The drinking ended, for a time, but Ken Caminiti was an addict and he needed something that made him feel good and he found other addictions. Like friendship.
Caminiti didn't want to just be a friend, he wanted to be the best friend ever. The best friend possible. So he leased a ranch with Craig Biggio and called it Cambo and reintroduced hunting to him and made him understand that if there was anything that he could do to make him happier, he'd do it for him. Anything. Anything, for his friend, for his friend's family.
Biggio was Caminiti's teammate with the Houston Astros, where his career began, and after Caminiti was traded to the Padres in 1994, Wally Joyner felt the same devotion from him, and so did Trevor Hoffman and Craig Shipley and others; they had all come to adore and understand Caminiti in the way that Biggio and Jeff Bagwell had.
Playing against Caminiti, on the other team, you weren't sure exactly what to think. His goatee accentuated his raging intensity and his dark eyes that seemed angry, and the man played third base like a cowboy, wrestling grounders into the dust before throwing lasers to first base. Once he became a teammate and a friend, once they got to know him, they began to understand the warmth behind those eyes, and his pain.
"I don't know what it was, but there was something there just made him feel very bad about himself," said Bruce Bochy, Caminiti's manager in San Diego. "I don't think he ever got over that. I think he always felt guilt."
Caminiti looked for relief. He needed more, found other addictions. Like the team. He became addicted to the notion of team. He wanted to be the best teammate ever, the best possible teammate on the team with the best chemistry possible, and if somebody was being a problem, well, Cammy was ready to step in.
If someone didn't run out a ball hard, he'd say something. If somebody seemed to give an at-bat away, he'd say something, or just give a glance with those dark eyes.
"As quiet as he was, he had a look that could say more than a thousand words," Hoffman said.
Caminiti heard that a veteran San Diego player was being a pest.
"You want me to take care of it?" he asked Bochy.
"Cammy, I don't want you to beat him up," Bochy replied, feeling fairly certain that Caminiti would do just that if he asked.
If there was dissension building within the team, Caminiti seemed to sense it before anybody else, and it bothered him deeply; he wanted everybody to get along.
"He had such a care and concern for everybody, in spite of all his problems," Bochy said. "It was his way of making himself feel good because he knew he had his problems, and his demons. He knew deep down that he was letting a lot of people down, especially his family. Deep down, he felt he couldn't control it."
Caminiti needed more. He possessed relentless energy and one way or another, it was going to be expended. He lifted weights, but not just a few postgame curls; he became "a workoutaholic," Joyner recalled, training endlessly in the weight room. Caminiti made himself stronger. The stronger he was, the better he could play, the better the teammate he would be. For his friends.
Years later, he admitted that he started taking steroids in 1996 -- because the stuff helped his body heal, as he explained to one teammate. The more he healed, the healthier he would be, the more he would be available to play, the better the teammate he would be. And he wanted to be the best possible teammate, for his friends. Other players might have been taking steroids to jack up their numbers and promote their careers, but teammates were convinced that wasn't the case with Caminiti.
"I don't know what the exact ratio of reasoning for him using steroids was -- 50 percent for him, 50 percent for the team -- but I think it was more for the team," Joyner said, "because he did things to please others."
He carried around a duffel full of supplements and his friends weren't exactly sure what was in the bag, but they were relieved. Biggio had seen Caminiti at his lowest point with his alcoholism, while they were teammates in Houston, and at least now Caminiti was obsessed with building up his body, rather than tearing it down. Biggio lifted weights with Caminiti while they were teammates in Houston, but when Caminiti's body changed, getting even larger, Biggio assumed that his friend had started taking steroids.
"He always wanted to make himself better, and I think he just took the latest stuff out there, took it to the next level," Biggio said. "He just wanted to make himself available."
And Caminiti thrived, winning the Most Valuable Player Award in 1996. The Padres won the National League West. He was a great teammate, on a great team, among great friends.
"What happened was that he crossed over to the point where he wanted to find out how good he could be," Joyner said. "Because with someone in Cammy's situation, he was going to find out what the maximum was; he was going to keep pushing it."
Along the way his sobriety ended.
For someone trying to stay sober, there might be only a handful of jobs worse than that of professional baseball player. Bartender, perhaps. Pharmacist. Sobriety requires structure, and there is nothing routine in being a ballplayer. You wake up and you can't remember what city you're in, you sleep irregularly, the pressure to perform is relentless, and pitfalls surround you. Need a pick-me-up? Grab a greenie. Need a downer? The batboy will get you a beer. Need steroids? A FedEx envelope will be in your locker the next day.
