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Must-read: 1997 piece on supplements and lifting in MLB

By Dayn Perry | Baseball Writer
The late Ken Caminiti was onto a hot, new fitness supplement back in 1997. (Getty Images)

An absolute must-read 1997 USA Today piece on weightlifting and supplement use in baseball seems amusing -- or ominous, if you're the fainting-couch sort -- in retrospect. In part it's an examination of the hot new trend in baseball (weightlifting!), and in part it's an examination of the hot new supplement in baseball (creatine!).

One could call the tenor of the story naive if you like (this isn't an indictment of USA Today -- after all, this was in keeping with the reportage of the times), or one could just bask in amusement as such names as Ken Caminiti, Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi are held up as cutting-edge sorts when it came to lifting heavy objects and taking things to aid toward that end.

Anyhow, let's make with the choice excerpts. Here's the lede, which can best be described as "retroactively troubling":

Ken Caminiti calls it his goody bag. The black and green duffel accompanies him on every road trip, along with his bats and the black mitt that helped him win his second Gold Glove award last season.

"I take it everywhere," the San Diego Padres third baseman says, pulling it out of his locker stall before a game in Atlanta recently. "It's part of my routine."

Caminiti unzips the bag and reveals bottles and zip-locked bags of pills, vitamins and nutritional supplements. He opens one packet and shoves a handful of capsules into his mouth viking-style, all but swallowing the plastic.

This from Mr. Giambi:

"It's a confidence thing," said A's outfielder Jason Giambi, wearing a T-shirt that read "Champion Nutrition Athletic Department" before a game last week. "There are a lot of times you get fooled on pitches and can't use your legs. You have to rely on your upper body strength to rip it over an infielder's head."

This from Mr. McGwire:

McGwire began taking Power Creatine three years ago after meeting Dave Rose, a national sales manager at Champion Nutrition whose brother is one of McGwire's closest friends.

"It's the best product on the market today," McGwire says. "It helps with strength and endurance and not just with weightlifting. The results have just been outstanding. I wish I had started taking it sooner."

And this from, of all people, Paul Byrd:

Atlanta Braves reliever Paul Byrd says he initially was suspicious of creatine. A devout Christian who believes strongly in the notion of the body as a shrine to God, Byrd always tuned out when a body builder acquaintance started talking about steroids.

"He told me that a lot of guys started taking creatine when they got off their steroid cycles and had as much results as they did with steroids," Byrd says. "I didn't want to do anything illegal, so I didn't listen to him until he told me creatine was available over-the-counter."

Byrd began taking creatine during the 1995-96 offseason and says it's helped him put an extra two to three miles per hour on his fastball. In February, he recommended a creatine product by American Health and Nutrition to teammate Klesko, who says he's put on five pounds of muscle in two months.

Finally, the pièce de résistance:

Talk abut heavy hitting. Perhaps baseball should scrap its two-year-old "What a Game" marketing campaign and adopt the slogan the Padres had printed last year on T-shirts that sums up the game's obsession with strength and power: "Who cares if you can hit .300 when you can bench 300?"

Ah, the unfortunate candor of slogans bygone.

That's a lot of excerpting, but please do know that it's a mere sampling of what's to be found within Pete Williams's piece. Seriously: Read it.

Considered today, the piece also raises the issue of the arbitrary distinctions we make between PEDs and substances that function like PEDs but are tacitly sanctioned. Mostly, though, this article says so much about the way the game was covered in the late 1990s. Whatever was going on then and in seasons to come was largely ignored by the baseball press.

(HT: Our own Jack Moore)

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