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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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The Night Before

I've written in depth about performance-enhancing drugs twice on this blog.

The first time was when the San Francisco Chronicle established, to the satisfaction of all but the most-determined fantasists, that Barry Bonds had taken steroids (and insulin and HGH and Clomid and, for good measure, crap that makes cattle more muscular). I called Bonds's story a tragedy, and I stand by that. Not because Bonds is anything other than a surly jerk, but because the best player of his generation (which he was long before the Cream and the Clear) destroyed a legendary baseball career out of jealousy over the attention paid by dimwitted fans to Mark McGwire, a one-dimensional player and thoroughly dull human being who would have been justifiably forgotten by now. The tragedy of Bonds isn't whatever he's done to the game (it'll survive just fine) or to Hank Aaron (even more appreciated now that his record is besmirched). It's that a player of such enormous talents was so insecure or oblivious that he asterisked his entire life because of a player who could only dream of being him. By trying to make people forget McGwire, Bonds ensured they'll forever be part of the same conversation. It infuriated me last March; it infuriates me now.

The second time was a couple of months later, after it came to light that Jason Grimsley — whose tenure in 10 different organizations made him the Patient Zero of the performance-enhacing age — had been visited by the feds after they saw him accept a shipment of HGH. Grimsley talked with the feds for hours, about steroids and HGH and amphetamines and the game's drug culture and what players knew tests couldn't find. And he named names. That, I predicted, was going to lead to an avalanche of disclosure — and Grimsley's use of performance-enhancing drugs was a wake-up call that we needed to rethink our suspicions. Grimsley wasn't a big slugger or a flamethrower, but the kind of commodity middle reliever teams run through by the bushelful in search of a couple of tolerable weeks. If a guy like that was a user, the question we had to start asking wasn't “Who used?” but “Who didn't use?”

There have been some more revelations since then, but tomorrow comes the avalanche: the report by George Mitchell, based in part on discussions with Kirk Radomski, who was employed by the Mets as a clubhouse guy from 1985 through 1995, and who's pleaded guilty to distributing performance-enhancing drugs to dozens of big-league players for 10 years after that. The Mitchell Report is due at 2 p.m. tomorrow; according to one report, those who have seen it claim it includes as many as 80 names, including winners of the Cy Young and MVP award.

To be provincial for a moment, Radomski's Met connections all but assure us that there'll be a fair number of names with which we're very familiar. But that's nothing new: The roster of busted/fessed-up Mets so far includes Grant Roberts, Jorge Toca, Wilson Delgado (twice), Felix Heredia, Jon Nunnally, Matt Lawton, Guillermo Mota, David Segui, Lino Urdaneta and Mike Cameron, with Gary Matthews Jr., Scott Schoeneweis and Paul Byrd having fallen under suspicion. (And that doesn't include the minor-leaguers.) I'll admit that I've gone through 1995-2005 Mets in my head in recent days, from players I'd bet a huge amount of money were dirty to players I still hope were clean. The problem is that given the names we know so far, there is no steroid profile more specific than “baseball player.” Anybody who fits that definition, alas, is under suspicion.

For me, the one thing that's changed since writing about Bonds and Grimsley is I think I've developed a much thicker skin about the whole thing. The avalanche of disclosure is finally here, and though I could be wrong, I don't think I'll be particularly moved, even if some names dear to my heart are on it.

One reason for that? In his superb The Soul of Baseball, Joe Posnanski recounts how person after person would share their outrage about steroids with Buck O'Neil, expecting and almost demanding that O'Neil be outraged about performance-enhancing drugs too, and say that yes, of course he'd played in a purer, better age. But O'Neil would gently but firmly refuse. Every player he'd known, he'd say, had looked for an edge.

Baseball and the men who play it are far more ruthless than we think, lulled as we are by green grass and the arc of curveballs and all the other beautiful things about baseball. That beauty is baseball's bottomless well of strength and seduction. In the stands or in front of the TV, we can't see that a lot of the players are boorish and/or stupid, even though we know that's true. We can't see that few of them are crushed by a loss or the idea of one the way we are, though sometimes they're dumb enough to let that slip. We can't see that some of them will make more money in a mediocre year than we'll make in our entire working lives, though we know that's true. And we can't see that some of them (or a lot of them or nearly all of them) are shooting their bodies full of God-knows-what in search of the edge Buck O'Neil warned us about. We know all that's there, but on the field it's nearly always invisible, and the beauty of the game is so staggering that we forget about it.

