Was It Worth It?

Eric Freaking Gagne.

The posterboy for bad trades’ disastrous three-month stint in Boston became even worse when his was one of the infamous names released in George Mitchell’s report, a comprehensive look at baseball’s slow decline into a sport that overlooked, if not pasively supported, a culture of illegal performance-enhancing drug use.

Although the report broke little new ground in many respects — few of the names were earth-shattering, the recommendations were common-sensical, and it quoted liberally from newspaper articles and books anyone can read — it performed a vital service in collecting and disseminating in one place a study of the culture of the game in the mid 1990s to early 2000s.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect is that of the general managers, who often are overlooked in the finger-pointing aimed at the players, their union, the owners, the commissioner and even the media. It’s the GMs who decide whether to trade for or sign these players, and knowing about past performance while estimating future results is obviously the paramount component in such decisions.

If the examples cited by Mitchell are at all representative — and that does not seem to be an unreasonable assumption — then GMs long ago were aware of the large role steroids and human growth hormone have played in the performance of their players, and they decided to do nothing about it.

According to Mitchell, Gagne was caught in the ring spearheaded by former Mets trainer Kirk Radomski. The report states that Gagne used then-Dodgers teammate Paul LoDuca — also implicated in the document — to place orders with Radomski for HGH. The report also intimates that Gagne was injecting before his first contact with Radomski, in which he asked the trainer "how to get air out of a syringe."

The report includes a copy of a U.S. Post Office Express Mail receipt for a shipment sent from Radomski to Gagne, who allegedly paid nearly $10,000 for three shipments of HGH in 1999, Gagne’s rookie season. Needless to say, this allegation taints his amazing 2002-04 seasons, during which he set a Major League record with 84 consecutive save conversions.

More remarkable, however, is how easily this information apparently came to Epstein when he was considering the trade last July. Although the report only records Gagne’s alleged HGH use in 1999, Epstein’s scouts clearly believed he’d been using performance-enhancing drugs for much longer.

Some digging on Gagne and steroids IS the issue. Has had a checkered medical past throughout career including minor leagues. Lacks the poise and commitment to stay healthy, maintain body and re invent self. What made him a tenacious closer was the max effort plus stuff . . . Mentality without the plus weapons and without steroid help probably creates a large risk in bounce back durability and ability to throw average while allowing the changeup to play as it once did . . . Personally, durability (or lack of) will follow Gagne.

Needless to say, this makes what I’ve long maintained to be a "good trade with bad results" simply a bad trade. Epstein ignored the advice of his scouts and gambled three players (and somewhere around $6 million) that Gagne would pitch well despite not having "steroid help" outside of his comfort zone as a setup man with diminished skills — in an AL East pennant race, to boot. An awful gamble that ended predictably, considering the information Epstein had.

Yet this was not the only case cited by Mitchell of Epstein’s knowledge of his prospective acquisitions’ questionable history. Also of interest is Brendan Donnelly, accused by Mitchell of obtaining steroids through Radomski in 2004.

"In considering whether to trade for Donnelly in 2007," Mitchell writes, "Red Sox baseball operations personnel internally discussed concerns that Donnelly was using performance enhancing substances."

In an email to vice president of player personnel Ben Charington dated December 13, 2006, Zack Scott of the Red Sox baseball operations staff wrote of Donnelly: “He was a juice guy but his velocity hasn’t changed a lot over the years . . . If he was a juice guy, he could be a breakdown candidate.” Kyle Evans of the baseball operations staff agreed with these concerns, responding in an email that “I haven’t heard many good things about him, w[ith] significant steroid rumors.”

Donnelly was a lower-risk move, costing one marginal prospect in a trade with the Angels. Ultimately, of course, he did break down.

It’s unlikely these instances are unique to Theo Epstein or the Red Sox — although their inclusion does not reflect positively on the ballclub and might be a useful retort for those seeking to tar Mitchell with the bias brush. Indeed, the e-mails quoted seem to be just like any other evaluatory documents a GM receives from his scouts and assistants, except instead of conditioning concerns or fastball location, they’re discussing steroids. As such, these discussions likely have taken place in the front offices of every big-league club.

