According to Jeff Pearlman’s new book about Roger Clemens, The Rocket That Fell To Earth, former MLB catcher and Clemens foe, Mike Piazza, used steroids and admitted it to at least one unnamed reporter. The book traces Clemens life from being born in Dayton, Ohio, to becoming a Major League superstar and prominent player in the steroid era.
The portions about Piazza have received the most press leading up to the book’s release, March 24. Deadspin first published excerpts about Piazza.
As the hundreds of major league ballplayers who turned to performance-enhancing drugs throughout the 1990s did their absolute best to keep the media at arm's length, Piazza took the opposite approach. According to several sources, when the subject of performance enhancing was broached with reporters he especially trusted, Piazza fessed up. "Sure, I use," he told one. "But in limited doses, and not all that often." (Piazza has denied using performance-enhancing drugs, but there has always been speculation.) Whether or not it was Piazza's intent, the tactic was brilliant: By letting the media know, of the record, Piazza made the information that much harder to report. Writers saw his bulging muscles, his acne-covered back. They certainly heard the under-the-breath comments from other major league players, some who considered Piazza's success to be 100 percent chemically delivered.
At least two former Major League players, one being Reggie Jefferson (another was not named), were quoted as saying they were sure that Piazza used steroids.
"He's a guy who did it, and everybody knows it," says Reggie Jefferson, the longtime major league first baseman. "It's amazing how all these names, like Roger Clemens, are brought up, yet Mike Piazza goes untouched."
"There was nothing more obvious than Mike on steroids," says another major league veteran who played against Piazza for years. "Everyone talked about it, everyone knew it. Guys on my team, guys on the Mets. A lot of us came up playing against Mike, so we knew what he looked like back in the day. Frankly, he sucked on the field. Just sucked. After his body changed, he was entirely different. 'Power from nowhere,' we called it."
When asked, on a scale of 1 to 10, to grade the odds that Piazza had used performance enhancers, the player doesn't pause.
"A 12," he says. "Maybe a 13."
The media chatter about Piazza’s supposed steroid use started weeks ago.
On February 26, The New York Posts’ Joel Sherman wrote about how Piazza had always been suspected of steroid use. Sherman noted that at the time, people were "talking about certain physical quirks that raised suspicion, notably a back full of acne."
On March 4, former New York Times reporter, Murray Chass, noting Sherman’s article, wrote on his blog that he was also suspicious of Piazza. Chass said that he had even written a story about Piazza’s back acne but the Times wouldn’t publish it.
When steroids became a daily subject in newspaper articles I wanted to write about Piazza’s acne-covered back. I was prepared to describe it in disgusting living color. But two or three times my editors at The New York Times would not allow it. Piazza, they said, had never been accused of using steroids so I couldn’t write about it.
Chass claims that Piazza’s back acne had cleared up by 2004, the first year that MLB had a drug testing program that could lead to a suspension.
I don’t know if Sherman noticed Piazza’s back after the 2003 season. But it was clear in 2004 and ‘05, his last two seasons with the Mets, and it was clear when I talked to him during the last week of the 2007.
The back acne implication is flimsy but it has become part of the story, and it’s not the first time.
In the Jason Grimsley Affidavit, Grimsley said that Glenallen Hill, who was also named by Kirk Radomski in the Mitchell Report, "was very obvious and had the worst back acne he’d ever seen."
View Mike Piazza’s career statistics.