TEMPE, Ariz. – They didn't ask.
It was 9:30 a.m., and out of Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia's office slogged general manager Bill Stoneman, owner Arte Moreno and the man who the three had collectively agreed was worth $50 million, Gary Matthews Jr. They had spent 15 minutes inside with the door closed, and while it's safe to say they weren't talking about knitting, they also claimed not to have posed to Matthews the question that the baseball world would like answered.
Did you use human growth hormone?
"I don't think it's our position to do that right now," Moreno said, and it makes you wonder what, exactly, $50 million entitles you to anymore. "I think that bridge is going to come eventually. But as a whole, I think it's more important for him to come to us and explain what's going on."
Maybe Moreno just doesn't want to hear an affirmative answer, which is looking likelier as more information funnels out from the raids of Internet pharmacies in Florida and Alabama that are accused of illegally selling hGH and other performance-enhancing drugs. First came the Albany Times-Union report that Matthews' name appeared on a client list of a busted pharmacy, and Wednesday, a few hours after the meeting, Sports Illustrated reported that Matthews allegedly received Genotropin – one of a half-dozen brands of hGH – in August 2004.
Baseball's new reality – performance-enhancing drugs are not going away, no matter what Major League Baseball or doping doctors try – puts owners such as Moreno in particularly hairy situations. Revenue is up. Players want their cut. Owners toss money around like Pacman Jones. They enable one another with the facade of cleanliness.
Until, of course, someone gets caught. So long as steroids are stigmatized by those with the loudest voices – congressmen, media members and outspoken players willing to break the game's omerta – they will bring more attention to baseball than its many goods.
The owners get suckered into long-term deals with players they might meet for a day or two and otherwise know nothing about aside from their batting average or earned-run average. They are also complicit in the operation, waving off the kind of due diligence they would apply in any other business setting, happy to surf the sycophantic wave.
Someone did ask Matthews whether he used performance-enhancing drugs, and this was his answer: "I haven't read the story myself and I don't have all the information. Until I get more information, that's going to be my position."
He didn't say no.
Matthews talked about a story, a clever way to deflect the focus off the real issue, which is that his name came up in a New York state grand jury investigation that could mushroom into BALCO '07.
All of the usual talking points came out. He asked three times for people to "respect my position," which was that he would talk at the "appropriate time," that he did not "want to be a distraction" and – this was the best, repeated five times – that he needed "more information."
Like what, an injection schedule?
There might be a perfectly good explanation for Matthews needing hGH. He might have dangerously low testosterone levels. Thirty-two-year-old men generally don't, and Matthews wasn't even 30 when he allegedly received the shipment Sports Illustrated cited. Perhaps he wanted to heal an injury quicker. Still, the more prevalent hGH gets, the more this will become an issue, the idea that if used in moderation it is not so much a performance-enhancing drug as a performance-enabling one.
Nothing with steroids is simple, and Moreno now understands that first-hand. Matthews was the Angels' bonanza signing of the offseason, set to play center field for the next five years after the best one of his career. And now Moreno is left to second-guess himself, wondering whether he would ever sign someone – let alone commit $50 million to him – knowing that he'd taken performance-enhancing drugs.
"That's a real hard question," Moreno said. "Just because some people make mistakes. It's too general a question for me to say. Some people might have tried something when they were in high school or played college football and tried something and felt they made a mistake. And there are other people who continually use them because they believe to compete at a certain level they have to use."
Hmmm. Three teams waived Matthews. Two more traded him. Another released him. He had bounced around his entire career, never achieving the success of his father, a Rookie of the Year, an NLCS MVP, an All-Star. He needed … something.
Sounds like the blueprint.
When Matthews first walked into Scioscia's office, Moreno said, he apologized for causing such a distraction on the eve of the Angels' first spring-training game. And Moreno seemed to accept it, noting afterward how Matthews looked him in the eye and shook his hand.
"I like to be proactive and make sure we communicate well," Moreno said, "and just stress that the communication was the most important thing here."
Yet the real communication – Matthews' story, naked and detailed – may never emerge.
And Arte Moreno, victim and conspirator along with the rest of his brethren, will be left to wonder when the truth became so expensive.
- Arte Moreno