Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Why Didn't We Listen?

He's an unlikely hero. Anyone who knew Ken Caminiti saw a ballplayer, pure and simple. A pretty good one, too. He came out of San Jose's Leigh High School (my alma mater) and San Jose State, and had a very solid 15-year major league career.

But it wasn't his 3 Gold Gloves, or his MVP season for the Padres in 1996, or his 239 career home runs that should have made Cammy one of baseball's most memorable figures. It was the fact that he told the truth about something we didn't want to hear: the sport was juiced.

To be honest, you didn't really need a lab full of testing machines to see it in Caminiti. He got bigger and bulkier each year, and in 2002, the year after his career ended, he told Sports Illustrated why: he was 'roiding. And more than that, he wasn't alone. Caminiti estimated half of baseball was on steroids.

So what did baseball do? Nothing at all. The sport was drunk on home runs. Mc Gwire had those back-to-back 70 and 65 HR seasons in 1998 and '99. Bonds had just hit 73 in 2001. And Ken Caminiti was a broken-down former player with a history of alcohol and cocaine abuse.

But anyone who knew Ken Caminiti knew this was no Jose Canseco, who teased us for months about the "tell-all" book he was going to write. Cammy had no real axe to grind, no publishing contract, no ego to feed.

Sure, there was a big bunch of publicity when that Sports Illustrated article came out. But nobody really believed Ken Caminiti's story--I mean, how could half the players be on steroids? That would make this whole thing a fraud, wouldn't it?

It's been more than five years since Cammy came clean and three years since he died young, his body ravaged by booze and coke. Tomorrow, the Mitchell report on steroid abuse in baseball comes out. It didn't need to take this long. They could have just listened to Ken Caminiti.

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