- Mike Fish, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Jason Grimsley's new connection to the game of baseball sits down on the left, near the end of the cul-de-sac, across from tidy rows of climate-controlled storage units. It's a one-story, tan and dark brown structure housing an indoor hitting and pitching facility.
Grimsley opened the doors to JOCO Baseball after he hired Scott Service, a friend and former major-league relief pitcher, to manage the place back in March. It was the first time since Grimsley signed his first professional contract in June 1985 that he wasn't in a spring training camp. But despite his 15 seasons in the majors, little meets the eye at JOCO Baseball that speaks to Grimsley's involvement with it. The sign planted on the grass amid the trees out front doesn't bear his name. Nor can it be found anywhere on the JOCO Web site.
The only evidence is on a wall in the lobby: a three-year-old poster of Grimsley attired in a Kansas City Royals uniform.
The low profile, presumably, is by design.
Since special agents from the IRS raided Grimsley's temporary home in Scottsdale, Ariz., early during the 2006 season when he was playing for the Diamondbacks and made him one of the initial suspects in baseball's burgeoning performance-enhancing drug scandal, the journeyman relief pitcher has lived, by most accounts, a little like a character tucked away in a federal witness protection program. Within days of the raid, he bolted from Arizona's clubhouse and retired to this quiet, sprawling suburb south of Kansas City to hunker down with family and close friends and try to keep the outside world at bay.
He hasn't given interviews, and didn't for this story. His family is reluctant to shed much light on his season out of the game, believing he has been mistreated by the media. His minister, whose church Grimsley supported with a $140,000 donation from the money gained in a contract settlement with the Diamondbacks, has refused to utter a peep about him without the approval of his benefactor. And his Phoenix-based criminal defense attorney, Edward Novak, remains quiet, wary that federal charges could still be brought under the five-year statute of limitations.
"He is not interested in doing any interviews," says longtime agent Joe Bick, who was irked to learn that a reporter had shown up at JOCO Baseball.
"This is a guy who got caught cheating and wants to move on," Bick pleads. "He just wants to get his life back together, not in the public eye."
Unfortunately for Grimsley, his story has been embedded in the baseball world's consciousness. And now that the World Series is out of the way, his name is certain to resurface as the game's steroid scandal heads toward a crescendo with the anticipated release of the results of an investigation by former U.S. Senate majority leader George Mitchell. Mitchell's baseball-commissioned review, according to some media reports, will name names culled from federal and local investigations, including signed checks and details provided as part of a federal plea deal by former New York Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski, who is scheduled to be sentenced in December on felony charges of distributing steroids and laundering money.
Among the federal documents made available to Mitchell is Grimsley's admission to investigators (the same agents who handled the BALCO investigations) that he used a variety of performance-enhancing drugs, and that he knew other players who did the same. Portions of the 20-page affidavit that summed up those admissions read like the words of a loose-lipped snitch ratting out performance-enhanced players by name, though those names were blacked out in the version of the affidavit released to the public.
Grimsley, according to his friends, family and representatives, claims the affidavit isn't accurate, and that he didn't volunteer the names of any other players. Rather, he has told others that agents quizzed him about specific athletes and their illegal drug habits. His attorney has suggested the federal authorities came after Grimsley on the chance that he'd help gather incriminating evidence against superstar Barry Bonds -- an opportunity Grimsley reportedly declined.
But if the information in the affidavit is to be trusted, Grimsley fingered suppliers. In it, he allegedly cast Latin players as major sources of amphetamines. He named one steroid-user who, according to the affidavit, "had the worst back acne [Grimsley] had ever seen." (Acne sometimes is a by-product of the drugs.) He identified a former MLB fitness trainer who, according to agents, he said had referred him to a speed dealer.
Bick, his agent, says Grimsley received a form letter from Mitchell last year; but to the best of the agent's knowledge, the pitcher hasn't talked to anyone on Mitchell's committee or anyone in the ongoing federal investigation since the raid on his home in 2006.
If Mitchell's report makes public the names that Grimsley allegedly divulged in the affidavit, however, his reputation in the fraternity of baseball will be further tarnished. One name -- David Segui -- in the document has been confirmed. Segui went public with that information himself, and then privately confronted Grimsley about his willingness to turn in a friend.
