steroids.

The only explanation is fear: They're afraid their favorite players stubbed their toes trampling the little people.

The career minor leaguer, proud to be drug-free but not quite debt-free. The weight-room kid who's prone to mood swings, who told his parents he took steroids because "Barry Bonds does it." And, unbelievably, AIDS patients, who were prescribed steroids but gave up their medication because Major League Baseball players ostensibly wanted it more.

It's there, in those 311 pages plus attachments, along with the greatest pitcher of his generation getting punctured in the butt with a syringe. Mitchell employed prominent names in his report like the first paragraph of this story used names; he wanted a steroid-apathetic society with the attention span of a CNN crawl line to keep turning the page and learn something. And it worked.

The mention of Clemens, Miguel Tejada, Andy Pettitte and Gary Sheffield obfuscate what the Mitchell report really tried to say. Office pools leading up to the release of the "The List" -- really, our national obsession with celebrity -- hid the truth:

The actions of vain, rich and dishonest men not only tainted their own workplace but reverberated across the nation and beyond in devastating ways. They actively promoted and benefited from a damaging culture of drug use that can't be rationalized away with, "I only used it twice."

Peter Gammons, that guardian of the game, actually called Kirk Radomski and Brian McNamee "sewer rats" on television for essentially flipping on their clients, as if this were a mob movie with morals.

No, Mitchell's two main informants were drug mules for millionaires. Nothing more. Radomski's most despicable moment wasn't snitching to the feds so he could avoid a possible 30-year prison sentence; it came while waiting outside hospitals, offering AIDS patients cash for their human growth hormone so he could resell it to baseball players bargaining with the devil. Greg Anderson, who did 14 months for Bonds out of some warped code of loyalty, did the same, according to the report.

"Anderson said that he obtained the human growth hormone from AIDS patients in San Francisco. . . . Kirk Radomski also obtained human growth hormone that he resold to major league players by purchasing "kits" of the substance from AIDS patients."

Think about that twisted juxtaposition: professional athletes who wanted to perform better and play longer took some of the drugs intended for HIV-infected people who needed them to live longer.

Beyond the stars, many of the drug cheats used that HGH to steal money and fame from their clean competitors, the Class AAA lifer who decided against risking his health for his dream to play in the majors.

The little people.

Not Bonds or Clemens or the beautiful, elegant and, oh, just slightly disingenuous Marion Jones. They aren't the faces of steroids. They pay people to script their recovery from public shame.

The faces of steroids don't have managers; they have grieving parents, like Efrain Marrero's.

Two years ago, when the Vacaville, Calif., teenager admitted to his parents that he was putting needles and pills in his body to make himself bigger, they scolded him. "But Barry Bonds does it," he actually told them.

Three and a half weeks after their son stopped using muscle-building drugs cold -- a major no-no, according to physicians who connect steroid withdrawal in teens to deep depression -- Efrain went into a family bedroom, put a .22-caliber pistol to his head and pulled the trigger. He was 19. The kid had no history of depression or mental illness.

The list? An authentic document, detailing the damage these drugs have done, should start with Marrero. It should include Taylor Hooton, a cousin of former major league pitcher Burt Hooton, who in 2003 hung himself in his bedroom at age 17 with a belt he used to wear to school. And Rob Garibaldi, 24, another young baseball player who shot himself to death.

"Everybody gets stuck on the big names, the big fish," said Don Hooton, Taylor's father, who was lauded during Mitchell's news conference last week for his work to eradicate performance-enhancing drugs among kids. "Well, this is where that river all trickles down to."

Before Don Hooton went to speak with Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig after Mitchell delivered his report, he paused. "The whole thing has been unreal," he said. "The press conference. Taylor's death. Everything. I just cried for a moment and gathered myself before I went over to the commissioner's office.

"I still can't believe it all happened. Think about it. I'm talking to you, matter-of-factly, about my son killing himself."

The people who compare this to a witch hunt -- the learned cynics and baseball apologists -- should just go away. Enough with the Rocket and Bonds, black and white. Race. Civil liberties. Enough.

The steroid epidemic is about class warfare. It's about the wealthy, elite athlete who can afford a reputable "trainer" (a.k.a. dealer), the best health care and a lawyer; and the teenager who has to make a 'roid run to Guadalajara so he can pick up some veterinary-grade drugs used to improve the muscularity of beef cattle.

In April 2005, a coffin was delivered to Major League Baseball's New York headquarters. It was carried in a mock funeral procession from Yankee Stadium by Hispanics Across America, the group that begged Selig to improve testing for youngsters who play baseball in the Dominican Republic and other Latin American countries.

The coffin symbolized two Dominican teenagers who died in 2001 after injecting themselves with animal steroids and an animal dietary supplement called diamino, a supplement given to horses and cows. Lino Ortiz and Williams Felix used diamino because it was cheaper and easier to procure than steroids. Ortiz was supposed to try out with the Phillies the day after he died.

Their names weren't Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds, but Lino Ortiz and Williams Felix also belong on the list.

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