For so many reasons, Ken Caminiti’s life shouldn’t be forgotten. After reading Dan Good’s Playing Through The Pain – Ken Caminiti and the Steroids Confession That Changed Baseball Forever, I gained a new perspective on the pressures professional athletes can face.
345 pages and 30 chapters of pure sports journalistic investigation. The good, the bad and the ugly of Caminiti’s 41 years on this Earth are respectively packaged.
What a career Caminiti forged - 15 MLB seasons with four clubs, $40 million-plus in earnings, three time all-star, three Rawlings Gold Glove Awards and the 1996 National League MVP. Throw in a Silver Slugger Award, and it wouldn’t take Einstein to figure out what a special ballplayer the native Californian was.
But all too often, the ending for superstar athletes of tragedy trumping triumph didn’t skip a beat with Caminiti.
On December 10, 2004, in the Bronx, New York, Kenneth Gene Caminiti died of a drug overdose.
Fielding third base predominately for the Houston Astros and San Diego Padres, swatting home runs and clubbing doubles with apparent ease, it’s the dark side of Caminiti’s baseball career that is the lead in any conversion about him today.
In his short life and even shorter career, heroin, cocaine, alcohol and mental health therapy, the 1984 Astros’ third-round draft pick experienced them all.
But using steroids regularly, including during his MVP season, played a major role in Caminiti’s ultimate demise.
I was surprised when speaking with Good this past week by phone from his New Jersey residence to learn that he is the first (and only) journalist to do a deep dive into the life and times of Caminiti.
So, why investigate this particular athlete?
"I was a baseball fan of the ’90s, and appreciated how he played through everything,“ says Good of Caminiti, a member of the Padres Hall of Fame. "He was a gritty player. When (Ken) came forward in 2002 and admitted that he used steroids, I went from fan to journalist.“
Good believed that Caminiti’s story deserved more attention. With free time while working overnight at The New York Post, Good began researching the former all-star.
After researching Caminiti’s life for a year, Good would then spend the next half dozen-plus years interviewing people who could add to an accurate story on the baseball great’s ebb and flow.
In 2020, Good reached a book deal with Abrams Press.
People connected to Caminiti’s college years at San Jose State University, his minor league seasons (especially Double-A in Columbus, Georgia), his steroid supplier Dave Moretti, and others familiar with his family all were researched by Good. His due diligence is as thorough as an annual physical with one’s personal physician.
"He (Caminiti) didn’t keep quiet about taking steroids. In fact, Ken helped others get steroids.“
In Playing Through The Pain,readers learn how Caminiti’s Astros teammates and buddies Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell tried to help their friend defeat his demons. There are other heroes, like his wife, Nancy. There was a collective love and support team working overtime to try and save Caminiti from himself.
"People I spoke with wanted to speak out on his [Caminiti's] behalf out of respect.“
Playing Through The Pain offers a rare inside look at a topic that shows no sign of disappearing anytime soon in MLB history. The steroid era produced many highlights and new individual records, but at great cost to some. Good zeroes in on a major player, during one time in baseball history, and gets one conclusion: what you see isn’t what you always get.