The question is why, with such rumors swirling around these players, did the teams acquire them anyway? Clearly, the answer lies in the much-ballyhooed list of names, which we’ve compiled here, complete with links to the players’ Baseball-Reference pages and relevant notes on who played for the Red Sox and Yankees.

Eighty-nine players were named at various times in Mitchell’s report, yet they mostly fall into just four categories:

  1. Players affiliated with Radomski
  2. Players affiliated with Yankees trainer Brian McNamee, who was a subdistributor of Radomski’s.
  3. Players accused of buying HGH online, generally affiliated with the Jason Grimsley affidavit.
  4. Players affiliated with BALCO.

Radomski and BALCO account for the vast majority of the players named in the report. Clearly, there must be many other rings involving many other players. Estimates that more than half of the big-leaguers in any given season during the Steroid Era were using performance enhancers seem less outlandish now.

It appears Epstein (and likely other GMs) made his decisions with steroids as simply one of many concerns about a given player. And it seems — especially considering other statements in which he’s stressed the importance of adding players that fit well in the clubhouse and do not carry personal baggage with them — he knew that fielding an "all-clean" team, so to speak, would have been impossible.

That’s not to excuse him or other general managers, all of whom are just as complicit as baseball’s owners and commissioners for allowing a sore to fester too long. But it speaks to just how widespread the problem is — perhaps much further than we truly expected.

So was it worth it? For the Red Sox in acquiring Eric Gagne, absolutely not. For Major League Baseball in finally grasping and publicly accepting the extent to which it had accepted a cancer into its sport, absolutely.

39 comments… add one
  • I don’t get the big deal YFs are trying to make about Gagne (and to a lesser extent, Donnelly). Theo evidently acquired them knowing they had possibly juiced in the past, but the scouts’ reports seemed premised on the assumption that they might drop off on the assumption they had stopped. At worst, it indicates that the Sox thought they had enough natural ability to still perform without assistance (an apparently unwarranted assumption).
    I do agree that the reports slightly illuminate the extent to which most clubs and scouts apparently have pretty good sources as to who takes what. That suggests mainly to me that Mitchell did a pretty limp job of sleuthing — if they can find out, why couldn’t he?
    Anyway, the Globe has some helpful capsule summaries of each player mentioned in the report. To me, the bigger revelation is how colossally clumsy, stupid or arrogant these players were about (not) concealing their usage.
    The average high schooler does a slicker job of hiding their stash of weed than these multimillionaire adults…

    Hudson December 13, 2007, 10:26 pm
  • It appears to me that Epstein and the Sox were more interested in Gagne’s steroid history and how that history might affect his health. There is nothing in this exchange that indicates that they might be concerned that he was still juicing, and decided to acquire him despite knowledge of current steroid use. This would be truly damning.
    In fact, this email was from the off-season, when the Sox determined that they would NOT offer Gagne the contract he was looking for. With a half a season of performance in Texas, they made a decision to take a shot with him, clearly judging that the suspected steroid use had not, in fact, compromised his health or his effectiveness.

    SF December 13, 2007, 10:27 pm
  • I’m pissed at Theo. I am.

    LocklandSF December 13, 2007, 10:35 pm
  • Well, thank god we know now:
    Sammy Sosa = Innocent!
    I’m really hoping Clemens takes this to court. Let’s see a NY or Texas civil jury side with a criminal without any concrete evidence (e.g., a positive test).

    Mike YF December 13, 2007, 10:37 pm
  • Mike, it won’t be his word against the criminal, they will tear every part of Roger’s life apart and put it on stage, a national stage.
    Civil or criminal, none of them will make a peep.

    LocklandSF December 13, 2007, 10:40 pm
  • Mike, it won’t be his word against the criminal, they will tear every part of Roger’s life apart and put it on stage, a national stage.
    Civil or criminal, none of them will make a peep.