He and Grimsley were teammates on the Baltimore Orioles in 2004. Their wives became friends. In retirement, they live 10 miles down the road from each other. But these days, the former players don't talk.
Segui, 41, says he had a discussion with Grimsley about human growth hormone when their families were together at Segui's house about a month before Grimsley left for spring training in 2006, and that conversation appeared in the affidavit. Segui says Grimsley's wife had made it clear that she wanted the pitcher to retire rather than leave for Arizona. At one point during the visit, Segui says he and Grimsley were enjoying some guacamole after their wives had left the kitchen, and Grimsley raised the subject of HGH.
"That is when I told him, 'Look, if you're going to do it, do it the right way and go to a doctor and have your blood levels checked so you don't hurt yourself,'" Segui says.
Segui, who acknowledges he has used a synthetic form of HGH under a doctor's supervision since being diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency in 2001, says he thought nothing of the exchange until a few months later, when Grimsley was busted and his affidavit sped through baseball circles faster than a Josh Beckett heater.
"The one conversation I had with him after this all came out, I was ticked off and yelling at him," Segui says. "He kept saying, 'I didn't say that.' I said, 'Jason, are you freakin' kidding me? Unless my house is bugged, unless there is a bug on my kitchen island where we were sitting -- who the hell else besides the two of us knew that those actual words were spoken?'"
During that confrontation, according to Segui, Grimsley stood by his story that he hadn't volunteered the information.
"Then, when I kept saying 'bull' because nobody else would have known about that conversation," Segui says, "he was, 'Well, I told them that because they were saying only dwarfs and AIDS patients could get [human growth hormone].'"
Inside the walls of JOCO Baseball, which shares a building with the Christian Youth Theater, little about Grimsley's experience with performance-enhancing drugs resonates. At the very least, it isn't driving away the youth and high school ballplayers that it caters.
On a recent rainy afternoon, the steady ping of metal bats connecting with hardcover balls filled the air as Building Champions, a travel team made up of local high school players, shuffled between hitting stations. Scott Service has left the business and returned to his home in the Cincinnati area. Grimsley occasionally instructs some of the team's pitchers, though Jeremy Jones, the Building Champions head coach, told a reporter he wouldn't be coming around this day.
Jones is a Kansas City product who played at Arizona State and advanced as far as Double-A after five seasons in the Texas Rangers system, retiring in 2002. He runs his amateur team out of Grimsley's facility, where he also works as a hitting instructor.
His feelings about Grimsley are favorable.
"The stuff I do know about, he is an unbelievable guy," says Jones, a former catcher. "He doesn't deserve anything that he gets where people want to write bad things. He gives to the community nonstop -- his time, this facility."
Jones says he hasn't discussed the much-publicized link to performance-enhancers with Grimsley, but he suggests the former big-league pitcher likely got caught up in the game's dark side.
"I played with a lot of guys that tried [steroids]," Jones says. "I don't know if [Grimsley] tried stuff or not, but he is no different than anybody else if he did. It was all over the place, even in the minors. And you let one person do it, and everybody is going to be doing it to stay up with everybody. That was baseball's problem.
"They let it get out of hand. They wanted better athletes. They wanted guys to throw the ball harder, hit the ball harder to sell more tickets. And whether people are in trouble for it or whatever, Major League Baseball is at fault, in my opinion. Because you can go down to Puerto Rico and you can get it over-the-counter. You can go to Mexico. You got kids coming here that have been on it since they were 16. You got to compete with these people. I never did it, but it was a choice I had to come across because either I could stay by doing it or get out."
It isn't that simple, of course. According to the affidavit, Grimsley didn't just dabble in pharmaceuticals to eke out a few more paychecks during a career that ended with a 42-58 record and a 4.77 earned run average, and that earned him a total of more than $10 million. If what investigators wrote in that document is accurate, Grimsley, who at one time was a players' union rep, broke from the fraternity and offered up the names of other big leaguers and folks on the fringe of the game.
