Monthly Archives: November 2009



Donald Hooton and his son, Don, Jr., just returned from a trip to Arizona where they spoke to thousands of kids about the dangers of steroid and appearance-enhancing drug use.  The Hootons found out the hard way six years ago how steroids can wreck lives and families: Their son and brother Taylor, who was 16 at the time, committed suicide after crashing into depression after a cycle of steroids.  Taylor wanted to “get bigger,” in order to become a starting pitcher on his high school baseball team.  His parents had no idea that he was using drugs, and only found out after his funeral, when his teammates let on that steroid use was widespread.

Let’s not forget that 2003 was also the year that 104 MLB ballplayers tested positive for steroid use.  I kind of wish that some baseball players would talk to kids about the downside of “getting big” (or in the case of many young girls these days, using drugs to try to get “six-pack abs” or sleek muscles).  But the Hootons, who established the Taylor Hooton Foundation in Taylor’s memory, are doing a pretty good job of spreading the word.


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So we were standing in line in the Calgary airport a couple of years ago, right before spring training, and Joe turned to me and said, out of the blue and apropos of nothing, “Barry Bonds is terrible.”

“Excuse me?”

“Bonds is terrible,” he repeated.  “He shouldn’t play anymore.  He’s really terrible.”

I decided to challenge his logic with clever, Socratic queries.  “What do you mean, you crazy little dude?” I said.  “Didn’t Bonds hit, like forty-five homers last year?  Didn’t he break Aaron’s career record?”

“He hit twenty-eight!  You think that’s good?”

I know better than to dispute his numbers.  If Joe said that Barry Bonds hit twenty-eight for the Giants last year, then he hit twenty-eight.  When he wasn’t snowboarding in Canada, he was poring over 2007 statistics in The Sporting News, and his grasp of numbers is astounding.  He will often interrupt a meal by asking me if I know how many career doubles Stan Musial had, or what Ted Williams hit in 1946.  I never do know, but he does.  

Bonds took steroids!  He cheated!”

And there is that word again, steroids, that pops up nearly every time we talk baseball these days, but never popped up when I talked baseball with my dad, or he with his.  Joe has obviously been worrying about this; he’d like to know why Bonds was allowed to break Aaron’s hallowed record while on the juice, and I can’t answer him.

Personally, I would love to find out one day that Barry Bonds gained all of that muscle and bat speed through an uncannily successful regimen of weight-lifting and protein shakes.  I’d also love to find out one day that there really is an Easter Bunny, and he has evidence to prove that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  Bonds’ drug use was so obvious that my seven-year old knew it.  Joe, in fact, still believes in the Easter Bunny, but he doesn’t believe Barry Bonds.

“People think that Bonds took steroids,” I offered.  “He himself has said that he never did.  It hasn’t yet been proven that he took steroids.  Until it has been proven, we consider Barry Bonds to be innocent.”  In defending Barry Bonds, who has been the poster boy for steroid use in the major leagues for the last seven years and is perhaps the least likeable baseball superstar in the history of the game (Ty Cobb, rolling over in his grave, sighs with relief), I feel like a public defender who has been assigned the case of the guy who stabbed his mother-in-law thirty-two times at the wedding, with the knife from the cake in broad daylight in the middle of the reception, and I’m supposed to vigorously defend his innocence.

But who am I kidding?  Bonds was named in the Mitchell Report, and there have been whole books written about the Bay Area laboratory that supplied him with his PEDs.  Even my son knows and acknowledges this.

Joe gave me a piteous look, as if I was the biggest dope in both Canada and the U.S.  “Everybody knows that he took them,” he said scornfully.  “How could he say he never took them?”

I meekly offered that maybe Bonds didn’t know what he was taking.  Maybe he thought it was something else they were giving him.  Or maybe he just believed that it was okay to take them then. 

Joe didn’t buy it.  “Well, he shouldn’t play anymore,” he said, adding with a 7-year old’s absolute sense of right and wrong, “He’s a cheater.  As far as I’m concerned, the home-run record still belongs to Hank Aaron.”

