Starr says MLB trainers raised steroid problem in 1988
By Hal McCoy
Friday, December 14, 2007
Those who watched The Big Red Machine dominate baseball in the mid-1970s knew a small-statured guy who wore red pants and a white shirt with scissors strapped in a leather holster on his hip.
He was recognized by everybody when he ran onto the field — Larry Starr, team trainer for the Cincinnati Reds from 1972 to 1992.
Starr knows a thing or four about anabolic steroids. He has done three papers on the subject, has 800 pages of notes and is writing on the subject for his doctorate at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he is an assistant athletic director these days.
It was no surprise that George Mitchell and his investigators came calling during baseball's steroids investigation, and Starr cooperated. He gave no names, just information, during four meetings with Mitchell, three telephone calls and visits from two attorneys.
"They asked me the first time I thought I saw somebody doing steroids," said Starr. "I never ever saw anybody actually take them. But you'd have to live in Siberia to not know it was going on. The first player I saw was in 1984. Well, his body changed dramatically over the winter. He put on a lot of weight but was much leaner, and that's impossible to do naturally. He had acne. He had specific injuries. His power performance increased dramatically."
Starr refused to name names because he had no proof, but he's satisfied with the Mitchell report because he said there is documented proof with canceled checks and money orders. He said he had empirical evidence — the body changes of players, some on the 1997 Florida Marlins World Series champions — but he had no pure evidence.
"At least they are getting the message out, especially to young people who consider these guys role models," said Starr. "It is embarrassing to these players to be named, and I feel sorry for them, but they brought it upon themselves and should have better managed themselves."
What bothers Starr is that trainers for major-league teams tried to warn baseball as far back as 1988.
"During the winter meetings, we had the commissioner, baseball officials and players' union officials at our trainers and physicians meetings," said Starr. "We told them we had a problem and we needed testing. I still have the notes.
"The commissioner would say, 'Yes, we need testing, but the players' union won't let us.' And the players union would say, 'We agree that we need testing, but we're afraid the owners will use it against the players — punish them and cut their salaries and eliminate them from jobs.' So it went nowhere," said Starr.
Starr said although he is out of baseball now after serving as trainer for the Marlins for nine years, he feels guilty.
"Yes, I do feel guilty," he said. "Our job is to do no harm to the players. Our job is to protect the players from harm and put them at no risk."
He said he couldn't do that while with the Reds and Marlins because there was no testing, nowhere to turn.
"Players would come to me and ask, 'Can I do steroids?' What could I tell them? We needed to educate them. I'd talk to them, advise them. But they'd just go elsewhere," said Starr.
Starr said he remembers how players on other teams would leave the clubhouse to watch Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa take batting practice, "Because they all knew what they were doing and wanted to see the results."
Starr pointed out the change in home runs in the latest era — baseball had only three 50-homer seasons from 1962-94, but there have been 23 50-homer seasons in the past 13 years.
"To me, here is a big factor," Starr said. "If we had told them for sure before they took steroids that they would get kidney disease, liver disease and women's breasts when they were offered the needles, I'm not sure most guys would do it."
Starr agrees with Mitchell that players in the report should not be punished, that it is time to go forward and says, "I still love baseball. I'm out of the game so I can say things people still in it can't say. I do know the game is resilient and I don't think this is going to hurt it."
What Starr finds ironic is that baseball didn't react until Jose Canseco named names in his book, "Juiced".
"Of all the guys who you would least expect to have credibility? I mean, Jose Canseco? We all know what a piece of work he is with his steroid usage. But who's more credible? Who's more credible about alcohol than an alcoholic? All this is not pretty, but let's hope more positive comes out of it than negative."