The message board was a forum where hard-core baseball fans could indulge in shoptalk, a place for seamheads seeking refuge. Discussion threads ranged from the arcane (best bench players) to the universal (Yankees payroll). But by the turn of the century, a new topic had elbowed its way into heavy rotation: steroids.
What little the fans knew about steroid use in baseball they'd picked up from newspapers and TV. That left a lot of room for best-guess speculation: on who might be juicing, how it was changing the game and whether MLB would ever take action. Like their off-line brethren, these fans were just outsiders looking in. And then one day, in the fall of 2004, that all changed.
The minor leaguer who logged on that day called himself Farmhand. [Ed.'s note: the screen name has been changed to protect the player's identity.] He'd been in the game for more than six years, with only a handful of days in the majors to show for it. In fact, he'd stumbled onto the site while he was trolling for job openings in Japan. Before long he was dropping insider knowledge, and the fans ate it up. They quizzed him on the difference between a cutoff and a relay throw, the economics of being a minor leaguer -- and steroids.
On Dec. 2, 2004, the discussion was about the latest headline: Jason Giambi had told a grand jury he'd used steroids. "Can they void Giambi's contract?" a fan asked.
Farmhand jumped: "Do you think that teams never knew? Sure they do, and they know that the possibility of the player being great because of it outweighs the possibility of them having problems." He went on to say that steroids weaken tendons, but human growth hormone doesn't, and plenty of guys were taking that.
Finally, some real answers. Throughout that winter the headlines kept coming, and Farmhand kept posting. He said greenies were actually a bigger problem than steroids. He said he'd never used, himself.
On Jan. 12, 2005, he seized on a thread about MLB's recently amended steroid policy. A fan suggested that because chemists constantly created new and undetectable drugs, testers would fall hopelessly behind. Farmhand was just as pessimistic. "The only way those steroids will be found is if somebody rats," he typed. "I don't see that happening much."
The mid-February publication of Jose Canseco's tell-all, Juiced, sparked another round of steroid chatter. One fan posted that MLB didn't have "the courage to go out and start an investigation into Canseco's accusations." Farmhand clarified: "MLB is not going to do an extensive investigation into Canseco's claims because they already know they are true."
On the afternoon of March 17, the fans wanted Farmhand's take on the hearing Congress was holding on steroids that day. In an earlier post, he'd written, "The prospect of hearings were upsetting a lot of us." Now, as he battled for a roster spot, his focus was elsewhere. "My guess is that it will be business as usual, with limited talk on the subject," he typed. "We're more concerned with getting the pools set up for the college basketball tourney."
Farmhand jumped: "Do you think that teams never knew? Sure they do, and they know that the possibility of the player being great because of it outweighs the possibility of them having problems."