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A Cautionary Tale

As most people this morning were paying attention to the death of actor Christopher Reeve, too young at 52, nearly a decade after he was paralyzed in a horseback-riding accident, there was another celebrity death that could change the face of baseball.

Former Astros and Padres third baseman Ken Caminiti, who was more than six years younger than I am, died of a heart attack last night in New York, where he was visiting a friend.

Caminiti was among the first major league ballplayers to admit to steroid use during his playing career, and looking at his career stats (and props to baseball-reference.com for already updating his page with the date of death) it's not hard to figure out exactly when he started -- he performed at one level, averaging a dozen or so homers and 75 or so RBI for five seasons, then suddenly in 1995 his offensive output surged, and in 1996 he won the NL MVP award with a forty-homer season, leading the NL in ten different offensive categories.

Maybe hearing about this will get ballplayers who are taking illegal performace enhancers to think twice. Dodgers outfielder Steve Finley perhaps said it best:

Man, that's just a tough one. I played with him for eight years. He was a great player, but he got mixed up in the wrong things -- taking drugs. It's a sad reminder of how bad drugs are and what they can do to your body. It's a loss all of us will feel.

We can only hope. I do not think we've seen nor heard the last of the steroid controversy, and sadly, I don't think this is the last such story we'll hear, just as the story of NFL star Lyle Alzado, whose steroid use caused his death at age 43 from brain cancer in 1992, was only the tip of the iceberg of the then, and we presume, current abuse of such things among pro football players (c'mon, you don't really think 350- or 400- pound linemen occur naturally, do you?).

Alzado, in a Sports Illustrated shortly before his death, gave these words which are, unfortunately, apparently not being heeded by pro athletes:

It wasn't worth it. If you're on steroids or human growth hormone, stop. I should have.

All of it should stop, before more lives are lost.