Kirk Radomski, Bases Loaded (Hudson Street Press, 2009)
PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs) are once again the dominant topic of discussion at New York Post editorial meetings. The recent revelations that New York Yankee A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez) used a variety of banned substances to liven up his legs and bat, and that he used those substances during his best seasons, should really come as a revelation to no one. Anybody who has followed professional baseball over the past decade has become accustomed to a steady stream of accusations, counter-accusations, denials, and, inevitably, teary and often deliberately vague public apologies. Jason Giambi’s infamous press conference set the bar for expressing regret without admitting guilt. Barry Bonds went in the opposite direction, refusing to even look at reporters and hiding his bulging self from public view. After A-Rod appeared on national television, contrite and eerily, vibrantly orange, the media seemed to forgive him his transgression, as they never did McGwire, Sosa, Canseco, and their ilk. Maybe it’s the fact that there are simply more pressing issues in the news, or it may be that fans have become jaded. Either way, we have entered a new phase of steroid apologies.
Bases Loaded, the new book by Kirk Radomski, a major distributor of steroids and human growth hormone to ballplayers, is billed as “the inside story of the Steroid Era in Baseball,” and it very well may be, except that Radomski doesn’t reveal anything that’s not already known or obvious. Instead, it mainly deals with the author’s experience working in the Mets clubhouse as a teen and later, after becoming a personal trainer, dealing steroids to the players he’d become close with. I kept waiting to see new names or new drugs, but to no avail. The closest Radomski gets to the kind of crazy revelations I expected is speculating that former NFL star (and original Incredible Hulk) Lyle Alzado contracted the rare brain cancer that killed him by injecting gorilla hormones. And while Radomski says that everything in his experience indicates that Roger Clemens was on steroids, he can’t do more than guess, because he never directly supplied Clemens with drugs.
Bases Loaded isn’t as juicy as Jim Bouton’s sports gossip classic, Ball Four, but it does provide a window into the investigation that led to the revelations of widespread steroid use in the Major Leagues. Radomski gives a vivid, detailed account of his legal troubles. After being approached by federal agent Jeff Novitski, Radomski became an informer and, in return for his collaboration, received probation instead of a lengthy jail sentence. The descriptions of his emotional state while recording conversations with his high-powered customers are intense and sympathetic. He doesn’t seem to hold many grudges, either. The author’s interactions with the federal agents, who come off as fair and level-headed, are the most compelling moments in Bases Loaded.
We come to these books looking for dirt, for surprising names and wild accusations. In the early 21st century, professional sports leagues and the media circuses that surround them have become highly specialized forms of entertainment. Do laid-off autoworkers care anymore about whether or not A-Rod was juicing? What makes Jose Canseco such a compelling figure is his willingness to turn stoolie on everyone he ever helped, saw, or even suspected of doing steroids. He named names. The steroid scandals provide entertainment and drama in a sport that, for most of a long, long season, lacks any compelling narrative. The scandals didn’t scar America; they were a natural consequence of a sporting culture that prizes individual accolades and its attendant affluence above all else. Bases Loaded might be of interest to hardcore historians of the sport, but for the casual sports fan, its revelations are unrivaled by the mysterious origin of A-Rod’s unearthly orange glow.