By Barry Rozner
Daily Herald Sports Columnist
Posted Friday, March 17, 2006
It was funny, but not in a ha-ha kind of way. More like an odd kind of funny.
Last summer, former Cubs reliever Turk Wendell watched some suddenly shrunken musclemen withering away and out of the game of baseball.
“It was funny to see the guys who were on steroids and then got off them,’’ Wendell said via phone from Colorado. “You’re watching on TV and you see a guy hit a ball and you go, ‘That’s gone.’
“But the thing is, it used to be gone, and now it’s a routine flyball that the year before the guy hit 10 rows into the bleachers.
“There were a lot of guys like that. That was Sammy (Sosa) last year. How many homers did he hit with extra power in his body? Now, it’s on the warning track.’’
Wendell has no physical proof or evidence, but he says it didn’t take a summer of Sosa’s misery for Wendell to be convinced that Sosa and others, like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, enhanced their performance pharmaceutically.
“C’mon. Of course. There are so many guys who did and it’s all going to come out,’’ said Wendell, Sosa’s teammate on the Cubs from 1992-97.
“Here’s a guy (Sosa) who goes from 30 homers to 60 homers every year, and just as fast he’s out of baseball. Can’t get a job. How’s that work?
“Baseball people know this is going to get worse and nobody wants anything to do with the guys who were on the stuff.
“We would sit there in the clubhouse and laugh. How’s a guy gain 30 pounds of solid muscle in three months (over the winter)? It’s physically impossible without the juice.’’
Two years ago, Wendell was at the center of a firestorm when he said it was obvious that Bonds was on steroids, and Bonds shot back at Wendell.
“Everybody in Chicago knew what was going on, just like everybody in baseball knows about Bonds,’’ said Wendell, who retired a year ago after battling arm and elbow injuries. “The coaches knew. So did the managers and owners. How could they not know?
“Then, Jose Canseco comes out and says it and everybody rips him, and now everything he said was true. A lot more will come out about guys who nobody’s talking about yet, too.’’
When the BALCO scandal broke in February 2004, Wendell was quoted in Denver as saying, “Obviously, (Bonds) did it. (His trainer) admitted to giving steroids to baseball players. He just doesn’t want to say (Bonds’) name. You don’t have to. It’s clear just seeing his body.’’
Wendell says he didn’t know his conversation was on the record, but he never denied the remarks. Bonds, Wendell said, fired back, saying, “You got something to say, you come to my face and say it and we’ll deal with each other. Don’t talk through the media like you’re some tough guy.’’
Wendell said he has received a lot of calls seeking comment on Bonds in the past few weeks, but up until now he hasn’t responded. He says he doesn’t see it as vindication because he never meant to stir up things in the first place.
“I didn’t know it would be in the paper, so it wasn’t like I stood up on a soapbox and said, ‘I’m sick and tired of all this,’ but that’s how it came out,’’ Wendell said. “When it was done, I couldn’t do anything about it, but I really didn’t care.
“Nobody was mad at me except Bonds. I was surprised so many guys came up and said, ‘Dude, it’s about time someone had the guts to say it.’
“That’s not how it happened. It’s not how I intended it, but what’s done is done.’’
Months later, the two met by happenstance in a ballpark weight room, Wendell said, and Bonds cursed at Wendell and challenged him to come say it to his face.
So, Wendell said, he walked over to Bonds and said it again.
“I told him that it’s his problem, not mine, and that he’s the one who’s going to have to answer these questions every day for the rest of his life, not me,’’ Wendell said. “Everyone in the weight room got real close to us, but nothing happened. He didn’t really have anything to say, and I left.’’
Future is gray
Wendell takes no satisfaction in seeing Bonds suffer now, or for that matter seeing Sosa or McGwire called out by those who believe they cheated.
“They made a lot of money and hit a lot of home runs, but you can’t spend it if you’re dead,’’ said the 38-year-old Wendell, who is married with two children and living comfortably in Colorado.
“I could have gotten on the stuff and maybe played longer and made more money, but I want to live to see my kids go to college and get married.’’
Wendell, who spent 11 years in the big leagues, pitched in at least 65 games for six years in a row, four times more than 70 and once more than 80.
“Yeah, maybe my arm wouldn’t have all this shrapnel in it if I had taken the stuff, but look at all those offensive linemen from the ’70s and ’80s who have died in their early 50s. Is it worth it?’’ Wendell asked. “I had fun and made the most out of what God gave me, which wasn’t much. I’m a has-been. So what?
“There’s no asterisk next to my name that says he blew out his arm pitching in 80 games. But those guys, Sosa and McGwire, ought to have an asterisk next to 1998 and all those years.
“They won’t because they can’t. Baseball is stuck with it. They can’t fix the damage that’s been done. They can’t go back and take off all the earned runs that might have meant (a trip to) the minors (for a pitcher), or give back the MVP to Mike Greenwell, or give him his bonus that Canseco said should have been his.
“The shame of it is Bonds didn’t have to do it. He was already the best player in the world.’’
Wendell says this generation of players won’t be like those of the past.
“You still see Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto and Johnny Pesky around, but this era of players is going to be dying early,’’ Wendell said. “The stats don’t lie. The stuff will kill you.
“Who cares if you have unreal numbers? You need that bad to be ‘the man’ for a few years? Those guys will pay later.’’
More from Wendell about baseball’s dark side.
And finally …
Turk Wendell on facing hitters the last few years of his career: “They’re corking their bats and on steroids and amphetamines, and I’m hyped up on adrenaline trying to get superman out. The odds are stacked against you before you set foot on the mound.’’