Day 18 of 2022 baseball books: How will you remember Ken Caminiti? Here’s the Good way

“Playing Through the Pain: Ken Caminiti and
The Steroids Confession That
Changed Baseball Forever”

The author:
Dan Good

The publishing info:
Abrams Books
384 pages
$27
Released May 31, 2022

The links:
The publishers website
The authors website
At Bookshop.org
At Indiebound.org
At Powells.com
At Vromans.com
At TheLastBookStoreLA, at PagesABookstore.com, at Amazon.com, at BarnesAndNoble.com

The review in 90 feet or less

Dan Good already knew the good, the bad and the tragic as it related to the late Ken Caminti.

When Caminiti died in October of 2004 of a drug overdoes at 41, three years after he was out of the game and a mess of a man, Good was a journalism student at Penn State. The death affected him deeply for some reason.

He wrote about it in a column, which he shared in a Nov. 2021 substack post titled “Why Ken Caminiti?”

Good was simply a baseball fan who admired Caminiti’s grit. He wanted to read a book about him, but couldn’t find one in 2012 that was complete.

“I wondered what was stopping me from writing it myself, and I began deeply researching his life — I was working the graveyard shift at the time and my days were wide open. I started interviewing people in 2013 and kept at it over the years, continuing to chip away at the project and track people down. All told, I ended up interviewing 400 people.”

One of them was Tom Verducci, who did the original 2002 Sports Illustrated cover story, “Steroids in baseball: Confessions of an MVP” that used Caminiti’s honest account as a springboard to its investigation.

There was a followup in 2012 titled: “Ten Years Later: To Cheat or Not to Cheat: A decade after Ken Caminiti helped pull baseball’s steroid problem out of the shadows, those who chased the big league dream in a dirty era still wrestle with how they dealt with the dilemma of a generation.”

Another subject was Caminiti’s steroid distributor. He talked to those who went into rehab with Caminiti. He talked to those who knew him way back when, and in the last days.

Good’s grief — and long, difficult excavation — has finally resulted in the publication of his project.

“I’m certainly biased, but I believe Ken Caminiti’s story is the most important in baseball over the past quarter-century because it touches on so many themes, from the will to be great and our societal views on addiction, to trauma and the moral ambiguities around performance-enhancing drugs in baseball during the 1990s,” Good also writes in that post. “Ken’s life had a deep impact, one that went far beyond the things he put into his body or the manner in which he died. And for me, after a decade of work and hundreds of interviews, his good heart continues to shine through.”

Let’s put it this way: Some books you can’t put down. They might be best finished cover-to-cover in one sitting. Then there are these. You need to nudge yourself into starting it, and remind yourself it’s OK to set aside for a moment. Re-read to make sure it’s clear. Give it another rest.

And don’t do it before you go to bed. You’ll be too restless. You won’t sleep well.

Take it from our experience.

Since we have an extensive Q&A with Good now up on the San Diego Union-Tribune, on why he tackled this, for what he hopes to accomplish, and why this isn’t such an act of closure, it’s prudent to link that here. This speaks best about the whole project. The SDUT also published an excerpt online.

Here is more of our Q&A that wasn’t included in the SDUT version:

Q: The title about “playing through the pain” not only reflects on what he had to go through, but now readers and fans of his are asked to go through a painful process as well to relive some of this. You mention in the acknowledgements how hard it was to write. Does that include painful moments you felt as well learning new information and get it framed properly as you went 10 years from start and finish with this to put it all in the right context?

A: It was such a difficult topic first to tackle, peeling onions, learning new pieces and element … Carrying that story around with me for so long was a trying process. Some of the toughest interviews were even done six, seven, eight years ago and I’ve been carrying their story for that long. The writing process was then its own emotional journey. The last couple chapters about his death, I had to wait until the deadline for the manuscript and wrote that part the weekend before it was due because I emotionally wasn’t ready to address the topics. I wrote them, put the book aside, sent it in and didn’t touch it again for six-to-eight months. It was so emotionally taxing to learn about his whole life and make sense of it all. It was so sad. He was such a good guy and so many loved him, you wanted to see that happy ending, but it was too tragic. There was no happy ending here, and that’s what was so tough.

