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Baseball's HGH problem

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

Read the Grimsley affidavit

On April 20, the day after Jason Grimsley spent two hours telling federal investigators about the package of human growth hormone he received and his long history with performance-enhancing drugs, he pitched 4 1/3 shutout innings for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Just because Grimsley's name registers a lower Q rating than Barry Bonds' or Rafael Palmeiro's doesn't lessen the nuclear nature of the investigation by IRS agent Jeff Novitzky, the lead sleuth in the BALCO case and the hero of anti-doping advocates.

Grimsley sang like wind chimes in a hurricane. He implicated his distributor, who's certain to get a visit from Novitzky and Co. soon, and he fingered players, whose names, redacted for now on the affidavit, will eventually leak. He admitted to copious performance-enhancing drug use, ranging from growth hormone to steroids to prohormones to amphetamines, over the course of his 15-year career, which, incidentally, is probably over after the Diamondbacks released him Wednesday. He confessed to an idle chat last year with former Baltimore Orioles teammates about how baseball would react to the banning of amphetamines, talk corroborated during spring training when Grimsley suggested to the New York Times that baseball look into expanding rosters from 25 to 30.

The most damning slice of the affidavit was a single sentence that blew a hole through Major League Baseball's insistence that its performance-enhancing-drug-testing program catches users:

"Grimsley stated that since Major League Baseball began its drug testing for steroids and amphetamines, the only drug he has used is human growth hormone."

And there it is. Proof, in 25 words, that for all the progress made – and there has been plenty – baseball still faces perhaps its toughest question yet in the steroid scandal.

Just how far will it go to protect the integrity of its game?

In three years, baseball has gone from no steroid policy to the most stringent in sports, and still, fallibility and loopholes abound. Even though HGH is on its banned list, there is no urine test for it. The sport helped fund Don Catlin, the UCLA doctor who discovered the designer steroid THG, to develop one. Nothing yet. The World Anti-Doping Association is also trying, to no avail.

"The urine test is beyond what you and I can see now," said Gary Wadler, a WADA board member, "down the long trail."

I had called Wadler on Monday, before the Grimsley story broke, to talk about HGH. Generally, he is an optimist. When talking about growth hormone, he sounded defeated. He knows it's prevalent. The evidence crops up in players' muscle gain or unnaturally quick recoveries from injuries. For all of medical technology's wonders, Grimsley's return last July only 10 months after Tommy John surgery seemed astounding.

Wadler called on baseball to implement blood testing, something he's done for years and something the players' association opposes vehemently. Peeing in a cup is one thing; getting stuck with needles and having the samples frozen for future testing delves into the deep and moralistic issues of civil liberties, and returns us to the argument's crux.

How important is ridding the game of performance-enhancing drugs?

Currently, two types of blood tests are used to detect HGH. The more popular test, the one used at the Turin Olympics, isolates small proteins known as isoforms, which are slightly different in human-produced growth hormone than the synthetic version. The other looks for slight fingerprints in the blood, or markers, that indicate usage of synthetic growth hormone.

Neither is patently reliable.

Grimsley, 38, has been using performance enhancers for years. He admitted to being on the list of 83 players who tested positive in 2003, a list that, if ever released, would inflict further and deeper damage on a sport already carpet bombed with controversy. Grimsley told investigators he tested positive for 1-AD, or androstenediol, a prohormone similar to the androstenedione that Mark McGwire took the season he hit 70 home runs. Both substances are now banned.

To recover from shoulder surgery, he took Deca-Durabolin, a brand of nandrolone and a Jose Canseco favorite. He ingested Clenbuterol, a drug with similar effects to the banned dietary supplement ephedrine, which speeds up the heart. Grimsley told investigators he and others popped amphetamines "like aspirin."

Between 10 and 12 times, Grimsley said, he received HGH shipments similar to the one Novitzky confiscated from his home April 19. This particular kind was Serostin, a branded version of the drug somatropin.

One kit, filled with seven vials of powdered HGH and seven vials of sterile water to mix in, cost Grimsley $1,600. Two were delivered April 19. On bodybuilding message boards, users talk about their sources for HGH: citizens, many times AIDS patients, who are lawfully prescribed the drug.

Grimsley used his to enhance performance – by the looks of his 4.88 ERA this season and 4.77 ERA for his career, the results weren't exactly as intended – and as such the government raided his house in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Tuesday and for six hours searched for records that could tie him to a litany of charges: distribution of steroids, illegal possession of steroids, illegal receipt of HGH and money laundering.

Now Grimsley, anonymous but for crawling through a duct to steal Albert Belle's corked bat in Cleveland in 1994, is the latest pharmacological dabbler caught.

And baseball, again, is reeling.

The onus falls on the sport to act as a pioneer, even if it's at the end of the production-and-distribution cycle. If the most baseball can reasonably do is test, it must help fund other methods of choking off the supply. A few years ago, WADA tossed around the idea of attaching markers to drugs when they come out of the factory – adding detectable doses of a benign substance to a drug so it wouldn't change the chemical properties, for those who need it, but would show up in visible proportions in drug tests.

Though the FDA testing process for the new compounds would take a few years, drug companies, knowing their products are being abused and their names sullied, would likely be on board.

Other options are limited. HGH is the desert mirage of performance-enhancing drugs, showing up for a short while before vanishing without a trace. Two years ago, the United States Anti-Doping Association assembled a group of endocrinologists, hormone experts, laboratory scientists and sports testers for a town-hall meeting on HGH.

"We were locked up for two days," Wadler said. "And the bottom line is, the landscape hasn't changed. It's going to take a lot of years and a lot of money."

And a lot of commitment, too.

Commissioner Bud Selig and union leader Donald Fehr must decide whether that's the path they want to travel. The amount of wrangling it took to get the current policy – Capitol Hill hearings and back-room negotiating and public-relations haymakers – seemed worth the amount of credibility it bought. Until the latest hit, at least, which is the start of a slow and painful trickle from the Grimsley case. Pressure will mount for more action. Baseball will need to weigh its priorities in an unenviable yet inevitable decision.

The sanctity of the game or the privacy of its players?

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