During the press conference at Dodger Stadium to introduce newly signed starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, GM Ned Colletti hinted that he may have a catcher to backup all-star Russell Martin signed soon as well, though he failed to mention that he’d been scouting the freshly released Mitchell Report for names. Former St. Louis Cardinals backup catcher, Gary Bennett, was quietly signed to a 1 year, $850,000 contract on Monday. He’ll replace fellow pine-rider, former Philly and LA native, Mike Lieberthal, as the Dodgers backup backstop.
The team declined to pickup Lieberthal’s $1.5 option for the upcoming season, saving a good chunk of change in the process. Most saw the Lieberthal signing as just another bizarre signing by Colletti last year due to the fact that he has always been known for his bat rather than his glove. It’s generally unwise to add pop to the lineup via backup catcher because they are scarcely used. They are needed for their defense and ability to handle the pitching staff. Without those traits a backup catcher will adversely affect most games that they play in. An offensive catcher can become an offensive catcher for the opposing team without reliable defensive attributes. Not only do they commit errors at a much higher rate, they also mishandle the pitching staff and bullpen because they never get much of a chance to familiarize themselves with each pitcher and batter’s strength and weakness and likely weren’t very good at it in the first place. That’s a player like Gary Bennett’s specialty. He may add absolutely nothing to the lineup in the 3 or 4 games he plays in a month but he won’t cost the team any runs either. It’s always better to have a plus player than a minus player in hockey; same with baseball. You always want a guy who creates more than he destroys, even if he doesn’t create very much. That’s what we’re getting with Bennett. He doesn’t take walks or get on base very much (he put up an abysmal .290 obp over the last 5 seasons), he doesn’t hit for average (.231 over the last 5 seasons) or power (2.5 HRs per over the last 5 seasons) and he definitely doesn’t run the bases very well (1 stolen base over the last 3 years) but he doesn’t make glaring mistakes on defense and doesn’t flagrantly leave pitchers out to dry.
With all that being said, the signing was surprising due to the fact that Bennett had just admitted to using performance enhancing drugs last week after getting outed by former Senator George Mitchell’s investigation into PEDs. Within the now infamous Mitchell Report, ex-Mets clubhouse attendant, Kirk Radomski, admitted to selling Bennett two “HGH kits” in 2003 when Bennett was a member of the San Diego Padres. Radomski provided a check that Bennett had written to him to the tune of $3,200, which just happens to be the exact same price that Radomski charges for two kits of HGH. It was reported by the Washington Post that Bennett admitted to using HGH in a phone interview. The report quotes Bennett as saying,
“As far as the report is concerned to me, it’s accurate. Obviously, it was a stupid decision. It was a mistake. It was something that quite obviously, you regret now. And beyond that, I just don’t know.”
While battling a knee injury that put him on the DL with the Rockies in ’02, Bennett was introduced to Radomski by teammate and fellow Mitchell Report listee Denny Neagle. Neagle is said to have bought steroids from Radomski five or six times and wrote up to eight personal checks amounting to a total of $6,800. HGH is not only used to add muscle, it’s often used to recover from injuries much more quickly than it would be possible otherwise. Some chemists who illegally manufacture the substance have estimated that HGH can prolong a baseball player’s career from anywhere between 5-10 years and possibly longer in certain cases. Bennett is an 11 veteran in the majors and will turn 36 in April.
As sordid as the Mitchell mess has become, Dodger fans should be willing to look past Bennett’s past mistakes. So far he’s one of the only players to actually stand up and face the music. Of course it can be argued that he wouldn’t have admitted to anything if he hadn’t been named in the investigation. Despite what you may or may not think about Gary Bennett, he was not alone in the steroid era and was only one of many players to have used PEDs over that timespan. He’s a Dodger now and should be treated as part of the family. It’s not like he broke the all-time HR record or anything like that. He was a backup catcher trying to rehab quicker so he wouldn’t lose his job. There is a difference, as small as it may be.
The long awaited Mitchell Report has now been released. Former US Senator George Mitchell’s 21 month investigation delved into the past and present infiltration of steroids, human growth hormone and other performance enhancing drugs into the game of baseball. Commissioner of Baseball, Bud Selig, hired Mitchell to investigate the game after reading a book written by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, called “Game of Shadows” about HR king, Barry Bonds’ alleged steroid use starting in 1998 after becoming envious of the attention garnered by the now infamous McGwire/Sosa HR chase. Players, club officials, trainers and many others who are affiliated with the game were specifically named in the report for having used, assisted players or supplied steroids within the game for nearly two decades. Many high-profile players such as Andy Pettitte, Miguel Tejada, Paul Lo Duca and Eric Gagne and potential Hall of Famers, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield were all pegged by Mitchell and his team in the investigation for being implicated by former players, clubhouse officials and personal trainers for all having either used, purchased or possessed performance enhancing drugs at one point or another during the “Steroid Era (1988-Present)”. Some trainers and former players testified that they had personally injected many of those implicated with HGH and anabolic steroids such as Winstrol, Anavar and Deca-Durabolin which are testosterone-based, injectable drugs. There are copies of personal checks written to clubhouse employees and trainers within the report that were believed to have been used to purchase the drugs illegally or thru questionable methods. In some cases prescriptions were written by internet doctors who had never examined or even met the players they were writing the prescriptions for. Much of the report is based on testimony from team employees like busted Mets trainer, Kirk Radomski, and former Yankees’ trainer, Brian McNamee as well as the testimony of former players Jason Grimsley, Adam Piatt, Larry Bigbie and Chad Allen among others. Some of the names in the report were expected but others came as somewhat of a surprise. No club is exempt, all 30 teams are said to have at least one player implicated in the report.
