The name didn't sound familiar. And Dale Murphy is the type who remembers acquaintances, first names and last, so he was fairly certain he never met Kirk Radomski. He wishes he had.
Murphy would like to talk with the people at the center of the performance-enhancing-drug world and ask them: Is this necessary? His question would be simple because, to Murphy, handling steroids, human growth hormone and the other wares peddled – and for 10 years, Radomski admitted in a plea bargain with the federal government released Friday that he sold them to dozens of players throughout Major League Baseball – is a very simple issue.
Players who use illegal drugs are cheaters whose thirst for money and records and glory is ethically reprehensible.
"I wonder what would happen," said Murphy, the longtime Atlanta Braves star, "if we challenged people ethically?"
Well, he might get laughed at. Which is more than fine with him.
Otherwise, Murphy would not have started his new foundation, I Won't Cheat, which aspires to keep children from using performance-enhancing drugs. The name is blunt, the aim Pollyannaish. And still, sanguine as it sounds, it just might succeed. Because what is the decision to use performance-enhancing drugs – to flout the game's rules and risk your own integrity – if not an ethical one?
Nothing else seems to be working.
Drug testing didn't keep Jason Grimsley and Gary Matthews Jr. from allegedly receiving human growth hormone, and it didn't seem to hinder Radomski's business. The former New York Mets clubhouse attendant sold steroids, hGH, amphetamines and all kinds of other goodies from 1995 through December 2005, when authorities pinched him and flipped him like Sammy the Bull.
George Mitchell's MLB-sponsored investigation will only air what becomes more apparent with each hammer Jeff Novitzky and his team of IRS agents drop: Baseball players' familiarity with needles and pills extended far beyond doctors visits. Well, duh.
Toward the end of Murphy's 18-year career, hitters and pitchers with shoulders as broad as Yugos pranced through the clubhouse. Naïve, Murphy wondered how. Seeing as Murphy, a practicing Mormon, never drank, smoked or cursed, it's understandable to think players made a concerted effort to hide the game's underbelly from him.
Even if he did know of specific usage, Murphy, now 51, said he isn't certain how he would have handled it. On one hand, he preaches a one-strike policy for current players. Test positive, you're banned from the sport for good. On the other, Murphy would not have ratted out his teammates. Not because of the perceived code of silence among ballplayers, he said, but "how often, with the people you work with, do you call them out? It's just a matter of respect for each other."
What about his respect for the game?
"Back to ethics," Murphy said. "I guess we all have those choices to make."
Murphy's focus on those choices, plus the juice he brings as a two-time MVP and arguably the best player in baseball from 1982-87, opens doors. He has been invited to speak with the Clinton Global Initiative, a multibillion-dollar-funded problem-solving offshoot of the former president's foundation, and has discussed his goal for I Won't Cheat with representatives from MLB and the NBA.
"Help the kids," Murphy said. "I know how that sounds. I understand it might be a cliché. But it's true. They see guys making a lot of money and getting a Division I scholarship, and then they hear whispers that if only they had 20 more pounds or if only they could throw 94 or 95 instead of 90 or 91. Of course it's tempting.
"They're educated. They're Internet savvy. It doesn't take too many mouse clicks to get this stuff, and the temptation's there. We shouldn't want our kids to even ask themselves whether they need to do this to compete."
Murphy, who lives about 20 minutes south of Salt Lake City, put together a pamphlet decrying performance-enhancing-drug use and took it to the Utah High School Activities Association. It told him to print out another 60,000 for distribution to athletes around the state.
A 15- or 20-minute DVD is in production right now. He wants to maintain the balance between facts and entertainment so it keeps kids awake without coming off as preachy. Murphy plans on presenting it to four or five schools in Utah, then doing the same in Georgia and his home state of Oregon, before hitting up companies for national sponsorship that would allow Murphy to travel full-time with his message.
He wants "I won't cheat" to resonate like "Just say no."
Hey, it's worth a whirl. Murphy understands that this isn't just about baseball. It's about changing a culture, which usually takes more evolution than revolution. He's just one man – one long removed from baseball – who saw something he didn't like and resolved to do something about it.
Or at least to try.
"It's almost like we're protecting, as an industry, those who are cheating," Murphy said. "There's no disincentive to stop."
Not for those who froth at the money and the records and the glory. And for those who don't, performance-enhancing drugs still present a taxing do-or-don't decision. They are here to stay, no matter how severe the consequences. Some medical professionals claim hGH severely decreases the healing time of a broken broke – something team doctors and trainers try all the time – and the only thing standing between its veracity as a reputable method of treatment and its stigmatized state of present is a governmental rubber stamp. Others respond that it can cause severe long-term damage to a person's body.
Trying to argue what is legitimate makes for a discussion cloudier than bad iced tea. MLB doesn't have any answers. Neither does Murphy, at least not yet. He's beginning to understand, though, that ethics can define only so much.
When dealing with performance-enhancing drugs, even the most simple questions and simple issues get very complicated.
- Dale Murphy