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New book on steroids takes different approach
BY DANIEL BROWN
SAN JOSE, Calif. - (KRT) - Will Carroll's riveting new book on baseball's drug problems is called "The Juice," which is not to be confused with the notorious "Juiced." Carroll has little in common with his literary contemporary.
"I'm not Jose Canseco," he said during a phone interview Friday. "I'm not pointing fingers or doing anything that's tremendously sexy." Instead, Carroll is doing something tremendously important: spelling out the complex arguments and issues regarding baseball and drug use. It is a blessedly blather-free book, which was Carroll's goal from the start.
He had heard the talk-show rancor and read the columnists' screeds and realized, "Most of the things people were saying had no basis in fact."
"The Juice: The Real Story of Baseball's Drug Problems" serves as kind of a retroactive starting point for the debate about performance-enhancing drugs and their past and future in the national pastime. Carroll interviewed hundreds of people on all sides of the issue, including steroid users, drug testers, parents, lawyers and a mysterious Mr. X who purports to be the creator of THG - also known as the "clear," for followers of the BALCO case.
The author took no sides. The result is a reasoned, balanced book in which the pro-steroids camp gets equal opportunity to explain why performance-enhancing drugs should be legalized and regulated. Being fair does not mean being dull. There is a compelling chapter dedicated to a high school student who injects himself daily with human growth hormone. His parents condone it, even encourage it, because the kid wants to defy his genes and grow to be at least 6 feet. The kid stocked up on needles after a dismissive scout crossed his name off a list and sniffed, "Call me if you hit 6-2."
The kid tells Carroll, "I can pitch, so that's all I'm focused on. College seems like a failure, even if I go. Everybody I know goes to college, and it doesn't really get you anywhere, does it? It doesn't make you special, even if you go to a good school."
Another chapter focuses on a fringe major leaguer desperate to stay out of the minors. The player, whose name is changed to protect his identity, made it through two full seasons of steroid use. When asked about the drug tests, he laughs, "Sure, we had a couple. But we just cheated those. We'd know they were coming, and it wasn't too hard to get things by the tester. Everybody had his tricks. I'd just hand the guy a Bennie" - a $100 bill - "and that was that. It was a lot cheaper than taking a suspension."
While the player-driven chapters are the most gripping, others are more useful. Carroll and his co-author - his father, William L. Carroll, a professor of human performance at the University of Mobile (Ala.) - set out to define the terms, the science and the history of performance-enhancing drugs. Who knew, for example, that amphetamines blossomed in baseball after players returned from World War II with tales about how the stimulant had allowed them to stay awake and alert for days at a time?
Who knew that the flaxseed oil made a good delivery agent for THG because it might counteract some of the estrogenic effects of steroid use, such as the growth of breasts in men?
Reading such a comprehensive account can be depressing, because at some point during the 239 pages it becomes obvious how complex the problem is and how difficult a solution will be. As if it's not tricky enough already, Carroll writes about a near future that includes genetic performance enhancement. In an interview, Carroll said that by the 2008 Olympic Games, drug testing will be obsolete. Moreover, Carroll concedes that we know only a fraction of what we need to understand the debate. He said that he knows of at least three laboratories in operation that are every bit as potent as BALCO.
That said, Carroll concludes in the book that much of the hand-wringing about baseball's hallowed records is misplaced. "The specter that has been presented to fans - that steroids have somehow changed the game - has never been scientifically proven," he writes. "For me, that's the necessary gold standard of proof."
He said in an interview that he would be bothered "not a bit" if Barry Bonds passes Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron in the record books. It sounds like the makings of a great bar-stool argument. But before you utter your next words on the topic, get your hands on "The Juice."
It's always strange to 'be the story'. I knew that the excerpt run in Sports Illustrated this week would dial it up a notch beyond what we saw for "Saving The Pitcher"; I just wasn't sure how much.
The answer? A lot. Not Pete Rose big, but more along those lines. Let's face it, it's a "sexy" story. I know at least one other major journalist has been working on this -- and now feels I stabbed him in the back on this. For that, I'm sorry, but life moves on.
