Maclean’s Interview: Kirk Radomski

Baseball’s most prolific drug dealer, Kirk Radomski, speaks to Michael Friscolanti about anabolics, absolution and A-Rod

Maclean’s Interview: Kirk Radomski

A former bat boy for the New York Mets, Kirk Radomski—a.k.a. “Murdoch”—became the sport’s go-to guy for steroids, human growth hormone and other performance-enhancing substances. By the time federal agents knocked on his door in 2005, he had clients on every major league team. Now a convicted felon, his testimony was the cornerstone of Sen. George Mitchell’s groundbreaking investigation into baseball’s “Steroids Era.” Radomski’s new book, Bases Loaded, is anything but an apology.

Q: You sold steroids and human growth hormone (HGH) to hundreds of major league baseball players. Yet you insist that the players who bought those drugs from you weren’t technically cheating. How is taking steroids not cheating?

A: If you and me take steroids it doesn’t mean we’re going to hit a 95-mile-an-hour fastball. You have to have talent, you know? Basically, a lot of these guys who were taking these drugs, they were calling me when they got hurt. Most of the guys I met—99 per cent of the guys—they called me when they were hurt, or they were going to get surgery, and they wanted to know how they could get back on the field faster and earn their paycheque. They don’t want to sit out. Sometimes you hear in the papers, “Oh, these guys, they don’t care. He signed that five-year, $50-million…” But these guys don’t want to sit at home and be with their wives. They want to be on the field, they wanted to heal quicker, and with growth hormones, you could cut your recovery time in half.

Q: So the drugs were used to heal quicker as opposed to hitting 73 home runs?

A: Yeah. Barry Bonds took it to the next level. What I heard from players and what I’ve read, he did both: he took steroids and growth hormones in order to build muscle. If you look at pictures of him, he put 50 lb. on, easy. He wanted to hit more home runs. He was a Hall of Famer before that, but he wanted to be immortal. And most of the players I dealt with, they weren’t like that. They wanted to stay on the field and get healthy.

Q: So you think Bonds was cheating?

A: Oh, definitely.

Q: Where is the line? When is taking steroids cheating, and when is it not cheating?

A: Well, it becomes cheating when you don’t need to use them and you’re using them, and you use them to grow even more. I think that’s a line. You know, when your body is 220, 230 lb., and all of a sudden now you want to be 250 lb. and hit 50 home runs, I think that’s pushing the envelope. The guys that I dealt with, some of them were superstars but basically they were using it for recovery and longevity. They wanted to be out there, they wanted to play at their 100 per cent. With Bonds, which is an exception, he was out there trying to play at 110 per cent. His whole body just changed. He looked more like a guy who was getting ready for a bodybuilding show than a guy getting ready to take the field.

Q: Roger Clemens is accused of using human growth hormone to prolong his career. Do you think that was cheating?

A: No, I wouldn’t. He’s a great pitcher to begin with. His numbers are solid, but as his body was aging, he wasn’t recuperating. He wasn’t playing at his 100 per cent. Ball players have to play at 100 per cent. If they’re not, their numbers are going to suffer. The growth hormones are not making him better, it’s just making him recuperate so he can play at his 100 per cent.

Q: There is certainly, as you call it, a “blurry line” between legal and illegal. Steroids are banned, for example, but not creatine. Athletes are allowed to take cortisone shots as often as they want, yet HGH is outlawed. Why are some substances permitted and others aren’t?

A: You know why? The powers that be: the doctors, the governments. From day one, they say steroids are bad, but me and you could buy a pack of cigarettes that kill so many people every day. Why is that legal? They put stuff like Vioxx on the market that was hurting people left and right. How long did it take them to get it off the market? Cortisone shots are dangerous. Every time you hear somebody having a cortisone shot, what happens at the end of the season? They always have surgery. It only masks the hurting and keeps the inflammation down. That causes damage. So in other words, baseball players are ruining their bodies—and baseball is helping them.

Q: Someone is always saying that the “Steroids Era” was a stain on the integrity of the game, that it diminished all these records because guys were pumping themselves full of steroids. Is that a fair argument?

A: No, it’s not. I don’t want to hear about the numbers. What about Babe Ruth? Did he play against the best in the game? No. He only played against white people. He never played against the Negro leagues, so why aren’t his numbers tainted?

Q: Barry Bonds did play against the best, but he was filling himself full of steroids.

A: He’s still gotta hit the ball. Like I said, me and you, I could pump you with steroids all day long—it doesn’t mean you’re going to hit 500 home runs. Some of the players I helped never made it to the major leagues. They were able to play at their 100 per cent, but that 100 per cent wasn’t good enough to make it.

