Wenzlaff calls out McGwire
Curt Wenzlaff was getting ready to fly home to Flint, Mich., when he heard that Mark McGwire finally had confessed to using steroids.
"I have to digest this," Wenzlaff said. "I really need to think about it."
Back at his home, on Jan. 11, Wenzlaff watched Bob Costas interview McGwire on TV. He heard McGwire say he used low doses of steroids to improve his health. He heard McGwire say they didn't improve his performance.
"I was expecting more, I was expecting a knockout punch, I was expecting, ehhh more forthright," he says.
Because as much as anyone else in the world, Wenzlaff knew there was more to McGwire's story.
Five years ago in a New York Daily News article, several FBI sources said that Wenzlaff, a former trainer convicted of dealing steroids in 1992, had provided sophisticated steroid arrays to McGwire and Jose Canseco in the late 1980s. Wenzlaff confirmed that he had worked with Canseco, who had just published his confessional steroid memoir "Juiced."
But when asked about McGwire, Wenzlaff said only, "No comment."
He wasn't going to talk about a former client who hadn't admitted using.
Since Wenzlaff pleaded guilty almost 18 years ago, he has stayed in the good graces of the law. He's been Curt Wenzlaff, husband, father of three, aspiring business owner in the "renewable energy" field, a guy who makes heads turn at the local gym with his brief but intense workouts.
But anytime during the past five years that McGwire's name has been in the public, he's been Curt Wenzlaff, convicted steroid dealer.
"This is just not going away," he says.
Which is why he's ready to talk now. A little. He's weighing options. After five years of silence, he says he's ready to write the book people around him have been pestering him to pen. He says he'll name names and details and write about the joke that is modern anti-doping. "I'll say this: The best-kept secrets are still secrets," he says.
But what about McGwire? That's what people want to hear about now, he's told. Did he give McGwire the powerful array of steroids that was reported five years ago?
"Yeah," he says. "I'll confirm that."
"Mark has admitted he used steroids and he has apologized. He also publicly stated that he experimented with steroids during the 1989/1990 offseason when he was not injured. Mr. Wenzlaff, like anyone else, is entitled to his opinion, but it's important to note he has no personal knowledge of anything Mark did or said in the 1990s."
-- Ari Fleischer, a spokesman for Mark McGwire
Five years ago, when Wenzlaff wouldn't talk about McGwire, the Daily News' investigative sports team relied on other sources. Two former steroid dealers who had been caught in Operation Equine, the same FBI sting that snared Wenzlaff, said they had witnessed Wenzlaff working out with McGwire, and one said he even saw Wenzlaff inject McGwire with steroids during the weeks they were together in 1989.
Two FBI agents -- Greg Stejskal, who oversaw Equine, and Bill Randall, the primary undercover agent -- said they had Wenzlaff's phone book, which contained private numbers for McGwire and Canseco, which they confirmed as belonging to the ballplayers. They also had confiscated materials that included the array Wenzlaff allegedly had provided McGwire: ½ cc of testosterone cypionate every three days; ½ cc of testosterone enanthate per week; and 1¼ cc Equipoise and Winstrol V every three days.
Wenzlaff was thinking about that regimen when he saw McGwire confess, a condition of his new employment as the St. Louis Cardinals' hitting coach. McGwire told Costas, "The only reason I took steroids was for my health purposes. I did not take steroids to get any gain for any strength purposes."
Says Wenzlaff: "I chuckled because if excelling and kicking ass on the field is the end result, then I guess that's a healthy, good feeling. But for health, there are other things that you can take for health that are anabolic, but it wouldn't be that type of combination."
This combination, he says, was built for power: "If Paris Hilton was to take that array, she could run over Dick Butkus."
Wenzlaff says he can't speak to what McGwire did after he left his brief tutelage, but he says there was no doubt what the slugger's goals were when they worked together.
"Bigger, faster, stronger," he says. "And everybody comes in to the issue [and says] 'Well, it doesn't promote hand-eye coordination.' You know what? With proper training, it does."
Wenzlaff is reluctant now to go into great detail about his past involvement with steroids. He isn't ashamed of the work he did, although he hates that his children will know he carries a felony conviction on his record. He's holding back because he wants to tell the full story in the book he plans to write.
But he does lay out the following tale:
Wenzlaff began using steroids in high school, going to the World Gym in Fountain Valley, Calif., with his father. He says he wouldn't go to the gym until 10 p.m., when he took his place in a cadre of weightlifters who strained their physical limits and their sanity.
Wenzlaff says his lifting partners taped each others' hands to weight bars so they couldn't let go. When they reached what they thought was the point of exhaustion, they would sometimes zap each other with a cattle prod to squeeze out a few more reps.
"I was reared in routines that were anything but routine," he says now. "I guess it would be pretty fascinating reading to the novice, but the cattle prod and sleeping in a deprivation tank prior to workouts, it conditioned my mind to tell me, 'I think I'm tired, but I'm not. There's more there, there's more there.'"
He walked on to play football at Cal State Fullerton as a running back, but gave up the sport to devote his life to the gym scene. Steroids were everywhere, and when Wenzlaff wasn't asking more experienced lifters what they were doing, he was experimenting with combinations on himself.
