Rant OnSports Illustrated has an excellent new article titled To Cheat or Not to Cheat, and it's about four similar pitchers who were all drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the early 1990s and all played together in 1994 at Fort Myers of the Florida State League.
The four pitchers--Dan Naulty, Brett Roberts, Keith Linebarger, and Kevin Legault--all had fastballs clocked at around 88 miles per hour, which is enough to get you drafted but probably not enough to get you to the majors. Here's a description of Dan Naulty from the article:
Dan Naulty was the tall, skinny Miracle, a 14th-round pick out of Cal State Fullerton in 1992 who stood 6' 6" but didn't throw hard. Twins scout Larry Corrigan clocked him early in his senior year at 87 miles per hour and never again at even that modest speed.
Here's what Naulty's first experience in professional baseball (in the low minors) was like:
Naulty pitched six times for Kenosha, starting twice. He gave up 22 hits and 11 earned runs in 18 innings. He arrived at a quick conclusion: He wasn't nearly good enough to become a major league pitcher. "I didn't have the speed," he says. "I didn't have the location. I didn't have the size. I had the height. That's all. That's essentially why I got drafted."
So what did Naulty do? He started cheating. Steroids--lots of them. Here's what happened:
In four years Naulty gained 50 pounds and added 10 miles an hour to his fastball.
That 10 miles an hour transformed Naulty from a no-hope minor leaguer into a major-league pitcher. 130 appearances in 4 years. His combined salary in those four years? $759,000. He also won a World Series title with the Yankees.
Those poor, honest bastards who didn't cheat? Zero major league appearances. 5 combined seasons in AAA.
How many of them would have made it to The Show if they had taken the steroids route as seriously as Naulty did? With 97 miles per hour fastballs, or even the low 90s, they might well have all made it.
Instead, Naulty did, because he was a cheating dick.
That's the particular part of the Steroid Era that makes me go all Hulk Rage. The players who cheated (and let's be honest--at some point, half or more of the players in MLB used during their careers) were getting a leg up by pushing honest players down. The guys who didn't cheat were getting passed by all the guys who did.
I used to write about steroid in baseball occasionally, and inevitably, I would always get one or two e-mails loudly proclaiming that steroids didn't really improve performance. Seriously. They always had some exotic explanation for why home runs were off the chart, or why washed-up pitchers on the downside of their careers (hello, Roger C) suddenly got 5-8 miles an hour back on their fastball.
There still hasn't been a full accounting of the Steroids Era in baseball, and there never will be. Major League Baseball doesn't want one, won't allow one, and is just hoping it will go away.
That might work for some people, but probably not those three pitchers who played with Naulty.
In the SI article, of course, Naulty "redeems" himself. He finds God (by joining a Christian prayer group during his time with the Yankees, and amusingly, half the members of that group later admitted to using PED's or failed drug tests). He becomes a better man. Etc. Here's a great quote:
It's a funny thing," he says. "I thought I was going to be a millionaire playing baseball, and I ended up using all the money to try to heal myself.
I only hope those other three guys could afford therapy.