    LocklandSF December 13, 2007, 10:41 pm
  • Hudson where are YF’s making a big deal about Gagne and Donnely?
    Any “big deal” about these guys pales in comparison to “big deals” made about many of the other players involved in this scandal.
    Most of the comments regarding this were in line with the post that Paul just wrote. I see them as evidence of the front offices (all of them) being complicit in these problems. I think the report was value in providing examples of how the problem manifested itself but was problematic in its incompleteness. That said I do understand that it is more or less impossible to have a complete report on this topic for all of the obvious reasons.

    sam-YF December 13, 2007, 10:53 pm
  • I think this shows where the naming of names is useful — moreso than the same information with redactions. Would we get the same feel for the breadth of the problem otherwise? I don’t think so. The names range from sure-fire Hall of Famers to guys who barely made it for one or two seasons. I guess you could try to just explain that “Player X is a sure-fire Hall of Famer,” but that loses its punch. The names play an important role in providing speicificity to a broad problem.
    Gagne isn’t really a “big deal” in the ways I would consider a name a “big deal” — major player on a Sox championship team. But I’d consider him one of the four or five most significant previously unknown names on the list, with Clemens, Roberts, Tejada and Pettitte, but that’s because of his performance with the Dodgers, not the Red Sox.
    I guess we should all be glad he sucked for the Sox, huh?

    Paul SF December 13, 2007, 11:24 pm
  • I’m still pissed at Theo for doing the deal when he knew he was on the juice.
    Once a cheater, always a cheater.

    LocklandSF December 13, 2007, 11:31 pm
  • The rule of thumb is; for every one caught there are 9 others not.
    That said, baseball either has to totally discount the “‘roid years”, removing them from the books, or Bonds must be set free.
    Also; since the list does not include Posada, Sosa, others, and the whole 2001 diamondbacks team, it is pathetically incomplete.

    RS Fanbase December 13, 2007, 11:35 pm
  • A dissenting position on the issue of steroids in the MLB:
    Some say this is an integrity issue, whereby time-honored comparisons of say, powerhitters, is compromised. I suspect some of them would also say that one cannot easily compare the Dead Ball Era, with the Desegregation Era or the Era of League Expansion, or others. Is this not clear hipocrisy?
    Still others think that the permissiveness of Pro Leagues over this issue is largely to blame for the epidemic of steroid use in college and high school athletics. I think it has less to do with Cult of Personality or hero worship and more to do with peer pressure, acceptance issues and other broader pressures from a Cult of Youth common to most human societies.
    My point is that steroids are here and they are not going away. Banning steroids won’t make them disappear and placing blame is pointless to the less fundamentally inclined fan.
    I agree that there must be a solution to the problems caused by an underground drug phenomena that is plagued by unsupervised dosing, lack of medical monitoring and biochemistry crapshoots. Kids are compromising their health and grown men are dying young through abuse.
    We need a solution. Maybe the millionaires, soon to be billionaires of the frivolous world of professional sports can lead the way by employing the best chemists and doctors. This won’t avert individual tragedies from happening, but a least there will be a net gain of data. And as much as I know that my position is no consolation to any parent of a dead teenager, or of young child of a dead major leaguer, to the macro side of me, this is just another wrinkle in the Human Story.
    I’m more interested in where the Era of Bio-Tweaking takes us next rather than misplaced sentimentality or alarmism.

    spokemot December 13, 2007, 11:42 pm
  • I’m somewhat pissed at Theo too. He knew Gagne was HEAVILY suspected of using steroids, and yet he traded for him anyways. Before this thte trade was defendable (since we NEEDED bullpen help); now it’s inexcusable.
    Why Theo, why? It’s a good thing we won the World Series this year, or you’d have a lot to answer for.

    Atheose December 14, 2007, 12:10 am
  • RS fanbase dont you have somewhere else you can go troll? Mentioning Posada and Sosa in the same sentence about steroids is just inflammatory.

    sam-YF December 14, 2007, 12:34 am
  • I agree Sam. RSF, where are you getting your Posada info from?

    LocklandSF December 14, 2007, 12:40 am
  • It is an opinion, and that is mine. Blogs are the home for opinions.
    If Posada is clean I am a monkey’s uncle.

    RS Fanbase December 14, 2007, 1:28 am
  • This blog is for responsible opinions, RSF. Smearing players with absolutely nothing but your own suspicions to back it up is irresponsible and not advisable — the pre-report speculation being a one-time exception.