I think Barry Bonds' story is a tragedy, but it's an entirely self-inflicted one, and I don't feel the least bit sorry for him. In fact, I don't feel sorry for any big-league baseball player. Why would I? It should go without saying that I don't feel sorry for the owners, GMs, managers, trainers, agents, commissioner and union jefes who looked the other way for years. And I don't feel sorry for the fans — even if we don't want to hear what Buck O'Neil kept saying, the blinding beauty of the game will get us through this, like it has everything else baseball does to itself.

But there is one group of people I do feel for. They're the only ones who truly have been cheated. And they're the only ones who won't be holding a press conference, or starting a Web site, or holding up some misspelled banner in April.

They're the guys in Rookie Ball or Single-A or Double-A who one day realized their abilities were marginal, or they were a little too small to overcome baseball's Pleistocene prejudices, or got hurt, or just had a run of bad luck, and faced a choice — the exact same choice many of their teammates faced. Only these guys, when faced with that choice, didn't do steroids or HGH or God knows what else. Because they were scared of what it might do to their bodies. Or their heads. Or maybe — and cynical as I become, there have to be guys like this — because they just wanted to play the game the way they thought was right.

What's the difference in ability between, say, Lino Urdaneta and somebody who washed out of pro ball after a year of short-season A and another in the Sally League? It might not be very much. Except Lino Urdaneta, eminently replaceable though he is, is in the Baseball Encyclopedia and has bubble-gum cards that maniacs put in The Holy Books and has bloggers cheer him for the rather underwhelming accomplishment of reducing his ERA below infinity, while that other guy is utterly anonymous. The minimum big-league salary for 2008 is $390,000. What do you think two years in the bus leagues does for your job prospects?

The difference between the Lino Urdanetas of this world and those forgotten teammates? In some cases, it's that the forgotten teammate didn't stick a needle in his ass. And because of that, he's thinking maybe if he works hard he might make $39,000 someday, instead of having a shot at making 10 times that — and if he got lucky, maybe much more. And because he didn't stick a needle in his ass, you and I have never heard of him and we never will.

If you want to find the tragedy in all this, there it is.

* * *

There's really no way to segue out of that, so I won't even try. Please excuse a musical PSA….

The best live band I've ever seen, the Figgs, are playing three dates in New York City this weekend. The three-borough tour begins with an opening slot at Cake Shop on the LES Friday night, continues at Staten Island's Cargo Cafe (very short walk from ferry terminal) on Saturday night and finishes at Magnetic Field on the edge of Brooklyn Heights Sunday. Now that the Replacements have gone to the musical great beyond, the Figgs are my favorite band, and I'm hugely excited about this weekend. The Sunday show in particular should be great fun: The Figgs are playing at the very-unrock-star time of 8 p.m. and are the night's lone band, so they should play for a good long time and still get you tucked into your warm bed in plenty of time to show up at work relatively unhungover and able to hear. Details on their MySpace page.

What do the Figgs sound like? I'd describe them as harder-edged power pop (rest assured they rock), but you can hear some songs by going to that MySpace page or entering their name in YouTube. Or go to Baby, You Got a Stew Goin'!, which has a stream of my favorite song in the world, “Jumping Again.” (Which, in a better world, would have anchored a post preparing for the 2007 playoffs.)

They've played together since they were high-school kids, so as a band they've gone beyond tight to borderline telepathic. And they're about the most-approachable band you'll ever find: At most concerts your chief worry is whether or not you can see; at a Figgs show it's not bumping into Mike Gent and Pete Donnelly when they decide it'd be more fun to play this next song from the middle of the audience. I'll wear my the Faith and Fear numbers shirt Sunday night; come to Atlantic Avenue and if for some strange reason you don't have fun, I'll buy you a beer. Hell, I'll buy you a beer anyway.

40 comments to The Night Before

  • Anonymous

    Wonderful post, Jace.
    This is why you & Greg have this blog and I don't…

  • Anonymous

    Well said. What needs to be acknowledged isn't so much the whodunnits, though you know those will collect 99% of the coverage, but the message that PEDs were/are an epidemic. Of course ballplayers would take something they believe gives them an edge. Of course if a pitcher is using the batter must, and if the minor leaguer is using the major leaguer must. Epidemic.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Jason,
    Will admit I never thought of those with marginal abilities who were just starting out and never got a shot because they were passed over by others who took performance enhancing drugs. We can only speculate how many unknowns used steroids to land a draft choice or a leap from A-Ball to double-A before washing out , but, as you so eloquently pointed out, they also had taken away the opportunities for others in the process.
    Thank you for reminding us who the real victims of this tragedy are. This doesn't apply just to baseball but to all sports.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Jason,
    Will admit I never thought of those with marginal abilities who were just starting out and never got a shot because they were passed over by others who took performance enhancing drugs. We can only speculate how many unknowns used steroids to land a draft choice or a leap from A-Ball to double-A before washing out , but, as you so eloquently pointed out, they also had taken away the opportunities for others in the process.
    Thank you for reminding us who the real victims of this tragedy are. This doesn't apply just to baseball but to all sports.
    P.S. Wonder if my first post was cut-off by a computer with performance-enhancing circuitry?