Q: There is happiness finally when he’s included in the Padres Hall of Fame, his daughters are there, you see smiles and acceptance. Maybe closure, if that is the right word. … You went back to a story you did as a journalism student at Penn State and you wrote at the time: “The Ken Caminiti story is one of tragedy due to its abrupt finality — there is no real conclusion or culmination, just a jumbled assortment of loose frays and disjointed vignettes. In his last public appearance before his death, he was in a Houston courtroom in an orange prison jumpsuit admitting he tested positive for cocaine which violated his probation.” You also wrote that once the toxicology reports are released, “it will give the general public closure, but closure in the case of Caminiti that can never really be found.” Can you find closure related to this book now?

A: I don’t think closure can be found. We gain a general understanding, more appreciation for he was, the life he lived and the struggles he faced. It’s important to understand, to learn, for us to kind of have more compassion. But closure is elusive. It can’t be fully found here. I hope it brings new appreciation, recognition and understanding. I’m tired of seeing every time someone posts about him on social media, they’ll mention steroids or cocaine, speedball or overdose. It’s so boring and played out. There’s so much more to this guy and his life. I do hope people can focus on those things and live with more compassion.

Q: When you go back to find out why someone has this honesty, you trace back to how they grew up, find his roots, which you did. You can’t tell his story until you look at all that. Did you find that from people who knew him very early on in San Jose that he was a good kid and looking to do the right things?

A: He was a good kid. As a teenager he got into his wild days like many do, but he was a quiet kid, athletic, living in his brother’s shadow, the kids in the neighborhood who’d teach other kids how to play, kind and generous and sweet.

Q: How was your relationship with Ken’s steroid supplier and friend, Dave Moretti, and how much you could trust and rely on him?

A: I talked to him a lot. I talk to Dave a lot. I’m appreciative to all he’s done to talk through this story. It’s tough when you see someone with so much information to share, and you wonder about their credibility. Can you confirm these things? There was a lot he obviously couldn’t – no records of steroids he gave players. But little pieces he shared. One example: A story about him and Richie Lewis and a package intercepted by the Triple-A team Richie was playing for. I cold-called the general manager from that team 25 years ago and he confirmed the story. There was another element about Ken’s girlfriend with the Padres. She was dating a player the prior year that Ken’s agent at the time, Tom Reich, told Ken he didn’t want to see her with that woman, but she winds up with Ken the next season. Dave told me who the player was. When I talked to Tom Reich, he said he wouldn’t reveal that other player. But I could tell him who the player was (based on Dave’s information) and Tom confirmed it. Little pieces like that told me his story. I confirmed elements of Dave’s stories through others also. So many things he told me matched up so strongly and perfectly with what others said. I talked to people who were friends with Ken from his San Diego days about Dave and they confirmed he was around. Others I talked to claimed they were close friends with Ken back then and I found out they were really just hangers-on, not that close. It was finding a balance of credibility and spending a lot of time double- and triple-checking things, match up things, and line things up with some basis of reality.

Q: One of the stats that jumps out from all that, too, is realizing that in his first year with the Padres, Caminiti won the 1995 Gold Glove Award (from page 165), which was “aided by the visibility that came from his strong year at the plate and Matt Williams’ injury … never mind he ranked dead last in advanced defensive stats among NL third basemen or he racked up 27 errors. He finally got the award he should have won six years ago.” You point out there how “steroids equaled power equaled stats equaled rewards. The steroids worked. He’d have to use more of them next season.” That was a career-worse 27 errors and a .936 fielding percentage that had been his worse in nine previous years. Yet it was the first of three straight Gold Gloves.

A: Gold Glove voting back then was so bogus. In the ’89 and ’94 seasons, he probably should have won it. He, Matt Williams and Terry Pendleton were the three best third baseman at the time in the league. Now it’s ’95, Williams is hurt, so who wins the Gold Glove? Well, Ken is having a good season. … If you look today based on statistics, he wouldn’t have won in ’95 or ’97, but you look at the eye test, making great plays, throwing people out from his butt. So it’s the award should be a balance of the eye test and stats. In ’95-to-’97 he was not the best statistically in the league.