"I was a guinea pig, for the most part," he says.
Wenzlaff says he never competed in bodybuilding or power-lifting competitions, but says -- and other sources confirm -- that he held many of the power records for the gyms where he worked out. He says he used only for a few years, and stopped in part because of a congenital heart problem that required three open-heart surgeries.
His days of training professional athletes, actors and other entertainers were to come later. That life started after a chance meeting with Reggie Jackson in 1987, when Jackson was finishing his career with the Oakland A's.
"I just graduated from college, was getting ready to move to Hawaii. I literally bumped shoulders with him in the gym," Wenzlaff says. He was living in his car in anticipation of the move to Hawaii, so he moved in with a young woman he had just met in order to give Jackson a number to call. That was before cell phones.
They became friends, and Wenzlaff even lived in Jackson's home in Oakland for stretches of time. Wenzlaff worked as a personal liaison for Jackson, and through him met a number of athletes and celebrities who became clients. But he says he always dealt away from the stadium, and he insists that not only did Jackson never use steroids, he also says Jackson never knew Wenzlaff was using or dealing them.
"One million percent clueless," Wenzlaff says. "He knew that I knew my way around the gym, and that's it. I didn't know if he would approve. He was an old-school man, and there wasn't those type of drugs around [in baseball at the time]."
At his peak, Wenzlaff says he worked with "25 to 30" college and professional athletes, from Major League Baseball, the NFL and NBA. He has never named them and says he isn't ready to now. That will be in the book, he says, with details.
"When I took on a client, not only did I write them workouts; I worked out with them. I wrote them a diet to the point where it was so refined that I wrote what to eat and what time to eat," he says. "If I took you on, you agreed to do what I said. You came to me to become bionic."
He would travel across the country or out of the country to get the exact steroids and other performance enhancers he wanted to give his clients. When word spread that he was working with McGwire and Canseco, business boomed -- until 1992, when he befriended a Chicago gym owner named Eddie Schmidt, who was looking for a new steroids supplier.
"Later found out his name was Bill Randall," Wenzlaff says. "He was an undercover FBI agent."
Wenzlaff found that out in a Santa Monica, Calif., hotel room, where he thought he was meeting Schmidt for a steroid transaction.
"I remember a knock at the door, and I didn't think anything of it. The door opens and there's an FBI badge and a gun in my face and at that point I decided that, hey, time to get a real job."
The man at the door was Stejskal, the lead investigator for Operation Equine, although Stejskal says he doesn't remember having his gun drawn. Whether at gunpoint or not, Wenzlaff was arrested, charged with possession and distribution of anabolic steroids and told he needed to cooperate. He did, and for his efforts spent only three months in a halfway house and a year on supervised release.
"Curtis never said anything that proved to be false, and any conversations I've ever had, any debriefing I've ever had, anything he told us proved to be true," Stejskal says.
To this day Wenzlaff remains loyal to Stejskal, grateful that "he kept my ass out of jail."
When Stejskal asked Wenzlaff to speak to a representative from MLB's security office in 2001, he did, although he says he didn't name names and wants to save the details of the conversation for his book. When Stejskal asked Wenzlaff to testify before the U.S. Senate in 2004 about steroids in sports, he did. But when George Mitchell and his investigators sought a meeting with Wenzlaff in 2006, he ignored their requests.
"Because Greg Stejskal didn't ask me to," Wenzlaff says.
As he watched McGwire and Canseco over the years, Wenzlaff says he felt a sense of pride in his old clients' accomplishments. They came to him and to anabolic steroids because they wanted to be the best. He doesn't fault them for that. There were never discussions about whether anything they did was ethical.
"It's such a boost, not just in strength; in your mental outlook, everything," Wenzlaff says. "You're flying high, and everything just comes together and you want to excel and you see yourself excelling and it pushes you farther, and drugs allow you to be pushed farther and achieve levels you have not achieved before. All cylinders are just slamming."
And Wenzlaff knows he helped them for at least a small portion of their careers.
"You're talking about Jose and Mac -- they were such awesome specimens to begin with. I mean, what a beautiful mold there to begin with, and to add onto it.
"Jose, he could have played pro football, he could've done whatever he wanted to. He didn't have the work ethic that others did that I worked with. A lot of that was natural, just God-given talent that he took for granted."
Not McGwire, he says.
"I hear in the media [Tony] La Russa says he shows up early and is the last to leave. That was Mark," he says.
Even in 1998, when McGwire was the king of the world and baseball considered him a savior, Wenzlaff says he enjoyed the home run race with Sammy Sosa.
"With my standpoint and what I was exposed to and what I knew, Mark was just one of many, so [his steroid use] didn't set him apart," he says. "I was as entertained as the next guy. I was a fan."
But all the home runs? The batting practice bombs that left other players shaking their heads? Could McGwire really have done it all without the drugs, as he says?
"It's one man's opinion," he says. "I'm not here to sit and say he was wrong, but I can sit and tell you that I doubt it."
T.J. Quinn is a reporter for ESPN and ESPN.com. He was a member of the New York Daily News investigative team that wrote the 2005 story. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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