  • Anonymous

    My, my, my… so Clemens (um… allegedly) took steroids. I'm STUNNED. heh
    Karma is a you-know-what, baby. Try to kill Mike TWICE… you don't make the HOF. Works for me.

  • Anonymous

    i dont mind the roids. baseball was fun in the 90's and 00's. i dont see any tragedies. and mcgwire wasnt all that one dimensional. he got on base at a HOF clip and his fielding could have been worse.
    sometimes when mota was pitching last year i desperately wanted him to get back on roids wo he wouldnt suck so bad.

  • Anonymous

    the attention paid by dimwitted fans to Mark McGwire, a one-dimensional player and thoroughly dull human being who would have been justifiably forgotten by now.
    Nobody “forgets” the guy who holds the home-run record. Until he's not holding it anymore. Maris was equally one-dimensional and charmless, but you couldn't swing an 8-week-old kitten without hearing his name on a baseball broadcast, for decades, until McGwire broke the record. That's what Bonds had a giant woodie for, that and the fact that the guy who did hold the record had something he never would — red hair and freckles.
    Other than that, I agree with you completely, and this is an amazing, thought-provoking piece of writing that deserves a bigger audience than most of the kay-rap that's been written about it before. Even before PEDs, Bonds was an astonishing, tell-your-grandkids-you-got-to-see-him-live kind of player, and the fact that that wasn't good enough for him is one of the senseless wastes of all time.
    And the roid culture doesn't just hurt minor leaguers, either. As young as 12 years old, kids are starting to wrestle with the should-I-or-shouldn't-I issue. That just sucks. I would have had a lot more respect for Bonds, and the rest of them, if they'd just quit lying and tell people the entire truth. If only Bonds had said something pre-Game of Shadows (or even right afterwards) like, “Yeah, I use a pile of stuff you can't imagine, stuff that only people who are at the top of their game already can get access to and can pay top dollar for people to tell them to use it properly, and I didn't touch any of it until I was already at the top of my game, and it's still a big risk to my health and I'm doing this even knowing I could die young from it so that people can be entertained. And if I find out any of you high school punks are taking the needle I will personally come to your house and give you a nose job.”
    Plus I think for every Lino Urdaneta who got his name into the Almanac taking something in a needle, there was probably one who got sick or injured from it. It's too bad that with the witch-hunt in full bloom, those guys will never voluntarily step forward to identify themselves.

  • Anonymous

    Todd Pratt and Matt Franco. Aaargh.

  • Anonymous

    Your 15 Mets (at one time or another, not necessarily when they bought) mentioned in the report:
    Lenny Dykstra
    David Segui
    Josias Manzanillo
    Todd Hundley
    Paul Lo Duca
    Fernando Vina
    Mark Carreon
    Matt Franco
    Mo Vaughn
    Chris Donnells
    Scott Schoeneweis
    Gary Matthews Jr.
    Todd Pratt
    Mike Stanton
    Gary Bennett

  • Anonymous

    If you need a touch of Schadenfreude, 15 onetime Yankees mentioned:
    Josias Manzanillo
    Hal Morris
    Rondell White
    Roger Clemens
    Andy Pettitte
    Chuck Knoblauch
    Jason Grimsley
    David Justice
    Glenallen Hill
    Denny Neagle
    Ron Villone
    Todd Williams
    Mike Stanton
    Kevin Brown
    Daniel Naulty

  • Anonymous

    Old news: Vaughn, Segui, Schoeneweis, Matthews, Dykstra, Manzanillo.
    Not a big surprise, if true: Lo Duca, Vina, Carreon, Franco, Donnels, Pratt, Stanton, Bennett.
    Really really not even a little surprise, if true: Hundley.
    Surprising/shocking: [blank]

  • Anonymous

    Also, Manny Alexander's came up as someone whose car was found to have steroids within in 2000 but charges were dropped in '01. File under old news.

  • Anonymous

    Ha ha Clemens… Maybe Mike will send you a postcard from Cooperstown.

  • Anonymous

    That's my favorite part of the whole thing (see my previous post). KARMA, BABY! Good triumphs over evil. (One of my biggest fears was Clemens possibly going in the same year as Mike… I soooo didn't want Mike's big day to be ruined by that. Well… HAHAHAHAHA)
    Couldn't have happened to a bigger jerk.