    Paul SF December 14, 2007, 1:49 am
  • I am a bit surprised over the reaction here. Theo Epstein is a major league GM. HIs job is to evaluate players. HIs job is to assess risk and reward. We, as fans, speculate about who did/who didn’t do steroids. So why should it be surprising that a man in charge of player acquisition for a ML franchise would do the same? Why should it be surprising that a GM would acquire a player suspected of past steroid use, if he felt the risk of acquisition was higher than the risk associated with that past steroid use? Epstein didn’t knowingly acquire a drug addict. He acquired a player who was suspected of past use, and he acquired him after he saw performance that may have shown his own scout’s opinion about the lingering effects of suspected past drug use to have been somewhat incorrect.
    Has Theo ever said “I won’t acquire a guy suspected of having done steroids in the past, just on principle”? If he did, then he’s a hypocrite, that is for sure. But I doubt he would ever make such a small-minded claim, particularly in the context of the business in which he is so powerful.

    SF December 14, 2007, 6:30 am
  • Yeah, I don’t think he had much choice. Fielding a team devoid of steroid users is likely impossible, and he probably came to grips with that some time ago.
    It does help that Gagne performed well between the time of the email and the time of the trade — and I still maintain Gagne was a victim of some incredibly poor luck during his stint in Boston — but clearly the scout knew what he was talking about.

    Paul SF December 14, 2007, 8:10 am
  • I dont disagree that Theo and other GMs did nothing wrong by putting the best team on the field that they could. The thing that these quotes from within the sox and giants organization illustrates to me is how complicit the teams were with the issue of taking PEDs. Sure, in Gagne’s case they were talking about prior use and its effect but it really isnt much of a stretch to see GMs signing a player who is a known user. The scouting reports discussed in the report indicate that scouts had a good idea as to at least some of the players who were users. Id be surprised if there is a single team in baseball that had a solid policy of avoiding players they suspected. To me this should be the source of outrage, not necessarily the specifics of the Gagne trade.
    PS-Read the section on what the Giants knew about Bonds and when.

    sam-YF December 14, 2007, 8:21 am
  • The thing that these quotes from within the sox and giants organization illustrates to me is how complicit the teams were with the issue of taking PEDs.
    I am not trying to defend the Sox with this statement, but the Giants’ excerpts relate to a serial enabling of the steroid problem, while the Sox’ exchange pretty clearly articulates a knowledge that there had been probable use and a pretty cold and calculating look at the risks involved with players who may have used. I don’t see them as the same at all.

    SF December 14, 2007, 8:40 am
  • But SF would you argue that the Sox are likely to be any less enabling than the Giants or any other team? The quotes in the report are from 2006, but their knowledge then certainly suggests to me that would have known about PED use earlier too.
    Also, its interesting that the Giants trainers seem to be the ones responsible for starting the BALCO probe. So while the front office may have enabled, at least one of the trainers on that team seemed to have done the right thing.

    sam-YF December 14, 2007, 8:59 am
  • But how do you know that that’s the case, SF? If anything, this report demonstrates how prevalent this problem was *everywhere*. The Giants might have gotten caught with their pants down (literally), but that doesn’t mean every other FO wasn’t just as enabling. All it means is that they didn’t leave a trail to follow, or that it wasn’t followed diligently enough (which hopefully wasn’t the case and I’m not saying it was). Just like the NY teams got hit the hardest because Mitchell’s informants were mostly based in NY.
    That’s exactly the problem with the report, and with the naming of names. It makes it look like there are culprits and innocents. As far as I’m concerned, there ARE no innocents in this. The FOs knew about the problem and closed their eyes to it. That’s my opinion and I doubt that anything they say in their defense will change it. Rather than coming up with phony excuses, it would behoove them to simply own up and apologize, because that’s really the only way we can truly move forward from here.

    yankeemonkey December 14, 2007, 9:04 am
  • I am only discussing the quotes as cited by Mitchell. The quote from the Sox isn’t really all that damning to me.
    As for whether front offices in general are culpable for enabling or turning the other way despite suspicions and knowledge? Without a doubt. I just don’t see how this exchange from Epstein shows that at all. Epstein clearly has his suspicions and wants to know what the risk is of past use on future performance. That’s nothing shocking or irresponsible, in fact.
    For example, the Royals just signed Jose Guillen, despite known past involvement with PEDs. They signed him after the public disclosure of his past purchase of thousands of dollars of HGH and steroids. But if he isn’t using now (and that lack of use can be tested for and proven, hypothetically, if not completely accurately), isn’t it up to the team to decide if the risk is worth it?
    Another question, not easily answered: should all teams shun any player they suspected of prior steroid use on moral grounds? That’s the bar that is being set with Gagne here, to some extent. If the Sox suspected Gagne of current, ongoing steroid use and STILL acquired him then I would be sickened. But what about past, suspected use? Can teams take that kind of moral stance? Is that really plausible considering the extent of historical usage?

