Eric Knott pitches against the Chicago White Sox during a spring training game in 2002. - Todd Warshaw/Getty Images
If you were asked to name the starting pitchers for the 2001 Diamondbacks, you'd be forgiven for forgetting about Eric Knott, who worked the last game of the regular season. But he played pro ball for 11 years, and has now written about it - and in particular, his experience with PEDs.
Knott;s sole start for the Diamondbacks admittedly was a kinda memorable outing, though perhaps not in a good way, as he allowed eight runs in a 15-5 loss to Milwaukee. What's even more remarkable is that all eight were unearned: allowing that man runs in a game, with none earned, is something done by just five NL pitchers since 1948. It would have been particularly cool if it had also been Knott's only start in the majors, but he spoiled that in 2003, with a spot outing for the Montreal Expos,
That was his final year as a major-leaguer, and Knott threw a total of just 24 innings there, though was a pro for over a decade, from 1997 through 2007. However, he has written a fascinating and extremely frank article for Baseball Prospectus, admitting his own use of amphetamines, his refusal to take steroids - and wondering whether his career might have been different if he had. It's something we've talked about before: to me, Knott is an example of a player perhaps most likely to be tempted to get that edge, with little to lose (especially in an era when the MLB test program was a union-disemboweled joke) and a major-league career to gain.
It's a dilemma Knott addresses. While he says his choice was a moral one - "Deep down, I didn’t want my father to think I cheated my way up the ladder to the big leagues. I wanted to do it the right way" - he admits now to wondering whether he made the right decision for his family. "Did other players take money away from me because they used and I didn’t? Would I still be scuffling now to make mortgage payments or put money away for my kids to go to college?" It's this, combined with an awareness that others are profiting by cheating and getting away with it, that seems a powerful incentive for players to use PEDs.
It's a very interesting piece, because it talks about use from the inside. From a Diamondbacks perspective, it's particularly so, because as well as playing for the 2001 Diamondbacks of course, Knott was our draft pick, so came up through the farm system. He first became aware of PEDs when with our High-A affiliate, the High Desert Mavericks, where team-mates included Brad Penny, John Patterson, Junior Spivey, and one of the men competing for a roster spot with Arizona this year, Rod Barajas. While he never gives specific names, there are little nuggets which will probably have you going through names in your mind to see if they match up with certain players:
For instance, he says he got his first amphetamine "from another starting pitcher who had obtained them from a Dominican veteran reliever on our team." We have the 1998 Mavericks roster. and there's only one Dominican pitcher listed, Martin Sanchez, who did appear in 35 games out of the bullpen. But he was hardly a "veteran", being more than two years younger than Knott. So, is Knott simply misremembering? Deliberately changing details to protect colleagues? Or should we be questioning the veracity of it all? We have no way of knowing. But it's worth bearing in mind when you read the the piece, that specifics can't necessarily be taken an absolute truth.
I might also have to take issue with Knott's explanation for why he had no problem using amphetamines on an almost daily basis (estimating he did for 60-70% of his Triple-A starts), but drew the line at taking steroids. He says, "I never considering taking greenies cheating to gain an edge. I looked at it as a way to get through a long season and offset some of the fatigue that arose from traveling, working odd hours, and playing 20-plus days in a row.." He does point out that they didn't increase his velocity or allow him to throw more innings, but listen to his description of the effects of those greenies:
I was more alert and more focused on getting the ball to the catcher. The pills locked me in. They gave me the ability to stay focused on the pitching and forget about the peripheral distractions around the ballpark. On greenies, I didn’t hear the chatter from the other dugout or notice what was going on in the seats during the game: my intensity was ramped up, and nothing could stop me from pitching my ass off that night.
Seems a fairly straightforward example of a performance-enhancing drug - albeit in the mental sense, rather than the physical one. But it seems to have been not an uncommon opinion, with them being a regular part of clubhouse culture: Knott details seeing coffee provided by a minor-league trainer, which was available with and without amphetamines. That echoes another Diamondback pitcher, the disgraced Jason Grimsley, who told federal authorities in 2006 that coffee pots there were was marked "leaded: or "unleaded", so players would know which would give them some extra pep.
That's in contrast to steroids, which Knott says, "weren’t discussed openly in the clubhouse. There was still a stigma about them that kept the talk about them among players under the table." He has no doubt that they did improve performance - "Pitchers were gaining velocity that they didn’t have and hitters with no pop started hitting balls out of the park with greater frequency" - and, while both sides were helped, their use caused more health problems for pitchers, because their joints and ligaments weren't able to cope with the increased stresses resulting from the additional muscles around them.
Particularly worth noting are Eric's recollections. the spring after that start for Arizona - when, I note, he was still with the D-backs organization, and appeared in six spring games.
I remember hanging out and discussing steroids in our spring training apartments before the 2002 season... We had all just watched Barry Bonds hit 73 homers the year before, and it was obvious that steroid use was rampant. I vividly remember players talking about what they took in the winter, how much weight they gained, and how much better they felt heading into the season. I remember wondering at that time whether I was foolish for not joining the party.
The steroid users looked great and were confident that it was their time to get to and stay in the big leagues... Players talked about their increased strength and size like a golfer would talk about a new set of clubs. They were tools they used to get better and gain an edge. I didn’t have any new toy to show off, and that bothered me. But it never bothered me enough to cross that line.
The rest is largely anecdotal, though you'll again find yourself trying and identify some of the players mentioned, such as the teammate who "showed some of us a chunk that was missing in his ass as a result of an infection he got after injecting steroids in the same spot for too long." Knott's career was hampered by injuries of one kind or another. There's a particularly harrowing tale of a burst appendix suffered in Mexico near the end of his career in 2007, which includes "a hospital that I never would have stepped foot in under other circumstances," an emergency room "with equipment that looked like it was from the 1950s," and getting his insides scrubbed out with a sponge.
What you take from this is a glimpse into the side of the game that's less often seen, from the perspective of a player who spent 11 years in the minors., for little more than a cup of coffee at the big-league level. It's more a grind than glamorous, and it's a great insight into the pressures players face, which can lead some of them to adopt methods to improve their performance.