One of the great things about this blog is being able to get out my ideas and reactions. It's something I wish more writers would use. So, here's some bullet point thoughts in the wake of the SI piece:
* Why does everyone think BALCO is a singular event? I'll admit "The Creator" does give a primacy to "Dr. X" that he doesn't deserve. In original form, it was going to be "The Chemist" but Jose Canseco's book came out and I didn't want anyone mistaking that I'd spoken to Canseco! Still, the idea that BALCO was the only place selling designer steroids is simply naive. That others in the field wouldnt pick up on a successful product, one that was well known in the underground and in the track and field world, is ludicrous.
* I didn't intend for the chapter to sound like a James Bond/Mickey Spillane piece. I was aiming for paranoia, to show the lengths to which some of these guys go to protect themselves. It's not just a cat and mouse game with testers; it's a cat and mouse game with the DEA or FBI.
* A lot have asked about my disclaimer, that Dr. X could be a fake. It's possible, but as I said, I believe him to be what he purported to be. I didn't check ID or ask for a sample of his wares. I'm not sure if they teach this kind of thing in journalism school, but I didn't go to journalism school. Even if X were a fake, it says a lot that someone in the supplement/steroid community would go to lengths to have some people believe that he was this.
* Yes, I know names -- and more than just Dr. X. No, I'm not going to be telling them, but it's one hell of a story.
by The Transaction Guy
I spent my day on the road today, finally having my sit-down with the creator of THG. It took almost two months of wrangling and negotiating to get this to happen, almost falling through several times. Since it’s a centerpiece of “The Juice,” it was stressful.
Now done, I’ll be putting fingers to keyboard and putting one of the more chilling stories in print. I can’t share much in the way of details, but here’s a couple interesting points:
1. THG doesn’t require much in the way of chemistry. It doesn’t seem any harder than the millions of garage meth labs plaguing the country.
2. THG has been around longer than I expected.
3. THG is “three generations back.” Designer steroids have a very small “window of opportunity.”
4. “The biggest risk is toxicity. For every ten we try, five are toxic and four don’t work.” How do you find out they’re toxic, I asked? He shook his head, the signal that I’d asked something he wouldn’t answer. “Sometimes cats.”
5. What brought down Victor Conte? Though he’d never met Conte, he had a quick answer: “Ego. Brag once in this business and it’s over.”
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Author Will Carroll Interview: The Juice Q&A
The Juice Blog
Scott: The chapter that has gotten the most attention, such as an excerpt in Sports Illustrated, was entitled "The Creator". Briefly tell us who he is and how you got in contact with him.
WC: Who he is... gotta pass on that one, Scott. It's honestly not that hard to find these people. I'd originally thought that I would find some guy selling steroids in a gym and use him as that angle, but that's not the real face of the drug problem. It's the chemists that are coming up with these amazing substances right out in the open. It kept coming back to me in my research that we knew what these drugs were, who was distributing them, and who was using, but we didn't know where they came from. In digging, I kept getting closer and closer and finally, he contacted me through an anonymous email server that's used throughout the anabolic underground. Once I confirmed that he was who he said he was – and yes, I have a high degree of confidence that he is who he said he is and did what he said he did – I couldn't pass up the opportunity.
Scott: I'd be curious to know if you have heard from "The Creator", since the book has come out?
WC: First, I'd like to note that "Creator" wasn't the orginal title for him. It was "Chemist". When Canseco put that on the back of his book, I didn't want any confusion. Creator implies some kind of primacy and he is not the person that invented this drug. The idea that BALCO is the one place that sells there or that there's only one guy that could do what was done is so naďve. There's at least three other people I know of that have done similar things and are selling the substances. When you look closely at the BALCO situation, it's amazing how little it took, how little money was involved, and how much there was to gain. Conte wasn't making money off the cream and the clear, he was making it off selling zinc and magnesium – products available still. (www.snac.com)