Editor's Note: This story is a companion to "The Friend," Buster Olney's ESPN The Magazine piece in which Wally Joyner describes how he sought Ken Caminiti's help to acquire steroids. Joyner later discarded them after taking three pills in 10 days.
There wasn't a question of whether steroids would help Wally Joyner's performance; he knew they would. He had seen it, with Jose Canseco and Rafael Palmeiro and others, who seemed to be working under different laws of nature. They all turned 30 at about the same time and while those guys got better and stronger, their bat speed increasing, Joyner felt worse, injuries nagging his body, sapping his ability.
And Joyner had seen how steroids aided Ken Caminiti, his teammate of three seasons. Caminiti would get hurt and presto, he'd bounce back, while a simple muscle strain might nag Joyner for weeks. Caminiti didn't hide his secret from his friend; steroids will heal you, he had once explained to another teammate. They'll help you. They'll keep you in the lineup.
Joyner was 36 years old in spring training of 1998, his instinct was that taking steroids was cheating, and yet he wanted to keep playing and keep up. He had stood at first base and seen players pass him, literally, suddenly stronger than he was, and Joyner knew there was a magic potion -- steroids.
Joyner had once been on the cutting edge of baseball conditioning, diligently lifting weights in the mid-'80s, and had once been considered one of the best power-hitting first basemen in the game, slamming 22 homers in his rookie year of 1986, the same year that Canseco ripped 33 homers in his first full season.
Joyner knew first-hand how strength could help. He had gone to his first spring training with the Angels and looked around for a weight set to lift. Gene Mauch walked through, looked at Joyner as he lifted and uttered the conventional wisdom of the time: "That's going to ruin your swing."
It didn't. But like a lot of players of his era, Joyner found his production suddenly paling in comparison with some of the numbers being put up by other stars who had gotten noticeably larger, stronger. He didn't know, with 100 percent certainty, what was happening. But he knew.
Joyner would have a couple of more seasons with more than 20 homers, but by the late '90s, 20-homer seasons had become routine for middle infielders, and the best first basemen were hitting upward of 35. Joyner had only 13 in 1997, and he looked at the bodies and knew intuitively that a lot of the players he competed against were using something that gave them an advantage.
But the benefits of using steroids were tangible, Joyner was certain: It was if the users were swinging aluminum bats, the non-users were swinging wood bats. "I was slipping, and they were climbing," Joyner recalled. "I love the game, I loved having the uniform on. Everybody fights age and the decline that comes with it, and in the past, the way I corrected problems was staying and taking more batting practice, or staying longer in the weight room, and it wasn't working for me."
Hard work wasn't the reason why peers like Canseco and others were getting better and better, Joyner believed; it was because of steroids. And because it wasn't against baseball rules and nobody seemed to be interested in addressing the performance enhancers, many players like Joyner -- players inclined to remain clean -- were left with a stark choice. Either take steroids and keep up, or fall behind and perhaps risk losing your job to those willing to juice up. He had seen how Caminiti and others had benefited from using them.
And he wondered how steroids were impacting the game, changing lives.
"Think about those Oakland teams," said Joyner now. "I can't pick people out and tell you exactly who was taking steroids, but they sure did look big when they came out of their clubhouse. It was like men playing against boys. With the physical differences between the players, it was like a pro team coming on the field and playing against high school seniors. When they pounded on pitchers, how did that affect the careers of those guys?"
"Whose dreams were crushed because they didn't take steroids?"