Larry Starr pulled into the parking lot of Gold's Gym in suburban Cincinnati. He'd come at the invitation of his boss, Pete Rose. The Reds legend had ratcheted up his weight training since retiring as a player to manage full-time the previous September, and he was a fixture at Gold's. T-shirts sold at the gym boasted that it was the "Home of Pete Rose." But as Starr got out of the car, he couldn't get a friend's warning out of his head: "Don't take off your shoes. I hear there are used needles all over that place."
It was January 1987. Starr, the trainer of the Reds, went back more than 15 years with Rose. When they first met, late in 1971, Starr was a 25-year-old rookie employee with a master's in education and plenty of new ideas about fitness. Two years later, he bought 10 pieces of Nautilus equipment and set up the first real clubhouse weight room in baseball. The players all laughed. Johnny Bench. Joe Morgan. Tony Perez. Rose. All of them. Now the rest of baseball had caught up to his vision. A new generation of players was coming of age in state-of-the-art facilities everywhere.
Two of them, Jose Canseco and Wally Joyner, had just finished 1-2 in the American League Rookie of the Year vote. Young slugger Mark McGwire had made his big league debut; Ken Caminiti and Matt Williams were about to make theirs. Future
All-Stars Al Leiter and Tom Glavine were rookies. The game still had its hard-partying types, of course. Many of the Mets were still shaking off the aftereffects of October's World Series celebration. And the specter of 1985's Pittsburgh drug trials continued to hang over the game. On the stand, seven players had admitted to using cocaine,
including All-Stars Dave Parker and Keith Hernandez. Six of the users (the seventh had
retired) were ordered to be randomly tested and to donate one-tenth of his salary to drug treatment and prevention programs. Baseball's rowdy image was on the way out.
There was no doubt where Starr stood on the issue of drugs in the game. In his first season with the Reds, he removed a candy jar filled with uppers from the training room. Now, on the front desk at Gold's, he noticed a glass case that displayed supplements for sale. Starr knew some major leaguers looked for help to get "up" before games. One of his power hitters -- the one with pale-brown splotches all over his uniform -- drank 30 cups of coffee over the course of nine innings. But the names of the products in that case scared the trainer. UpTime? The gym was selling stuff Starr would never endorse. How could he? He had no idea what was in it, or, for that matter, what else might be for sale at the Home of Pete Rose.
Rose spotted Starr and ran over. He threw his thick arms around the trainer's slim, marathoner's body and dragged him into the weight room. "This is the guy I was telling you about," he yelled to gym manager Tommy Gioiosa. The 28-year-old Gioiosa was Rose's kind of guy; the ex-minor leaguer would do anything to be in the orbit of a superstar. He and Pete were tight: they played touch football at the indoor rink across the street after workouts. Gioiosa, a 5'7" wall of muscle built with a chemical assist, extended his hand to Starr.
Starr didn't trust the guy. He knew steroids were illegal in this country without a prescription and had been for decades. And they were rare in baseball. In fact, Starr was suspicious of only one Red: an outfielder who had come to spring training the year before with 30 extra pounds and a lame explanation about changing his diet. He'd asked Starr if he should do steroids, then looked as if he'd ignored the advice. Rose was more
bemused than angry about the possibility. Once, when reporters were lingering by the player's locker, one of them heard Rose tease, "Tell them what steroids can do for you." The guy was still the exception in the dugout, but Starr wondered how much longer he would be, especially now that Pete was inviting his Reds to train at a gym Rose knew was managed by a self-confessed juicer.
Gioiosa says Rose listened with glee whenever his bodybuilder buddy talked about the fights he started in 'roid rages. Rose also would watch him shoot up and ask questions about what he was using. Good stuff, Gioiosa would reply. Parabolin. Human growth hormone. A German extract from the pituitary gland of monkeys. Pete had been tempted to take a shot himself, especially in 1985 and 1986 when he was losing bat speed. But he told Gioiosa it was too late to try something new. (Rose, through a spokesman, declined comment.)
After his workout at Gold's ended, Rose suggested to Starr that they get some lunch. The two piled into the Hit King's red Ferrari and drove to a local buffet. They talked baseball. Starr said he looked forward to a great 1987 season.
But by midsummer, with the Reds hanging onto a slim lead in the NL West, rumors of steroid dealing in the suburban Cincinnati gym were becoming too persistent to ignore. (Word that Rose was betting on baseball, through Gioiosa among others, had yet to emerge.) Starr, worried about how the talk could taint his friend, called another old pal of Rose's and arranged an intervention.
Ralph Greisser, a Nautilus salesman who quarterbacked the high school team on which Rose was the halfback, sat down in the manager's office at Riverfront Stadium and got to the point. "Pete, do you know what's going on in that gym?" he said. "The rumor is steroids are being sold there."
Starr then heard Rose wave off the issue. "I don't know anything about that," he said. "But don't worry -- the mayor of Cincinnati works out there."
As a trainer, Starr knew he lived at the bottom of the clubhouse pecking order, working at the pleasure of the manager and the whims of high-priced players. Trust was his most precious commodity, and if he pushed any further, it would be lost. He left the meeting, just another frustrated employee convinced he'd never get a hearing for what he feared was coming.
"Pete [Rose] had been tempted to take a shot himself, especially in 1985 and 1986 when he was losing bat speed. But he told [Tommy] Gioiosa it was too late to try something new."