It was a story that rocked baseball.
In 2002, in his first season out of the game following a 15-year career, Ken Caminiti told Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci that he had used steroids throughout much of his time in the major leagues.
The three-time All-Star third baseman and 1996 National League MVP also said he believed that at least 50 percent of major-league players used performance enhancing drugs and the number could be as high as 75 percent.
The Major League Baseball Players Association vehemently denied Caminiti’s claim. So did commissioner Bud Selig.
While it is safe to say the percentage of PED users has gone done as Major League Baseball enacted then-stiffened penalties, there are still players trying to skirt the rule.
The latest case in point is Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Starling Marte. He received an 80-game suspension earlier this week after testing positive for the steroid Nandrolone less than a year after being selected to his first All-Star Game.
With that in mind, we conducted a quick and unscientific survey to determine how prevalent PED use might be in the major leagues. Granted anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, three players and three executives were asked what percentage of players they think are users.
The most popular answer was 20 percent, coming from two executives and one player. Meanwhile, the other executive said 15 percent while the other two players’ responses were 35 percent and 5 percent.
“Well we know it’s not zero,” one executive said. “I wish it were but that’s only ever going to happen in a perfect world. I don’t think it’s nearly the problem it was 20 years ago and I do think the penalties that are in place act a strict deterrent.”
Not always, though.
Marte was suspended following a second positive test, which came less than a less than two months after his first positive. What made his decision to use a banned substance curious is that he is in the fourth guaranteed year of a six-year, $31 million contract that runs through 2019 and includes club options for 2020 and 2021.
“I can understand how a guy who is in the last year of his contract would try to get an extra boost so he could put up big numbers and get a big payday,” said one of the players surveyed. “I don’t get it in this case. He already has a contract and he knew he couldn’t afford to keep taking the stuff without getting busted but he still did it. Why?”
The New York Yankees are trying not to get carried away about rookie left-hander Jordan Montgomery.
Yet they are having a hard time containing their excitement through his first two career starts, especially since he was not even one of the six candidates competing for two rotation spots when spring training began.
Montgomery notched his first career victory Monday night, allowing 3 runs in 6 innings against the Chicago White Sox. He is 1-1 with a 4.22 ERA and 1.50 WHIP, but what has stood out about the 24-year-old is his mound presence.
The Yankees believe Montgomery’s poise stems from making a start for South Carolina in the 2008 College World Series as a 17-year-old.
“I know it’s not pitching at Yankee Stadium, but pitching in the College World Series is a big deal,” manager Joe Girardi said. “There’s a lot of pressure and a lot of emotions, and he had been through that and I felt that would help him.”
Conversely, White Sox center fielder Jacob May is having a nightmarish start to his career as the 25-year-old switch-hitter is 0-for-24 in nine games.
The rebuilding White Sox opted to go with the speedy May in center field rather than veteran Peter Bourjos, who had a strong spring as a non-roster invitee but was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays.
They do not regret the decision and are not concerned that the lack of success could have a negative impact on May, whose uncle Carlos May was a White Sox outfielder from 1968-76.
“Jacob knows the game and that slumps happen over the course of the season,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “His is just happening to come early. He’s putting the work in. We have confidence in him and he has confidence in himself. He’s going to be fine.”
May can take solace in the fact that his grandfather also got off to a slow start in his career. Lee May went hitless in his first 14 at-bats for the Cincinnati Reds during the 1965-66 seasons but went on to have an 18-year career as a slugging first baseman.
A strong early candidate for breakout player of the year is Seattle Mariners left-hander James Paxton.
Despite giving up 5 runs in 4.1 innings Thursday night in a no-decision against the Oakland Athletics, the 28-year-old is 2-0 with a 1.78 ERA and 0.87 WHIP through four starts in his fifth season.
The Mariners have long held out hope that Paxton could be a top-of-the-rotation starter and he seems ready to make good on that promise this season.
“He’s always had the stuff but injuries have gotten in the way a lot of times,” a scout from an American League team said. “He looks free and easy and the ball is coming out of his hand well. He looks healthy and he looks confident. I like how he’s carrying himself on the mound now.”