  • Anonymous

    Come on… LOL

  • Anonymous

    Come January 2013, I can hear the rationalizing: “Well, everybody was doing it, so Clemens was just being enough of a competitor to keep up with what those misbehaving hitters were doing. After all, he was SUCH A GREAT YANKEE.” Enough asterisks will cancel one another out.
    Wonder how many phones Cingular sold after glorifying that prick's substance-induced egotism.

  • Anonymous

    Does David Justice count?

  • Anonymous

    They almost sold another one to me after I threw mine at the TV.

  • Anonymous

    I don't think he had time to open the bottle.

  • Anonymous

    So by my reckoning, our Met roster of admissions/suspensions/implications/suspicions is….
    Jorge Toca, Grant Roberts, Wilson Delgado, Felix Heredia, Jon Nunnally, Matt Lawton, Guillermo Mota, Lino Urdaneta, Mike Cameron, Paul Byrd, Scott Schoeneweis, David Segui, Mo Vaughn, Gary Matthews Jr., Lenny Dykstra, Josias Manzanillo, Todd Hundley, Manny Alexander, Rico Brogna, Paul Lo Duca, Fernando Vina, Mark Carreon, Matt Franco, Chris Donnels, Todd Pratt, Mike Stanton, Gary Bennett.
    Thank God Jim Leyritz never made the team out of spring training. On so many levels.

  • Anonymous

    Don't forget Brian McRae as long as we're being complete in our witch hunt:
    http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?columnist=farrey_tom&id=2852405

  • Anonymous

    Who can ever forget Brian McRae? In fact, I'm going McRaezy right now.

  • Anonymous

    That's a side effect of the junk.

  • Anonymous

    I'll never forget how LAZY he was out there. Ugh. He just couldn't be bothered.

  • Anonymous

    There goes the “performance-enhancing” allegation.

  • Anonymous

    He should demand a refund.

  • Anonymous

    If they (the powers that be AND the union) REALLY cared about this stuff, they would start doing blood tests in addition to urine tests. There's no point in banning HGH if you're not even going to test for it. Selig says it's “undetectable,” but that's not true. How long will they rely on tales out of school to determine who's using?

  • Anonymous

    Heh. Should have been “without hitting his name during a baseball broadcast,” of course. Geesh, the way I wrote it you'd think Ralph Kiner had edited it.
    So does anyone else think LoDukie was given his shuffling papers because someone upstairs in Metville had access to this list before we did?
    And should we be relieved or suspicious that no Met on the current roster is on this list?
    (P.S. If Clemens hadn't been on the list, I wouldn't have believed another syllable of it.)

  • Anonymous

    Lest this get lost…
    SUPPORT STEROID-FREE ROCK N ROLL! FIGGS SUNDAY NIGHT IN BROOKLYN!
    (And Jace will buy you a beer!)

  • Anonymous

    We have had, and have re-signed, known users. None of Lo Duca's infractions in this report were from his days in our uni (I just skimmed the report, admittedly). And Schoeneweis is still here, isn't he?

  • Anonymous

    Oops, I overlooked Shit Wipe.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, but how do they feel about creatine?

  • Anonymous

    Someone will buy me a beer at a Figgs show? Nice.

  • Anonymous

    That's it, I'm fed up with baseball and its phoniness. I gonna devote my time and energy to a clean sport played by pure athletes untainted by steroids or HGH.
    I'm goin to watch the NFL exclusively from now on.
    Who's with me?

  • Anonymous

    I wish the Jets would take (more?) drugs. Actually I feel like taking drugs every Sunday afternoon.

  • Anonymous

    Apparently Mitchell's just getting warmed up. Rumor out of New York (likely to be officially anounced tomorrow) indicates Mitchell has been asked by Vince McMahon to look into allegations that some WWE matches may have been fixed and / or staged.
    Hold onto your hats, people.
    Where have you gone, Baron Miguel Secluna?
    A nation turns its lonely eyes to you…

  • Anonymous

    If they let Roidger off the hook for this after putting Bonds through the meat grinder, I am going to be so pissed. Not that Bonds isn't a giant raspberry assberet, but for Choo Choo's sake he didn't try to maim anyone with a fastball and a bat shard just for outplaying him.

  • Anonymous

    You and me both. I hate Bonds, but when it comes to this, he's no worse than anyone else. And for that matter, if Bonds, McGwire and Palmeiro should have to forfeit their (rightful) HOF plaques… so should Roger the Rat. For every “guilty party” who's been booed or ostracized while he's been deified… this one's for you.
    Lordy, lordy… how I'm lovin' this. That was the one name I was praying I'd see in this report. God is good.

  • Anonymous

    The appendix is the best part of the report. Go check out all the cancelled checks.
    P.S. Where the hell have you been, JM?

  • Anonymous

    Oh. I have a feeling about something………