    SF December 14, 2007, 9:22 am
  • If it was even possible anymore, with Mtichell’s report, A-Rod’s stock bmped up a couple more ticks…like the uber-glorification of Cal during the start of the steroids mess, those players who break the big records without ever having their names linked to PEDs (and yes, I know we are a long way from A-Rod NEVER being linked…I am just talking about so far) will be fetted and deified even more.

    IronHorse (yf) December 14, 2007, 9:26 am
  • During yesterday’s Fox Business Network’s “Happy Hour,” Jose Canseco had an observation concerning a current, very prominent Yankee. When asked whether Alex Rodriguez should have been mentioned in the Mitchell Report, Canseco responded: “All I can say is the Mitchell Report is incomplete. I could not believe that his name was not in the report.”
    Here you go, IH…

    SF December 14, 2007, 9:29 am
  • Ah yes, two of my favorite sources for non-sensationalized non-self-serving “news”: Fox News and Jose Canseco.
    OK, being serious now, from what I have heard, Jose turns out to be right so far on pretty much everything else he has said so I would not be shocked if A-Rod does get outed.
    At the same time, I will put more stock in the documented Mitchell Report than in random interviews for the time being.

    IronHorse (yf) December 14, 2007, 9:35 am
  • If there truly was something to link ARod to PEDs, don’t you think it would’ve come out by now? After all, the man has an incredible gift for attracting all sorts of media attention and is so hated by so many…And if Canseco had dirt on Alex, he probably would’ve spilled by now. Of course he’s supposedly working on another book, so maybe he’s saving some bullets for that, but somehow I doubt it.
    Which is not to say that ARod is clean, of course. Just that there hasn’t been *any* proof to the contrary so far.

    yankeemonkey December 14, 2007, 9:39 am
  • If there truly was something to link ARod to PEDs, don’t you think it would’ve come out by now?
    Not necessarily. Liked or not, Major League baseball is a pretty clubby atmosphere. How many guys openly talked about Clemens before yesterday? How many players went on the record for Mitchell? These guys protect their own, that should be pretty darn clear, no?

    SF December 14, 2007, 9:42 am
  • And by “these guys” I mean the media, Ownership, fellow players. There was a lot of protection all over the place, clearly.

    SF December 14, 2007, 9:43 am
  • ym,
    Well I did hear that he got injected with something in the butt in a Toronto hotel room this past season, but I don’t think it was PEDs.
    OK, that was so far out of bounds, I deserve to be shunned…sorry to all – I have no self-control.

    IronHorse (yf) December 14, 2007, 9:44 am
  • That’s very, very true, SF. I just don’t think ARod would’ve been as protected as some of the others, because a lot of the other players seem to dislike him intensely…*shrug* Besides, even though no one spoke openly, there have been rumors floating about Clemens. There haven’t been about ARod, aside from Canseco’s little intimations here and there.

    yankeemonkey December 14, 2007, 9:46 am
  • IH,
    THAT was uncalled for!

    yankeemonkey December 14, 2007, 9:47 am
  • Canseco has found that the only way for him to be relevant is to make headlines. Calling A-Rod a PED user is the best way to do this now. Canseco never played on a team with A-Rod and I cant see why he would have any first had knowledge of him. The only way Canseco knew how to succeed was through steroids so he puts this framework on other players who are successful. He didnt even mention A-Rod in his first book. Suddenly, he has more knowledge on the games most prominent player?
    I think this underlies the problems with this whole PED issue. It just takes one person to make an accusation to cast suspicion. Jose hasnt offered any proof whatsoever but now there will be people who say A-Rod is a user.