Q: What about Alex Rodriguez? The highest-paid player in the game has now admitted that he, too, was on steroids for three years. You don’t think that was cheating?

A: How was he cheating if everyone else was doing it? Look at all the guys that were named in Sen. Mitchell’s report. They were all taking growth hormone, steroids—and some of these guys didn’t have half of [Rodriguez’s] numbers. So it all comes back to the fact that you have to have the talent, no matter what you’re doing. Like I said, me and you are not going to hit 500 home runs because we take growth hormones and steroids.

Q: Do you think fans agree with that logic? Do most really care if Bonds or Mark McGwire or A-Rod get into the Hall of Fame?

A: Most people don’t care. They just want to enjoy the game. And you know what’s going to happen? If the numbers start to drop, are you going to pay, four, five, six hundred dollars to see a 2-1 game, or a 1-0 game? Are you going to sit in the heat and pay $10 for a hot dog and $15 for a beer? Guys that are vilified now—McGwire and Sammy Sosa, for instance—they should be sending paycheques to these guys every week. McGwire and Sosa brought baseball back. That home run chase, everyone jumped on that bandwagon. Baseball has never thrived as much, and it’s not because people wanted to see 1-0 games.

Q: Who is to blame for the “Steroids Era”? The way your book explains it, everyone—even the fans—were complicit.

A: Everyone was, because you know what? Baseball was in a bad way after the last lockout [1994] and things were going downhill. But then ball players started hitting home runs, bringing the fans back. Everyone knew [about the steroids], and it’s coming out now. Even A-Rod’s saying about how it was “loosey goosey.” He’s not lying. No one thought of it as being illegal because there were so many people doing it; no one cared. And the media that knew something was going on, they turned a blind eye because if they wrote an article, guess what? No one’s going to talk to these guys. Baseball is a tight-knit society. In five years, 10 years from now, when guys are out of the game, my book is going to look like the Bible because everything I said in there is so true.

Q: Can anyone involved in the game, from the owners to the union, honestly say they didn’t know what was going on?

A: Anyone who says that is literally stupid or just doesn’t want to admit the truth.

Q: You portray yourself as essentially the friendly neighbourhood drug dealer, the guy who just wanted to make sure that all the players were using the steroids properly and didn’t hurt themselves. Why should readers believe that you’re the good guy in all this?

A: It was never about the money. It was a friend helping a friend. I had something that most people didn’t have, a good knowledge of the game of baseball, how these guys did it, and what they needed to do to help them to play at their 100 per cent. I never, ever called anyone. I never solicited a client. These guys would call me, and if they called me I talked to them. If they didn’t ask me about drugs, I didn’t bring up drugs.

Q: Did you ever sit down and try to figure out how much money you did make over the years selling steroids and HGH?

A: Nah, because there’s not much.

Q: Was it a break-even operation?

A: You know what? After it’s said and done, I lost a lot of money. I lost a lot of money!

Q: There’s a very telling anecdote in your book about the time you wrote down the so-called “Radomski Team”—the top 25 highest-paid clients that you had. Combined, they made more than $300 million a season. Does it not bother you at all thatthese guys were making so much money because of your drugs, and you were getting so little in return?

A: You know what? I never thought about it because these guys would call me just like a friend would call you. It wasn’t a business, so I didn’t think about it 24/7. It’s not something I lived all the time.

Q: A lot of people will see your book on the stands and assume, “Well, here’s Radomski telling us that he made a big mistake and he wishes he didn’t stain the integrity of the game.” But that’s not what you’re saying at all.

A: No. I would have helped friends no matter what it was, even if I helped them working out or something. These guys were going to do the drugs with or without me. I helped and made it safe for these guys, and educated them. If it wasn’t for me, who knows what would have happened?

Q: Has baseball solved its drug problem?

A: They want us to believe that, but they haven’t. The only way you solve a problem is saying there’s a problem. They still have never come out and said they had a problem in baseball, so how do you fix a problem if you still haven’t admitted there is one?

Q: You wrote a book to get your side of the story out. What’s your message?

A: The message is that this wasn’t what the press portrayed it as: that it was a few guys and that no one knew what was going on, and that it was a secret. Everyone knew what was going on; I was just the guy caught in the middle. I would never have written the book if it wasn’t for Sen. Mitchell releasing those names, and people would never know. They would know I sold steroids but they would have never known the depth that I was involved in it, they would have had no idea. I went ahead and explained myself because once the Mitchell report came out my name was everywhere, it became so big.

Q: Are you supplying steroids or HGH to any baseball players these days?

A: Nah! I get tested, I’m on probation. I don’t even want to know what it is. I don’t want to see them, I don’t want to know nothing about it.