This is an excerpt from former Daily News editor Dan Good’s book “Playing Through the Pain: Ken Caminiti and the Steroids Confession That Changed Baseball Forever,” which is being released on May 31. It has been printed with the permission of Abrams Press. While Caminiti discussed his use of steroids 20 years ago for Sports Illustrated, the truth — that his steroids regimen was facilitated by a childhood friend, Dave Moretti — has never been told.
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clop, clop, clop.
brrr. . . brrr. . . brrrrr . . .
Mmmmmmm! Mmmmmmm! Mmmmmmmm! Mmmmmmmmmmm!
The MRI machine hummed and purred, a chorus of beeps and jackhammers and power drills.
Arizona, the spring of 1996, and Ken’s shoulder was acting up again.
The shoulder had been acting up since his high school football days, and then his 1984 season at San Jose State University, when he separated it trying to run through UC Berkeley catcher Bob Liebzeit, and it continued to bother him throughout his pro career, including in 1992 when he separated it again.
Pitchers sometimes paused on the mound so Ken, stationed at third base, could readjust his shoulder joint.
Ken hit the weight room hard following the 1995 season, working to gain more muscle. But he ended up doing direct shoulder lifts and damaged the weakened shoulder, Dave Moretti said.
Ken tried to grit it out in spring training, but something wasn’t right, so he got the MRI. A slight tear was found on his rotator cuff, the tendons and muscles surrounding the shoulder joint. He was told he could keep playing, but any further damage could end his season.
It took four regular season games for him to sustain further damage.
He was playing in Houston, his old stomping grounds. April 6, sixth inning, bases full of Astros, and left fielder Derrick May batting against Padres pitcher Scott Sanders. May hit a flare to the edge of the infield, and Caminiti, backpedaling, jumped and whirled to his left, extending his arm perpendicular to the ground and somehow gloving the ball before landing in a crumpled heap on his injured shoulder.
Cammy had the wherewithal to throw out the lead runner, Brian Hunter, at the plate. But instantaneously, he felt a “sharp, sharp pain.” The shoulder got hot and eventually went numb. He played through the numbness, and in the thirteenth inning, with the score knotted, Caminiti came to bat with the bases loaded and hit a grand slam to lead the Padres to an 8–4 win — the third grand salami of his career.
The slight tear was now a full-blown rupture, leaving Ken’s season in doubt.
“He was playing without a supraspinatus muscle in his shoulder,” Padres strength and conditioning coach Dean Armitage said. “That meant he couldn’t initiate his arm and lift his catching arm unless he swung his arm up or pushed it up with his other hand.” The shoulder was injured again on April 20 against the Braves, when he tried, futilely, to snare a double down the line by Atlanta second baseman Rafael Belliard, and later as he slid headfirst trying to steal second base. He extended both arms during the headfirst slide, but as he popped up from the bag, Caminiti held his left arm tight and steady against his chest as if it were in an invisible sling. “It kind of takes a little fun out of the game when you’ve got to play with this kind of crap,” he said after reinjuring his shoulder. “The game is still a lot of fun, but I just wish everything was all right.”
Ken received a cortisone shot on May 1. By that point, the rupture wasn’t expected to worsen, and the pain would eventually dull.
The Padres staff — namely Armitage and trainers Larry Duensing and Todd Hutchinson — worked on Ken’s shoulder, focusing on maintaining his range of motion. Armitage relied on a stretching technique known as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, or PNF, “to strengthen his muscles higher up and down low. So you were working the muscles all around that. We’re working on the other rotator cuff muscles. I mean, that was going to be a deficit all year.”
But there was another way he could build muscle strength, too.
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Before Dave Moretti started his friend on a steroid regimen in 1996, he said he had Ken consult with two people: Ken’s wife and a doctor. Nancy would have to know about this, especially if Ken experienced any side effects such as “roid rage,” nosebleeds, sexual dysfunction, or back acne.
“I’m not going to have you lying to your wife after the struggles you’ve had,” Moretti said he told Caminiti.
“He talked to Nancy about it. She was concerned about it. She was concerned about him cheating, some of the moral aspects of it, and she was concerned about his safety. She asked me about it, and I told her, ‘My sugges- tion is you guys should see a doctor and get his advice on it.’
Nancy initially said she would support the plan if the doctor signed off, Moretti said. But after the doctor gave the go-ahead, she backtracked. She was a nurse, and someone who stuck to the rules. She couldn’t go along with this.
This was wrong to her.
The disagreement created further friction for the couple. After weathering Ken’s addictions and indiscretions, Nancy and Ken found themselves moving in different directions. Nancy was with the girls in Texas, a de facto single parent while Ken was playing ball in California, or at this charity event, or that autograph show. . . .
Despite Nancy’s objectives, Ken and Dave ended up moving forward with a PED regimen following a phone call.
“I’m going to retire,” Caminiti said.
“What do you mean, you’re going to retire?” Moretti responded.
“I just can’t play like this. I’m not helping my team. I’ll retire and have the surgery, get back healthy, and I’ll sign on.”
“Ken, you can’t do that. You have two daughters.”
“I’m not gonna sit on the bench and watch my teammates play. I’m not gonna watch them go through the everyday grind of the season while I’m sitting there getting paid millions to watch them play baseball. I’m not going to do it.”
Moretti feared that a long layoff, coupled with feelings of helplessness and doubt, could prove disastrous for Ken and cause him to backslide on his sobriety. So he devised a three-pronged drug regimen to keep Ken on the field: testosterone to maintain muscle; nandrolone, also known as Deca-Durabolin, to help calm the joints and tendinitis issues (“WD-40 for the joints,” Moretti calls it); and human growth hormone, or HGH, a hormone produced by the pituitary gland, to build strength around the damaged shoulder.
Moretti was familiar with the first two from his years of bodybuilding. He had firsthand knowledge of how well they worked. HGH, meanwhile, wasn’t cheap or readily available — a cycle came with a $7,500 price tag. Moretti got it through a doctor friend in northern California.
The drugs worked well enough to keep Caminiti in the lineup with his torn rotator cuff.
“That combination of things kept him strong enough, and kept the shoulder from not getting worse, and it actually started to regenerate tissues in there,” Moretti said.
With the new drug regimen, Ken couldn’t hide his steroid use. HGH needs to be refrigerated after opening, so Ken was known to use a mini fridge on road trips. Anyone who peeked into his fridge would learn the truth.
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And then there was that one game. . . .
Caminiti had given himself a shot in the leg following Moretti’s guidance, and the area where he administered the shot bruised. Moretti was watching the Padres on TV, and Ken was at second base rubbing his bruised leg.
“During the game, I called him. ‘Please call me when you get this message,’” Moretti said.
After the game, Ken called his friend back.
“You were just televising to the whole nation that you’re taking steroids,” Moretti told him.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re out at second base rubbing your leg!” “Well, it was bothering me.”
“Anyone who has taken a shot in the leg knows what you were doing. Do you realize that?”
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“OK. Well, it brised up on me.”
Caminiti lied about the bruise to the team’s training staff, saying he was playing with his daughters and tripped and hit his leg on the corner of a coffee table.
Sure. . . .
Moretti considered pulling Ken off injectables and tried to make sense of what went wrong.
“Did you reuse a needle?” he asked. “I don’t think I did.”
“Are you making sure the old and new needles are separated?” “I don’t know I think it was when I was on the road.”
“OK, let’s go over this again.” Moretti walked his buddy through the steps one more time: Find your hip bone, walk your fingers down, find the area where you would hit the muscle properly without having issues.