    sam-YF December 14, 2007, 9:49 am
  • It does seem odd that Jose did not bring up A-Rod in his first book. But perhaps he knew he was going to make a series a la Harry Potter. The man is a publishing genius!
    ” An awful gamble that ended predictably, considering the information Epstein had.”
    I wanted to disagree somewhat with a point Paul makes about this being a bad trade at the time. We should recognize that Theo probably had a larger scouting report and more data about Gagne than just this. After all, Gagne was doing very well in Texas. Moreover, it’s very possible that there have been similar scouting reports about other players on the Sox (or any other team) who have actually done well for the team. It’s a risk obviously to trade for any player with Gagne’s profile, but it’s not necessarily an unreasonable risk.

    Nick-YF December 14, 2007, 9:56 am
  • IronHorse, that was freaking funny.

    DUFF December 14, 2007, 10:11 am
  • I think the risks were significantly heightened, Nick — far higher than what we as fans knew. And we did know that Gagne hadn’t looked as good in the weeks before the trade. That wasn’t much of a concern to me at the time, but surely Epstein — knowing Gagne was a former user — could have (should have?) seen that as the beginning of trouble as Gagne ran out of gas without the juice to help him out.
    Anyway, it’s a bit tangential to my overall point, which is the degree to which front offices apparently considered steroid use in making their decisions.
    And while Theo may not look good, at least he’s not Brian Sabean. Wow.

    Paul SF December 14, 2007, 11:04 am
  • Simple answer to Paul’s question:
    YES! Everything that happened to the Sox this year contributed to the end result, a world championship. Did Gagne sucking lead to an extremely overworked Okajima who then had to rest so he was ready for the post-season? We’ll never know, and I will probably never care. We won. End of story.
    ;-)

    SF December 14, 2007, 11:15 am
  • So here’s a question:
    Can Brian Sabean be fired on the grounds of what’s come out in the report? I have no idea what the labor laws are concerning termination of GMs in baseball, but could this be considered unlawful termination that he could contest in arbitration? I’m genuinely curious.

    yankeemonkey December 14, 2007, 11:36 am
  • Just because they aren’t listed doesn’t mean they’re clean. these are only the players they could nab through those specific trainers. We have no idea if there were other “trainers” (can we just go ahead and call them what they really are, which is DEALERS?) supplying other clubhouses. So I don’t think any of the teams are completely out of the woods yet. other trainers may come forward.
    Also, speaking as a student of the law, some of this testimony was either a) obtained in exchange for immunity/light sentencing or b) uncorroborated heresay. everyone in the legal community knows that testimony that is exchanged for immunity is inherently tainted. So I think the entire report is a gray area and probably would not hold up in court.
    Finally, I’m going on a soapbox here: I won’t stop watching baseball and being amazed at the feats that are accomplished. you see this of “MVPs and All-Stars”, but what you do not see are the players who are not named but still accomplish great things every day, on every team – Derek Jeter. David Eckstein. Johan Santana. Ichiro Suzuki. Matt Holliday. Dustin Pedroia. David Wright. Dan Haren. Magglio Ordonez. Robinson Cano. Jake Peavy. Brandon Webb. Grady Sizemore. think of what we ask them to do every day. I’m not excusing their actions but we ROOT for them to accomplish these things and break records. We ask them to be superhuman, and when they aren’t, we boo them (A-Rod in the playoffs anyone?) true, we didn’t stick needles in their bums, but we also give them standing O’s when they hit homeruns, and we boo them off the field when they can’t make it through the 3rd inning.
    honestly, it doesn’t make a sh-t of a difference to me. I would dislike Barry Bonds even if he didn’t do steroids. I still think Brian Roberts is a great player, even if he took a couple of injections (ALLEGEDLY). But I think what is out of control here is the people that hold up pro athletes as heroes or as role models. I think it’s really F-ed that we are relying on them to be some sort of moral compass, and when they F up, we feel like they’ve let us down. they give us what we want – which is an exciting game in which they do amazing things. nobody makes us pay for the tickets, or the t-shirts, or the merchandise. we do it willingly. if you’re looking for these guys to babysit your kids or be the father figure they’ve never had, well maybe that’s your fault for not giving them a better role model in their real lives.

    Lyndsay December 14, 2007, 3:13 pm

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