Tom House was a major-league pitcher and pitching coach from the early-1970s to the early-1990s, and witnessed the steroid era from the inside in its earliest years. Here he discusses what he saw and did.
Steroids were the computer virus that came with the e-mail called weight training. Once weight training got into baseball, then came steroids and growth hormones. I started noticing it in the late '80s when I was the pitching coach for the Texas Rangers [1985-92]. Players were getting bigger and bigger. The ones who were using weight training in conjunction with steroids were getting exponentially bigger. Guys came back from the winter 30 to 40 pounds heavier. And they had that look. The weight room look, not the baseball look. It wasn't my business. I'm a pitching coach. We don't deal with everyday players.
My pitchers noticed, though, and it came up in conversation in the weight room. It was still a very na´ve time. It was not punishable until the '80s, it was not tested for, but guys were getting bigger, stronger and faster. My pitchers weren't doing steroids because they had heard the lecture from me many times about nutrition, supplements and enhancements. They heard my story, they saw my knees and they knew not to build bulk.
I was a hang-on guy as a player. Every year, I went to spring training without a job. Every day I drove to the park, I dreaded hearing, "Hey Tom, skipper wants to see you." That's what it's like to be on the low end.
All I ever wanted was to pitch in the big leagues. I was terrible when I came out of USC . I was in my third year of Triple-A, looking for any way to throw harder, so in 1969, I started lifting weights in the offseason. But my manager said, "If I see you lifting, one of two things will happen: I'm going to kick your rear end, or you are going to the minor leagues." So I lifted secretly.
I was living in Santa Monica, Calif., and I'd see guys at the gym. They were huge. I asked, "How are you guys doing this?" That's the first time I heard the word Dianabol. Dianabol compared to today's steroids is primitive. I asked what it did. They said, "Not only does it make you bigger, it makes you want to be in the weight room throwing stuff around."
So I tried it. Steroids were easy to get -- this was California in the '60s. It was before sharing needles was a problem. It was inexpensive: $40 to $80 depending on how many shots and how long you wanted to stay with it. I think the most I ever spent in a given winter was probably around $400.
I was injecting Dianabol. You shoot it in the back of your thigh. Or have someone hit you in the rump with it. I shot myself. For me, it was once a week. Three weeks on, a week off, three weeks on. I did steroids for two offseasons. I would have done them during the season, but they were much harder to find in conservative Richmond, Virginia [home of the Braves' Triple-A team] than at home.
I felt results immediately. I weighed 185 pounds when I started lifting and doing steroids. In two years, I got up to 225. I'm 5-foot-9. I looked good at the beach. I had a 17- to 18-inch neck and big thighs. I could hardly wait to get to the weight room. I was more aggressive about everything. I was on the freeway fighting with people. My wife would say, "Hi, how are you doing?" and I would scream at her for asking how I was doing.
I got bigger, but my fastball didn't get any better. The weight was too much for my frame and my right knee went on me. I'm 58 now and I've had seven surgeries on my knees.
Enhancements have been around forever. In the '70s, it was greenies. I took greenies. Guys were launching them with wine and alcohol. A pitcher on our team in Atlanta was called in by our manager halfway through a summer and was asked, "Are you taking greenies?" The pitcher said, "No, Skip, I haven't touched one for two months." The manager said, "You better start because you're going to get released."
In the '80s, it was cocaine. Now, it's steroids. We're in the process of ending it. But once they put an end to it, something is going to come along and allow an athlete to be better than his peer group. When everyone in the peer group finds out about it, they're going to do it. Then we're going to have another round of this.