The release of the redacted affidavit created a media rush to expose the suspected cheaters. In September 2006, the Los Angeles Times reported the identities of five players in the document, among them several of the game's most prominent stars. Government officials subsequently said the Times account contained "significant inaccuracies," and Grimsley's attorney disputed parts of the story.
Earlier, Kansas City-area trainer Chris Mihlfeld, who had helped Grimsley rehabilitate from Tommy John surgery in 2005, was named on a Web site and a national cable news show as a drug source identified by Grimsley in the affidavit. Those reports, apparently, were incorrect. Mihlfield told ESPN.com that Grimsley and Grimsley's attorney both assured him his name isn't in the affidavit, and later media reports identified a different fitness trainer. But the damage was done; Mihlfeld's name was sullied. And in a ripple effect, steroid speculation ramped up around big-leaguers Albert Pujols and Mike Sweeney, both of whom train with Mihlfeld.
Through it all, the fitness guru still considers Grimsley a friend and doesn't blame him for the unwelcome spotlight: "I could never imagine that Jason Grimsley would come out and bring names up and point fingers at players. He's a player's player. He is a man's man."
Around MLB clubhouses, Grimsley earned respect as a gritty competitor and a solid teammate. That reputation spiked in 1994 when he was playing for the Cleveland Indians. In July that summer, Grimsley crawled above the ceiling in the bowels at Comiskey Park (now U.S. Cellular Field) to substitute a legitimate bat for teammate Albert Belle's corked bat, which had been confiscated by umpires and was being held in a locked room. The theft was discovered in part because the bat Grimsley used to replace the confiscated one had Paul Sorrento's signature on it rather than Belle's.
That caper and the drug bust are now part of Grimsley's defining legacy. Many view the bat heist as almost heroic, though it might not fit into his mother's description of Grimsley as a "very Christian boy." On the other hand, the bust and the information in the subsequent affidavit constitute, in the eyes of many, a black cloud that lingers over the game, if not an act of outright betrayal of one of the game's codes.
Grimsley is a husband and a father to three young children. Those who know him well describe Grimsley as a country kid who grew to be unafraid of the big city. He is friendly with Mark Tremonti, guitarist/vocalist for Alter Bridge and a former member of the band Creed. He has invested with veteran pitcher David Wells and a handful of entertainment types in the New York nightspot Plum, and he has put money into his cousin's Houston-based company that manages hospital pharmacies.
One day early in 2005, when he was rehabilitating from Tommy John elbow surgery, Grimsley left his Kansas City-area home to drop his two boys off at school shortly before a twin-engine Cessna crashed into the house. All five people in the plane were killed. His wife and then-five-year-old daughter, who had just gone down to the basement for mom's morning workout, weren't injured but witnessed the carnage.
"For the longest time, they had to have counseling,'' says Judy Grimsley, Jason's mother. "And Jason was such a rock during that time. It was really traumatic for everybody."
When they speak these days, Mihlfeld, the trainer, says his conversations with Grimsley aren't about baseball or training regimens, but rather about their young families and their investments. Grimsley is involved in commercial property around Kansas City, an Internet pet supply business and a car wash, in addition to the pharmacy management company and JOCO Baseball.
But, Mihlfield and others suggest, Grimsley is deeply pained by the way he left the game.
"I think it hurt him," Mihlfeld says. "I can hear it when I talk to him and stuff. I talk to him quite a bit, especially after it happened, because I care about the guy. Everybody wants to hammer down on him. Well, that's fine. He's a big boy; he can handle it. And he has handled it. He has moved on with his life. He has realized baseball is over and that was a difficult deal."
Mihlfeld adds, "He's just like any of us. Everybody has got demons in their back pocket, so to speak. We all got issues and problems. He's just like everybody else. He's only human. He made a mistake. He's still my friend. I don't believe in what he did, but he did what he did.
"In my opinion, he did what he had to do to keep pitching. Unfortunately, with the money and stuff that is involved with these guys, there is a lot of pressure to stay healthy and keep pitching, or keep playing."
Segui, though, has mixed feelings.
"I'm not mad at him,'' Segui says. "I don't hate him. I understand why he started talking [to investigators]. Anybody would be scared.