How it goes in the scorebook

Good isn’t asking us to do what he hasn’t already done for the greater angst: Look at this player, this man, this husband and dad, for who he was, and what legacy he left the game. Honest to goodness. It is worth the journey. It isn’t easy, but it’s good for the soul.

Thank you, Dan. We feel your pain.

We’ll also go with how Brad Balukjian, author of “The Wax Pax,” put it on the book jacket: “Like Ken Caminiti so many times with the San Diego Padres, Dan Good has gone deep with this exhaustive biography of the 1990s slugger … Good ends up with an effective portrayal of a man whose courageous willingness to blow the whistle on steroids helped clean up the game.”

You can look it up: More to ponder

Among the stories Good resourced in this pursuit, and ones still available to read again, are these:

On Sept. 28, 2003, during the last game at Qualcomm Stadium: Padres third basemen reunite at third base: The original, Ed Spezio, left, Ken Caminiti center, and Kurt Bevacqua. Photo: Riverside Press-Enterprise.


== A Nov., 2004 story on ESPN, “The Final Hours of Ken Caminti’s Life,” by William Weinbaum and Jeremy Schaap.
== A November, 2004 story in the Los Angeles Times, “MVP to ‘Most Vulnerable’” by Steve Springer, which includes an interview with J. Hutton Pulitzer, who was in rehab with Caminiti in 2001 and Good tracked down to verify more information: “He really felt he let everybody down, everybody, but most especially his [three daughters],” said Pulitzer. “He was a devastated man. He may have won the most-valuable-player award, but he was also the most vulnerable person.”
== A 2014 column by Nick Canepa of the San Diego Union-Tribune: “Imperfect Caminti still terribly missed.”
== A 2014 Bleacher Report story, “The Cautionary Tale of Ken Caminiti: The Steroid Era’s First Truth-Teller,” by Scott Miller includes this excerpt:
“By ’98, the Padres were steamrolling toward the NL West title and only their second World Series appearance. Momentum had just about locked up the public vote in favor of a new downtown ballpark. But nothing is forever.
“By the ’98 World Series, Caminiti’s knee was so wrecked that, as the Padres were getting swept by the Yankees, he would fall down while swinging. His winces made you cringe. He hit .143 in the four games. Then, with payroll bulging and the new stadium secure, the Padres scaled back. They allowed Kevin Brown, (Steve) Finley and Caminiti to walk via free agency.
“The Padres subtly telegraphed their intentions during the season.
“ ‘He was wounded by that quite a bit’,” (San Diego Union-Tribunte writer Tom) Krasovic says. ‘There was a quote from him like, They’re going to put me out in a field and shoot me. It was really a graphic quote. He would say these quotes with a lot of emotion in his eyes. I know it sounds melodramatic, but he really was wounded’.”

== In 2016, San Diego’s Jane Mitchell discusses why she was drawn to have Caminiti as a guest on her “One-On-One” show during the ’96 season: “In the spring and summer of 1996, I was so caught up in a television project surrounding the Republican National Convention, I didn’t realize the Ken Caminiti sensation buzzing around the city. I hadn’t witnessed his stellar feats at third base or his powerful at-bats. Hadn’t heard about the “Snickers” incident in Mexico, nor seen his stoic presence contrasted with his sparkling eyes and smile in the dugout or off the field. These were all part of the Cammy mystique that had captivated a community of baseball fans. But when it looked as if I would be involved in the new COX/Padres television venture Channel 4 Padres, I sat on my mother’s couch and watched the Padres beat the LA Dodgers to clinch the National League West Division. Ken Caminiti became front of mind.”

== Trevor Hoffman speaks at Caminiti’s Padres Hall of Fame induction, and Caminiti’s daughters Lindsey, Nicole and Kendall talk about what the day in 2008 meant:

== Caminiti’s career highlights via a YouTube presentation:

1 thought on “Day 18 of 2022 baseball books: How will you remember Ken Caminiti? Here’s the Good way”

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