ESPN The Magazine’s Buster Olney interviews San Diego GM Kevin Towers in the latest issue of the glossy ; the Padres exec comes clean about the extent of his knowledge of the late Ken Caminiti’s steriod use. Though this isn’t as flashy a headline as Bonds, Giambi or Sheffield’s grand jury testimony, it oughta be. We already know that Caminiti was juiced. But for the first time, a management figure pretty much confirms one of Jose Canseco’s main points — baseball knew were the power surge was coming from, and did nothing to stop it.
“I feel somewhat guilty, because I felt like I knew,” Towers says, watching the Padres take batting practice from the balcony outside his spring-training office in suburban Phoenix. “I still don’t know for sure, but Cammy came out and said that he used steroids, and I suspected. Selfishly, the guy was putting up numbers, and I didn’t do anything about it. That’s just the truth.”
Baseball needs a lot of honesty right now. It needs a lot of people to ask themselves questions and answer honestly, as Towers is.
“The truth is, we’re in a competitive business,” Towers says, “and these guys were putting up big numbers and helping your ballclub win games. You tended to turn your head on things. And it really wakes you up when someone you admire as a person is no longer around. You can’t help but think, could I have done something differently four or five years ago that might have changed what happened to him?
“I hate to be the one voice for the other 29 GMs, but I’d have to imagine that all of them, at one point or other, had reason to think that a player on their ballclub was probably using, based on body changes and things that happened over the winter.”
The Padres were a baseball laughingstock after their 1993 fire sale, and before the 1995 season, they traded for Caminiti in an 11-player deal. Tony Gwynn was the face of the team, but Caminiti gave them an identity, playing hard every day, diving in the dirt at third base and throwing out runners while sitting on his backside.
He played sick, he played hurt, he was the MVP in 1996, and the Padres won a division championship, revitalizing a dormant franchise. And he was on steroids.
“We went through a real difficult time in 1994, with the strike,” Towers says. “Then some amazing things happened. Home runs were up. Fans were flocking to ballparks, lining up to watch batting practice. But we all realized that there were things going on within the game that were affecting the integrity of the game. I think we all knew it, but we didn’t say anything about it.”
(Kevin letting the young Matt Bush know that San Diego will not tolerate any further lawbreaking)
Towers believes money was not Caminiti’s motivation for taking steroids. Rather, he thinks Caminiti only wanted to find a way to play every day, through a 90 percent tear of his throwing shoulder, through injuries that plagued him. Steroids helped him recover from day to day. But during the 1998 season, Caminiti’s last with the team, Towers saw the relentless and powerful third baseman crumble, sometimes falling down during his swing.
“He could hardly stay on his feet,” Towers says. “It just got to the point where his body couldn’t handle it anymore. He was broke physically, and broke mentally.
“I feel as GM I probably get to know these guys better than my own family. And as a young GM, what Cammy did not only for the organization, but for my career … If he’s not there, not only am I not wearing a ring, who knows if I’m still a general manager? Those were three of the best years we ever had.”
Towers was stunned by Caminiti’s regression. “I thought, wow, here’s a player I care about, like he’s part of my family. I knew he had a problem. But I never did anything about it, because selfishly, it helped the organization and helped me.”