"The thing is, I wouldn't have cared if he would have just told me from the beginning, 'Hey, I got busted and I mentioned that you are getting it legally from a doctor. I never tried to hide anything. It was the fact that I had to read it on the SportsCenter [crawl] like everybody else, and that is how I first realized he was talking about our conversation."
Segui says of the affidavit, "From the outside, it sounds like [Grimsley] is trying to defer the attention from himself by saying, 'Well, this guy is doing it, too. And then he started naming everybody he has ever met in baseball. He started throwing these names out there, for what? That part doesn't make sense. You get caught, you get caught."
Those close to Grimsley say he is particularly hurt that a number of his friends and former teammates were tied to his affidavit through media reports.
"He was just pretty hurt that things were coming out, especially with the media, that weren't exactly the things that happened," says Terry Andrus, his cousin and president of the medical company that counts Grimsley as an investor. "I mean . . . that was just crazy.
"I know Jason is a stand-up guy, and it's been tough on him. It's tough when your kids see your name all over television. And, of course, your wife having to see those things. That is a pretty difficult thing for any man to endure."
Judy Grimsley, his mother, says she suspects the federal agents behind the raid and the affidavit were being vindictive. And she's distrustful of the media for what she perceives to be a negative slant to her son's story.
"The only thing Jason did was order something without a prescription and [federal agents] intercepted his order," she says by phone from her home in Cleveland, Texas. "That is it. That is all this guy did wrong. And he did not fail a Major League Baseball drug test. If he had, he would have been suspended. He was never suspended. [MLB suspended him for 50 games in the week after the raid became public; but by then, he'd given up on the game.]
"And I think really the reason that they went after Jason is because he refused to wear a [listening device] wire. First of all, he told them, 'I don't know Barry Bonds that well. I know him enough to say hello, but I'm not his friend.'
"And they said, 'Well, would you wear a wire?' He told them not 'No,' but 'Hell no.' He wouldn't do that."
By his mother's account, Grimsley grew up as an aw-shucks kid in the small town of Cleveland, about 50 miles north of Houston. He was a star quarterback in high school. In baseball, Grimsley's nasty slider helped convince the Philadelphia Phillies to take him in the 10th round of the 1985 amateur draft.
He was 17 when he left for pro ball. It was an emotional summer. He grew up close to his father, Johnny, and his younger brother, Joe. The brothers always shared a bedroom rather than take separate rooms.
When Jason turned 12, Johnny and Judy Grimsley bought their boys dirt bikes to ride over the acres of adjoining land owned by Mrs. Grimsley's family. During one trip through his aunt's backyard, Jason caught his shoe on a tree stump. His left big toe had to be amputated. According to his mother, he earned a spot on the eighth-grade basketball team a couple of months later; and that spring, he took second in the high jump at a regional competition.
"You know, I get leery about stuff like this," says Joe Grimsley, now a pipeline welder as his father was, when asked about his brother's exit from the game. "What has already been said ... it is all false. I ain't doggin' you, but they turn stuff around."
This much, though, can't be twisted: Jason Grimsley was caught in a drug sting. And whether he gave up the names of his peers, no one in his corner has publicly disputed the other significant information to be found in the affidavit: that over the course of the two-hour interview, he told investigators that he had used a number of performance-enhancing drugs, especially in the latter stages of his 15-year major-league career.
According to the affidavit, Grimsley admitted to using amphetamines, known around clubhouses as "greenies" and "beans," and Clenbuterol, which he described as increasing the body's metabolism. He also told the agents that he used the anabolic steroid Deca-Durabolin to recover after shoulder surgery in 2000; and, later, human growth hormone.
"I think the big thing here is that steroid use in baseball is -- I'm sure it has happened," says Andrus, Grimsley's cousin. "But really, what part of national security does that serve? I mean, these guys are out there playing sports for our entertainment. Quite frankly, most of the people that I talk to really could care less what they do. I'd rather see our senators and representatives drug-tested than baseball players."
But the debate of the hour is about doping in sports. And Mitchell, a former senator, is about to answer the next question in that debate.
When he does, he's likely to invoke the name of Andrus's cousin, a retired journeyman relief pitcher trying to teach teenagers about baseball and live a quiet life in suburban Kansas City.
Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.