Curtis Wenzlaff sat in the Oakland A's owners box behind home plate and watched Mark McGwire foul off three straight pitches. The visiting Dodgers were leading the 1988 World Series two games to none, and with the score 1-1 in Game 3 and one out in the ninth, the crowd was itching for McGwire to make something happen. Catching up with a 2-2 pitch, the A's first baseman let loose. As the ball sailed over the wall at Oakland Coliseum, Wenzlaff jumped out of his seat and hugged the man next to him.
Getting hugged by Wenzlaff was a risky proposition. No ordinary bodybuilder, he practiced the art of exteme training. He jolted himself with a cattle prod, taped weights to his hands so he couldn't let go and napped in a deprivation tank filled with salt water. At the Southern California gym where he worked out, he met Reggie Jackson. After retiring from baseball, Jackson had gone looking for a new challenge and found it in Wenzlaff's exhausting workouts. As the friendship extended beyond the weight room, Wenzlaff, a former Cal State Fullerton football walk-on, was treated to a taste of big league life, from the Carlyle Hotel in New York to the VIP tables at Newport Beach's hottest spots. And all the while, Wenzlaff was plunging ever deeper into the world of illegal performance enhancers.
Around the league, weight-lifting and conditioning regimens like the one Larry Starr had championed were now commonplace. But another way was infiltrating the game. In Oakland, Dave McKay, a former infielder who had remade himself into one of baseball's first strength coaches, was at the forefront of a new, bigger-is-better movement. He was much more gung ho than Starr, instituting morning weight training for his guys when they were home and coaxing gym owners to open their doors for private sessions when the team was on the road. Not everyone played along: Dave Parker, the aging DH, made it clear that when he got home at 3 a.m. from a road trip he wanted no one calling him until noon. But plenty of others tolerated the wake-up, including McGwire and Jose Canseco. After games, many of the Bash Brothers would strip off their uniforms and head for the gym. Soon, the A's clubhouse resembled backstage at a bodybuilding show.
Wenzlaff says that whenever he ran into either of them during the 1988 season, he'd sidle up and suggest, "Dude, we should catch some workout time." After the A's lost the Series to the Dodgers, Canseco accepted the invite. Later, he welcomed the trainer into his home in Miami.
Canseco was no steroids newbie. He'd begun to use in the mid-1980s, in Huntsville, Ala., while playing Double-A ball. To look at him was to know, or to choose not to see. The Washington Post's Thomas Boswell caused a furor in September 1988 when he broke the silence. On a CBS News show, he said Canseco, headed for a 40/40 year and the MVP award, was "the most conspicuous example of a player who has made himself great with steroids."
But Canseco wasn't in Wenzlaff's league. Wenzlaff trafficked in exotics. He had a scientist who gave him synthesized testosterone and a European dealer who sent him the latest Olympic-quality stuff. Wenzlaff worked out with Canseco more than a dozen times and suggested a regimen built around several cutting-edge drugs, among them a steroid cream that was rubbed on wrists and forearms. He says he soon picked up McGwire as a client, too. Wenzlaff's training-session notes show he put McGwire on a mix of Winstrol V, testosterone and the veterinary steroid Equipoise. (McGwire, through a spokesman, declined comment.)
The A's returned to the World Series in 1989, beating the Giants, and again in 1990, losing to the Reds. Their dominance caused talk among players and doctors and front-office execs: had Oakland acquired an unfair edge? Wenzlaff continued to hide in plain sight around the Coliseum. If anyone asked what he did, he'd flash a card from his new business: Lakeview Auto Radio. He never sold steroids at the ballpark. He didn't have to.
As the grapevine spread his name, he got calls from men he'd never met. By 1991, he was supplying 20 to 30 MLB players and 10 NFL players. He often flew to their homes with a few thousand dollars' worth of Deca or Parabolin in vials he'd wrap in tin foil and stuff into shoes in his luggage.
A year earlier Congress had raised penalties for possessing those and 25 other anabolics. But now the stuff violated baseball's rules, too. On June 7, 1991, commissioner Fay Vincent sent a memo to each team and the players union that stated: "The possession, sale or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance by Major League players or personnel is strictly prohibited ... This prohibition applies to all illegal drugs ... including steroids." The seven-page document didn't cover random testing -- that had to be bargained with the union -- but it did outline treatment and penalties.
For a while, Wenzlaff shuttled between California, Arizona, Texas, Florida and Massachusetts. He'd stay an hour with a client and offer diet and lifting tips, too. And his baseball connection helped him find other clients. On Jan. 11, 1992, a gym owner named Eddie Schmidt visited Wenzlaff's Oakland condo to buy $2,000 worth of juice. While he was there, he commented on the photo of Wenzlaff and Canseco that was hanging on the wall. "Yeah, I was his trainer," Wenzlaff said. "I put him on a couple of cycles."
The photo was from simpler days. What was once a lark had become a business. Now, Wenzlaff worried about drawing the wrong kind of attention. As he drove Schmidt to dinner that night, he repeatedly snuck peeks in the rearview mirror. "You can't be too careful," he said, laughing nervously.
In early February, Schmidt doubled the amount of steroids he bought from Wenzlaff. He doubled it again in May. On July 7, the two met in Room 618 of the Guest Quarters Hotel in Santa Monica and talked a while before Schmidt ordered room service. A knock came on the door and Wenzlaff answered it. He was met by a tall, graying man.
"Mr. Wenzlaff," said Greg Stejskal, holding out an FBI badge, "you're under arrest."