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The . . . Kingman Conspiracy?!?!?!
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
May 23, 2009
Five years after rocking the baseball world with The Bagwell Conspiracy, a new bomb in the steroid scandal has been dropped. Only this time, I can’t take the credit. The credit belongs to baseball fan, aspiring screen writer, and stand-up comedian Brandin Augustine (his friends call him Jason).
The bomb dropping came in the form of a simple, seemingly innocuous email to your’s truly:
Great article but I was wondering if anyone pointed this out to take it a step further back to 1990 and 1991:
1990 Cecil Fielder returns from playing a year in Japan , like Tony Gwynn, appears to have put on quite a bit of weight, at least 40 pounds. In that year, Fielder comes back and hits a staggering 51 home runs a career high. His previous high was in 1987 as a platoon player when he hit 18.
Should be noted that Fielder was a nimble utility man while with the Blue Jays before going to Japan, playing First, Second, Third, and Left Field.
In 1991 Mickey Tettleton AND Pete Incaviglia joined the Tigers. Tettleton the previous year with Baltimore hit only Baltimore hit only 15 but the following three years would consistently hit 30+ a season. Incaviglia at this point still uninvolved with it, but possiblly had knowledge of it then goes to Houston in 1992 and hooks up with Bagwell.
Just my thought and circumstance.”
After my initial urge to immediately dismiss such ideas (I mean, come on, I had slam dunked on Jeff Bagwell, and that case was signed, sealed, delivered) I paused. I noticed that something from Brandin/Jason’s email had, like everything else he’d said, gone in one ear but, unlike everything else, not yet gone out the other. Tony Gwynn.
One of the most startling revelations of the Bagwell Conspiracy had, in fact, been the revelation that a player with Tony Gwynn’s body-type could be on steroids. I realized that I had always assumed that Cecil Fielder couldn’t be on ‘roids because of his complete – apparently – lack of muscles. But if Tony could be on ‘roids, couldn’t Cecil?
Crazier things have happened. Just ask any middle infielder who, standing in against a Texas Rangers pitcher six years ago, suddenly noticed Alex Rodriguez looking straight at him mouthing the words “fastball, low and away.”
So, still skeptical but becoming intrigued, and running the risk of having my interest piqued, but convinced that my hopes could not be gotten up, I went to look at the 1990 Detroit Tigers. Two names jumped out at me right away – Mickey Tettleton and Tony Phillips. I didn’t know why, but they did.
Frankly, Cecil Fielder made all the sense in the world. I think nothing less than a Superman narrative suits Fielder’s story: 1986-1988 Cecil Fielder was a nerdy inept guy who can’t make it as a full time major leaguer. Then, in 1990, out of nowhere, Fielder suddenly appears out of nowhere and starts doing things that no mere mortal can do, seemingly out of nowhere. And, as we have learned in this era of baseball, when a player does things that the mere mortals around him can’t do, it usually means he was on the juice.
(And yes, in the Superman narrative, Fielder’s Blue Jays uniform would be his suit, derby, and glasses, and his Detroit Tigers uniform would be the blue tights, big red “S” and cape. Japan would be the phone booth. Steroids would be the figurative Planet Krypton. Wait, maybe steroids should be the phone booth and Japan should be Planet Krypton. Or maybe steroids should be kryptonite. Travis Fryman would be Jimmy Olson; Sparky Anderson would be Perry White; Roger Clemens would be Lex Luthor.)
If Brandin was right, perhaps it wasn’t Jeff Bagwell that gave steroids to Pete Incaviglia but rather Incaviglia who gave them to Bagwell. At that, I was willing to think maybe Fielder was the originator. But Brandin wasn’t willing to accept such a preposterous conclusion. Brandin was being cagey, but I could tell that something was telling him that this went back into the late 80's and the San Francisco/Oakland area with Jose Canseco, Jeffrey Leonard and Kevin Mitchell when he said,
“My continual thoughts are somehow tracing it back to the late 80's and the San Francisco/Oakland area with Canseco, Jeffrey Leonard and Kevin Mitchell.”
I was dumb-founded. The student was becoming the teacher, and I hadn’t even deigned to teach the student anything yet. But he had nailed it – there must be a connection between Fielder and the late 1980’s Bay Area. It made too much sense. Brandin and I each became suddenly and instantly enthralled in the chase, and we began to throw out ideas like Billy Crystal throwing out basketball players in Forget Paris:
Brandin: “Tony Phillips was on the Oakland A's in 1988 and 1989, next year 1990 on Detroit... Pointing all back to Canseco now? It explains Tettleton and possibly Incaviglia . . .”
Asher: “Tony Phillips. Like Fielder, he joined the Tigers in 1990. Hmmm. But I think you have to link to Fielder before 1990, obviously.”
Brandin: “George Bell between 85-87 hit 28, 31, and 47 respectively. Later went to the Cubs and Finished with the White Sox and was out of the game at 33 years old. Teammate of Cecil Fielder. Possible connection there?”
Asher: “I thought about George Bell - he and McGwire both had those amazing 1987 seasons. He was also traded from the Cubs to the White Sox for Sammy Sosa. But how do we link him to the Bay Area?”
The excitement was mounting. The tension was unbearable. The importance of our task was palpable. The imminence of our discovery was burdensome.
