HGH: Baseball’s New Nightmare

Bobby Curran
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Friday - June 16, 2006
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Until last week, Jason Grimsley was hardly a household name, unless your household has been overrun by rotisserie league players. Nothing like having 13 federal agents conduct a raid on your home to raise your profile.

Less than two days later, the Arizona Diamondbacks released the 38 year-old journeyman pitcher.

The cause for the raid was Grimsley’s receipt of a pair of packages containing human growth hormone. Its acronym, HGH, is the new nightmare for Bud Selig and major league baseball. Unlike steroids, there is no reliable test currently available for HGH, and there are increasing suspicions that many ballplayers have turned to using it. The penalties for using steroids have become so severe that no player is willing to use a substance than can be detected, but any number might gamble on staying one step ahead of the posse with one that can’t be found in either blood or urine. This leapfrogging dance with technology has been going on in other sports, such as track and field for some time, but it is relatively new to baseball.

As I started to research Jason Grimsley, I was struck by several thoughts.

First, Grimsley was a party to one of the worst trades in the history of baseball. Drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 10th round of the 1985 amateur draft, Grimsley made it to the majors in 1989. Following three seasons in which he totaled 27 starts with a 5-12 record he was traded to the Houston Astros for Curt Schillng and was released within a year without ever throwing a pitch. Think Philly got the better end of that one?

Grimsley was signed as a free agent by Cleveland, pitched there for three years, was dealt to California, stayed one year, and then became a free agent. He was signed and released by Detroit, signed by the Brewers, traded to the Royals, granted free agency again, signed in 1998 by Cleveland, granted free agency for the third time, signed and spent two years with the Yankees, then three years with the Royals, signed as a free agent with Baltimore for two years and finally to Arizona.

The guy was like Zelig! He was everywhere.

Which brings to mind two other thoughts.

First, Grimsley has made more than $10.6 million, proving that mediocrity really does pay in baseball.

Second, can you imagine how many former teammates around the major leagues are having night sweats?

Herein lies the problem. Grimsley played for seven teams and was signed and either released or traded by three others. He knows a lot of players, and former Yankee teammate Jeff Nelson, now with the Chicago White Sox, probably summed up the feelings of many when he said “this guy gets caught and now he’s going to give up other guys? That’s the worst thing.”

The Feds say Grimsley is naming names. Grimsley’s lawyer says he isn’t, and the Feds are following through on a threat if he refused to co-operate by wearing a wire around other players.

It is a mess. And despite the investigation being conducted by former Sen. George Mitchell, the new HGH flap makes it look even less likely that any satisfactory resolution is in store.

Which leads me to this final thought. The worst tragedy is not the use of performance enhancing drugs by professional athletes, it’s the proliferation of these substances in high schools and even middle schools with health consequences we can only begin to imagine. New Jersey is set to test high school athletes this year, with more states to follow. The knowledge that HGH is beyond detection could frustrate those efforts and embolden the youngsters inclined to gamble with their bodies.

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