Monday, April 30, 2007

Won't Somebody Think of the Clubhouse Kids?

The coverage of the recent guilty plea of former Mets' employee Kirk Radomski has focused exclusively on what this means for the steroid drama. And it is a big deal: he's facing 25 years, so he's going to name names, probably many big ones.* It's going to be huge.

But one quote -- from former Met Brian McCrae noting Radomski's suspicious comings and goings -- caught my eye:

"You didn't know exactly who was doing what, but you knew the best way to do
something like that [meaning obtaining illegal drugs] is through the clubhouse kids."

And McCrae is being accurate when he calls them kids. Though the illegalities Radomski pleaded to occurred while he was in his 20s and 30s, he started with the Mets as a 15 year-old clubhouse attendant.

This all reminds me of the Dennis Eckersely controversy that no one seems to remember anymore, in which a sexual abuse case against the former Red Sox clubhouse manager spun out an allegation that Eckersley used to give money to clubhouse attendants as young as 13 years-old to score weed for him. According to those allegations, Eck would give a kid $250, have him buy an ounce for him and tell him to keep the change.

Eckersley, you may recall, didn't exactly deny the charge. "I don't recall anything from over 20 years ago," Eckersley said at the time. "That's what I'm sticking to." When asked about his drug use in general, Eck said he didn't plan to discuss it, "especially over allegations from over 20 years ago. What good comes of it? They can say whatever they want at this point. It doesn't really matter."

Quick digression: Am I crazy, or does this sound a lot like Mark McGwire's Congressional testimony? You know, the "I'm not here to talk about the past" stuff that many sanctimonious sportswriters cited as a reason for not voting Big Mac into the Hall? I wonder how many of the people who voted Eck into Cooperstown after he refused to elaborate about his drug use wrote "Mac should just come clean" stories before blackballing him last year? End of digression.

Anyway, the Radomski/steroid story will fill column inches for months. And since it is big news it probably should. But I hope that some sportswriter following this story passes up the easy steroid angle and focuses instead on whatever the hell is going on in baseball clubhouses that allows teenagers to become drug mules.

*the names of the big stars will get the most press, but I predict that marginal players will make up the vast majority of the accused on the theory that the incentive is greater for modest talents to juice in order to make a roster than it is for above-average major leaguers to become stars. This is why I do not think steroids -- for all of their ills -- undermine the integrity of the game or the record book. Steroids, for the most part, affect the talent floor, not the talent ceiling.