Tell it to Bud Selig.

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“In many ways, I root for him,” wrote the NYT’s Doug Glanville about Alex Rodriguez after the World Series.  I have to say to my surprise that I feel the same way.  A-Rod not only has the greatest baseball skills of anyone around, and always has, but a confluence of life’s events also give him the chance to do some things off the field that no player has done.

To wit, that means really getting out front on the steroids issue and telling our kids, “This was wrong and you shouldn’t do it.”  Shouldn’t take drugs to play a game better; shouldn’t take risks with your health just to make a few more bucks; shouldn’t cheat to get ahead.  All of those things that we want to hear from ballplayers.

Why should A-Rod do this?  Because he has the greatest pedestal of anyone to do this.  And he seemed genuinely regretful of his brush with PEDs when he came clean with Peter Gammons (but only after his name was leaked from the list of 104 players who failed the 2003 drug test).  He has way more money than anyone needs, and so won’t jeopardize his playing career by commenting publicly on steroids; he certainly can’t be disliked by his fellow players any more than he already is.  And because I think he can find a great deal of personal redemption in being the player who comes out front on this issue.  That, as well as homers and run production, could be his lasting legacy to the game.

My reasons are partly selfish: I watched A-Rod play as a youngster in Seattle, and always thought he was a marvel.  He handled pressures that most players don’t have.  I wanted my son Joe to admire him, too, but Joe always was wary of A-Rod, even before the PED revelations emerged.  When it came out last spring that A-Rod had been named, Joe just looked at me and said, “I told you that he used steroids.”

Maybe now, after some new efforts by the Yankees’ third baseman, my kid can turn to me and say, “You know, I think he really means it and is really helping kids make good choices.”

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got milkSpeaking of Alex Rodriguez…

When school started this year, Joe came home and told me that there was a poster of A-Rod in his cafeteria.  His big forearms were flexed and he was wearing the milk moustache, urging kids to get bigger and stronger through milk.  “We both know that he didn’t get that big from just milk,” Joe laughed.  “He took steroids.”

And he’s only 9.  Think the steroids use by ballplayers doesn’t influence our kids?

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I was just looking for the PSA commercial about the statue of the athlete crumbling from drug use, and found this from a NYT article by Taylor Kepner from January 2008:

Now baseball is trying to stamp out steroid use and prove to the public that it is serious in its mission. Watching the Schmidt ad makes me wonder why no players have been used in anti-steroid advertisements.

Imagine the impact of David Wright or Alex Rodriguez staring into the camera and reading from Schmidt’s basic script: “I don’t need steroids. … If you’re into steroids, get off it. You’re living a lie.”

Well, maybe not A-Rod, come to think of it.

I’ve wondered the same thing, especially after the deal with the players union in March 2008 stipulated that players and the MLBPA get involved in drug-prevention outreach.  Since then, I’ve heard ONE RADIO SPOT of Derek Jeter talking vaguely about the influence of his parents on making right decisions, and virtually nothing else from players telling kids to not use drugs to become better ballplayers.

Am I wrong about this?  Has anyone else heard anything on the subject?  Going to ballparks with Joe these last two seasons, I’ve been struck by the sheer silence of the players on the steroids issue. Why aren’t they out there saying, “We’re clean, and we want you to know it?”

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Do you think baseball’s steroids scandal doesn’t affect our kids?  Check out this letter that my son Joe (now 9 years old) felt the need to write to Manny Ramirez when the Dodger slugger was suspended in May for violating baseball’s new drug policy.

Dear Manny Ramirez,

 Hi, my name is Joe.  I am 9 years old.  I live with my dad, my baby brother and my mom.  Why did you take drugs?  Manny, before you took drugs you were great.  You were one of the top players in the history of baseball.  Well anyway, bye.



Joe Gullo

 P.S.   I think you shouldn’t take drugs because they are bad for your body.  And they are cheating.  Bye.


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photo by Tom Goldman/NPR


Joe and I talked about this on NPR’s “All Things Considered” last spring.  Here’s the link:


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