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Caminiti Admits Using Steroids

May 29, 2002|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Players privately joke about baseball's growing steroid problem, so they weren't surprised to learn Tuesday that another former star had gone public about his onetime secret that's now getting regular exposure.

In a Sports Illustrated report on steroids in baseball, Ken Caminiti, following the lead of Jose Canseco, said that there's rampant steroid use in the major leagues, revealing that he won the 1996 National League most-valuable-player award while on the muscle-building substance.

A recovering alcoholic and former drug user who has retired after 15 seasons in the big leagues, he said, "At least half the guys are using steroids," which helped him bat a career-high .326 with 40 home runs and 130 runs batted in for the San Diego Padres in '96.

Canseco, also retired from baseball, estimated that 85% of major leaguers use steroids, saying he planned to write a book about drug users in baseball.

Players were waiting for another shoe to drop, and they figure things are only getting started.

"This has been around for a long time, it's definitely out there, and guys talk about it," said Milwaukee Brewer first baseman Richie Sexson, who hit 45 homers last season and said he does not use steroids. "As a player, if you've been around the game long enough and you know people, you know what's going on.

"When guys, all of a sudden, get to be the size that some guys are now, you know that something's a little bit different. Like I said, because you know what's out there, this really isn't surprising."

Anabolic steroids, which are illegal in the United States unless prescribed by a physician for medical reasons, increase muscle mass by elevating the body's testosterone. Heart and liver damage are among the possible side effects.

Unlike the NFL and NBA, which prohibit steroids, Major League Baseball and the NHL do not test for them. Banning steroids in baseball could not occur without the approval of the players' association.

"I welcome drug testing for me at any time," said first baseman Eric Karros, whose 261 homers are the most in Los Angeles franchise history. "I've never done anything, but I'm the only person I can comment on.

"I can't speak about other people, nor would I feel it was right to speak about them. If somebody wanted to use it, that's their own decision, and I would not be surprised if I found out that other players used it. It would not be shocking to me."

Karros said the reason players turn to steroids is simple: money.

"That probably has a lot do with it," he said. "If I were in a situation where it meant making a team or not making a team, and fortunately I've never been put in that position, but maybe that's why somebody does it. Or maybe they feel like that's what makes them a great player, or it becomes a crutch or something."

Active players who said they do not use steroids say they have mixed feelings about those who do.

"You've got to do what you've got to do," said catcher Paul Lo Duca, who said he would not oppose being tested for steroids.

"If you're battling for a job, and the guy you're battling with is using steroids, then maybe you say, 'Hey, to compete, I need to use steroids because he's using them.' Maybe you feel that's the only way to compete with him.

"Don't get me wrong, I don't condone it, but it's a very tough situation. It's really all about survival for some guys."

And players are aware of the long-term medical risks.

"If guys want to do that and take five or 10 years, or whatever it takes off your life, to secure their family's future, then that's what they choose to do," Sexson said.

"For me, it's definitely a health issue."

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