Here is the list of current and former players who are named in the Mitchell Report: Lenny Dykstra, David Segui, Larry Bigbie, Brian Roberts, Jack Cust, Tim Laker, Josias Manzanillo, Todd Hundley, Mark Carreon, Hal Morris, Matt Franco, Rondell White, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch, Jason Grimsley, Gregg Zaun, David Justice, Dan Naulty, FP Santangelo, Glenallen Hill, Mo Vaughn, Denny Neagle, Ron Villone, Ryan Franklin, Chris Donnels, Todd Williams, Phil Hiatt, Todd Pratt, Kevin Young, Mike Lansing, Cody McKay, Kent Mercker, Adam Piatt, Miguel Tejada, Jason Christiansen, Mike Stanton, Stephen Randolph, Jerry Hairston, Paul Lo Duca, Adam Riggs, Bart Miadich, Fernando Vina, Kevin Brown, Eric Gagne, Mike Bell, Matt Herges, Gary Bennett Jr., Jim Parque, Brendan Donnelly, Chad Allen, Jeff Williams, Howie Clark, Nook Logan, Rick Ankiel, Paul Byrd, Jay Gibbons, Troy Glaus, Jose Guillen, Jerry Hairston Jr., Gary Matthews Jr., Scott Schoeneweis, David Bell, Jose Canseco, Darren Holmes, John Rocker, Ismael Valdez, Matt Williams, Steve Woodard, Marvin Bernard, Barry Bonds, Bobby Estalella, Benito Santiago, Gary Sheffield, Randy Velarde and Jason and Jeremy Giambi.
A few notable Dodgers like Eric Gagne, Paul Lo Duca, Kevin Brown, Ismael Valdez and Todd Hundley are amongst the names listed. It was long suspected that Eric Gagne was a user after his resurgence in the game as a dominant closer after having failed as a starting pitcher. As a starter his fastball hung around the 88-90 mph range but as a closer his fastball consistently reached well over 95 mph, sometimes even exceeding 100 mph. One interesting detail in the report claims that before trading for Gagne at the trade deadline last season, Boston Red Sox GM, Theo Epstein, asked one of his scouts in an email,
“Have you done any digging on Gagne? I know the Dodgers think he was a steroid guy. Maybe so. What do you hear on his medical?”
This email obviously indicates that there was what appeared to be widespread knowledge of Gagne’s steroid history throughout the league. Gagne didn’t fair well in Boston and was released by the team this offseason. He recently signed a one year, $10 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers to replace Francisco Cordero, who they lost to the Reds in free agency, as the team’s closer. He was released by the Dodgers in 2006 after an injury plagued season in which the velocity on his fastball dropped drastically. Pair that with the emergence of closer Takashi Saito and he was yesterday’s news. Many Dodger fans were upset when the team cut ties with Gagne, who was a beloved fan favorite, but it’s hard to imagine that those same fans are complaining now. There was also a similar outcry against management when former GM, Paul DePodesta, traded a package of fan favorites, including catcher Paul Lo Duca and setup man Guillermo Mota to the Marlins for former World Series star, Brad Penny. The move was widely panned by just about everyone at the time, media and fans alike, but was one of the better moves the Dodger have made in recent history in retrospect. For one thing, not only has Lo Duca been implicated in this report but the other half of the deal, former set-up man Guillermo Mota, actually tested positive for PEDs and was suspended by major league baseball. Neither player is still with the Marlins. On the other hand, Brad Penny was a Cy Young candidate last year and is the ace of the Dodgers’ pitching staff. Young stars (and new fan favorites) Russell Martin and Jonathan Broxton have filled the roles vacated by Lo Duca and Mota and have been far better than Dodger fans could’ve hoped for. Paul Lo Duca just signed a one year deal with the Washington Nationals and Guillermo Mota was traded by the Mets to the Brewers for catcher Johnny Estrada, who was later released. The Mets essentially gave him away. I think it’s fair to say that we made out like bandits on that deal. Sometimes you can’t evaluate trades until years down the road and this is a perfect example of that. Let’s not forget about all of the short-sighted, dunderheads out there who caused such a stink over the deal at the time, and even years later like LA Times sports reporter, Bill Plaschke, who even said two years after the deal was made,
“It stunk then. Stinks now”
In hindsight, maybe he spoke too soon.
Another former Dodger named in the report was the oft-injured, vastly overpaid, rarely used, prima-donna, Kevin Brown. Steroids have always been used by athletes to speed up recovery from injuries as well as to increase strength. This would obviously explain why Brown may have gotten involved with PEDs but they clearly had little to no effect because injuries ruined the end of his career. He averaged a scant 95 innings pitched per year in 4 of his last 5 years in the league (3 of which being with the Dodgers). When he actually did pitch he was lights-out, posting a 3.00, 2.58 and 2.39 ERA in 3 out of 5 seasons with the Dodgers. He even posted an incredible 1.89 ERA with the Florida Marlins in 1996 which is virtually unheard of.
I guess what the Mitchell Report teaches us at the very least is that all of the incredible feats that have occurred in baseball over the past two decades really WERE too good to be true. Multiple hitting and pitching records that hadn’t been broken for nearly 100 years were smashed in the ’90s. Many will make the case that steroids don’t help hand-eye coordination (although some chemists who manufacture HGH claim that it does) but that is irrelevant. You’ve got to figure that players who are playing at the major league level have enough underlying skills to get them there in the first place. Performance enhancing drugs do just that. They are not called “performance creating drugs”, they enhance what is already there, meaning we will never know if would-be Hall of Famers like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro would have even approached those kinds of numbers without artificial assistance. It’s a question that the baseball writers and Hall of Fame voters will have to answer eventually but there is no question that the entire era and game as a whole has been tarnished by the legacy of PEDs and the players who used them.
“I told you so” – Jose Canseco