Need something else? Need a line of cocaine? The green flies -- that's what the players call the fans desperate to cozy up to big leaguers -- are waiting in the parking lot, waiting in the hotel lobbies, in gyms, in bars, and they'll do anything for you.
"For somebody who has an addiction, who has that type of personality," Biggio said, "baseball is a dangerous environment. It's a tough life, and you have to know who your friends are, who the leeches are. Because they will find you."
Hoffman's family became close with Caminiti and his wife, Nancy, and his three girls, and when Caminiti was home, Hoffman recalled, you could see how comfortable he was, how stable he was. He adored his children, and Biggio remembered how kids seemed to gravitate toward him. But early in the 1998 season, Bochy began noticing a change in Caminiti -- his temperament, his increased distance from teammates, his performance, how he looked. His eyes.
The other men who had come to think of Caminiti as the best possible teammate and the best possible friend could see that he was being consumed by addiction, as much as he tried to hide his problems from them. The Padres assigned a roommate to Caminiti to help him, so he wouldn't be alone. One of those roommates approached the traveling secretary for the room key to the suite he expected to share with Caminiti, and that's when he was told that Caminiti wanted to room alone. It was confirmation that there was a problem.
Caminiti disappeared for hours at a time, usually long past midnight, his truck suddenly gone. At one point, Bochy approached him.
"I think something's going on," Bochy told Caminiti.
"I'm fine," Caminiti said.
A month later, Bochy was inside the visiting manager's office in Florida, and a clubhouse attendant told him that Caminiti was outside looking for him. Bochy and Rob Picciolo, a Padres coach, found Caminiti lying outside in a fetal position, and they helped him to a meeting room. Caminiti admitted that he was in trouble.
By the end of the 1998 season, the most indestructible player they knew, the guy they had seen literally pull IVs out of his arm to play a game a couple of years before, started breaking down in front of their eyes, the life draining out of his body. He began falling down repeatedly, as he swung and missed, as he played his position. Bochy watched him hit a home run against Atlanta in the playoffs and thought of the many legends he'd heard about Mickey Mantle: Even as his body was failing, he could muster a moment.
"There was one time, he was hitting in the ninth inning of a game, and he just fell down," Joyner recalled. "He had tried to get up, and he was having trouble. I helped him up and we walked in, and you could feel it -- his body was wearing out. But he was like a boxer who was wearing out. He wouldn't quit."
His career ended in 2001, and Caminiti went into rehab again in 2002. After he emerged, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated spoke with him about his addictions, and Caminiti mentioned his steroid use and talked about the widespread use of the stuff in his sport.
"It's no secret what's going on in baseball," Caminiti said. "At least half the guys are using [steroids]. They talk about it. They joke about it with each other.
I don't want to hurt fellow teammates or fellow friends. But I've got nothing to hide."
Joyner and others believe that Caminiti spoke bluntly as part of his personal recovery.
"A repenting of sorts, a period of remorse, maybe to the point of a religious deal," Joyner said. "I was proud of him, I felt bad for him, because I knew of the burden that would confront him."
Biggio added: "He was just coming clean because he wanted to clear his own conscience. When he said it, he was just speaking from the heart. He didn't think about the ramifications."
And the fallout was enormous. The guy who couldn't stand unrest among teammates suddenly found himself criticized heavily by his baseball brethren and it bothered him, Biggio said. Caminiti seemed to want to focus on himself and instead had opened a window into the steroid problem, a crossroad on the broader issue of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. Suspicions were confirmed publicly, and pressure mounted on the union to accept some form of testing.
Padres general manager Kevin Towers invited Caminiti to be an instructor in spring training in 2004 and he looked into the dark eyes of his friend and saw emptiness. He was not sober, Towers believed.
At Caminiti's memorial service in Houston last fall, Craig Reynolds, who played with Caminiti in Houston, stood and spoke directly to his friend's three girls: "You're going to hear some really, really good things about your Dad here today. And later, after you leave, you're going to hear some bad things about your Dad, and when you do, remember that those people didn't know him the way everybody in this room did."
Before Caminiti passed away, he had long since stopped sharing the lease on the ranch with Biggio, missing payments. Biggio got his own ranch and asked his kids what it should be called, and they insisted, it's got to be Cambo. It can't be anything else, because of what Caminiti meant to them.
He was addicted to his friends, wanted to be the best possible friend, the best possible teammate, and would do anything he thought might help them. Including steroids.