Then we found a major piece to the puzzle: Doug Blair. Not the end solution, but an important key – the missing link. He was on the 1986 Oakland Athletics with Jose Canseco and he was on the 1988 Toronto Blue Jays with Cecil Fielder. There it was – the link we’d needed. Not only did we get Cecil, now Mark McGwire (previously exculpated by the Bagwell Conspiracy) was nailed too. Plus, by linking the 1986 Athletics with the 1988 Blue Jays, you implicate Kelly Gruber (of course), Cecil Fielder, and Fred McGriff in one fell swoop, not to mention Lloyd Moseby who later played for the Tigers with Fielder.”
Kelly Gruber was so obvious it pained me that I didn’t get it sooner – 31 homeruns in 1990, out of baseball at the age of 32 in 1994. Fred McGriff made all the sense in the world, but we couldn’t catch him in the Bagwell Conspiracy because his best seasons happened before what we thought at the time was Jeff Bagwell’s introduction of steroids to baseball.
But we still had a problem on our hands – what to do about Kevin Mitchell. There was an implicit, unsaid thing between Brandin and I: this all comes from one person. As of yet, we did not have a link between Mitchell and the 1986 Athletics that sufficiently explained Mitchell’s 1989 season.
And then we had the moment that would forever change both of our lives, and perhaps the baseball world itself. It was when I discovered something that I had always thought without having known it (or perhaps always known without having thought it). Searching for a connection, any connection, between those 1986 Athletics and Kevin Mitchell, the words and thoughts were just out there, the stream of consciousness running like the mighty Mississippi at flood tide:
Brandin: “Mitchell hit 47 homeruns with the Giants in 1989 . . .”
Asher: “ . . . in 1986 he was playing for the Mets . . .”
Brandin: “ . . . the 1986 Mets also had Darryl Strawberry and Lenny Dykstra . . .”
Asher: “ . . . well, Dykstra has admitted to using steroids, hasn’t he? and Strawberry had steroid-esque power and a steroid-esque collapse, struggling with drugs, injuries, and cancer . . .”
Brandin: “ . . . so how do we get from the 1986 Mets to the 1986 Athletics . . .”
Asher: “. . . they would have had to have both had it before 1986 . . .”
Brandin: “. . . from a common source . . .”
Asher: “. . . so what do those two teams have in common . . .”
Brandin: “ . . . well, Strawberry was a rookie in 1983. He could have gotten the steroids then, and then given them to Mitchell and Dykstra in 1986 . . .”
Asher: “. . . So who could have given them to Strawberry in 1983 and also given them to Canseco and Blair in 1986?”
I’ve never been hit by a ton a bricks before, but now I know what it feels like. The whizzing sound that the ton makes as it sails through the air at you. The feel of the initial bricks cracking against your skin and bones, not from the impact with the body but from the impact of all the bricks coming behind the first ones. Right there, on the 1983 New York Mets, staring us straight in the face, was none other than King Kong himself.
All of a sudden, all roads led to Kingman. Who played with Canseco and McGwire when they were rookies. Kingman. Who played with Strawberry when he was a rookie? Kingman. It was Dave Kingman who had given steroids to Darryl Strawberry in 1983, who then gave them to Lenny Dykstra and Kevin Mitchell in 1986. Dykstra spread them around the Phillies leading up to 1993. Mitchell gave them to Matt Williams in the late 1980s. It was Dave Kingman who had given steroids to Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire in 1986, plus also probably Mickey Tettleton, Tony Phillips, and Doug Blair. Canseco would give them to the Texas Rangers years later, including Pudge Rodriguez, Kevin Brown, Ruben Sierra, Juan Gonzalez, and who knows who else. McGwire would get Jason Giambi, Matt Stairs, and John Jaha hooked years later.
And how about Howard Johnson? During the first five years of his career, his slugging percentage is in the .300s, and he hits a career high of 12 homeruns in 116 games in 1984. Then, he joins the Mets in 1985 and suddenly in 1987, he hits 36 homeruns, and averages 30 homeruns a season for five years. In 1991, he peaks, leading the NL in homeruns and RBI with 38/117. Then, in 1992, at the age of 31, he suddenly can’t stay healthy and can’t hit the ball. He’s out of baseball by 1995, and in his last four seasons he hits a combined 31 homeruns. If his career had happened a decade later, he’d be Ken Caminiti.
It was Doug Blair who brought steroids to the Blue Jays, including Fielder, McGriff, Gruber, and maybe even George Bell, who would have been trying to recapture the magic, and he’d gotten them from Dave Kingman.
The guy with the reputation for doing the least with the most was also responsible for starting the single biggest controversy in the history of professional sports. Not only was Dave Kingman one of the game’s most notorious power hitters, but apparently he is also the Kevin Bacon of baseball – everyone is connected to this guy.
And if Dave Kingman is the Kevin Bacon of baseball, then the 1986 Oakland Athletics are definitely the A Few Good Men of baseball teams. I mean, is there any difference between
. . . Albert Pujols played on the 2001 St. Louis Cardinals with Mark McGwire, who played on the 1986 Oakland Athletics with Dave Kingman . . .
Julia Roberts was in Flatliners with Kiefer Sutherland, who was in A Few Good Men with Kevin Bacon.
A Few Good Men had so many mega-stars in it – Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Jack Nicholson, Bacon, Sutherland, Kevin Pollack, J.T. Walsh. It also had Noah Wyle AND Cuba Gooding, Jr. in bit parts. Just like the 1986 Oakland A’s had Dave Kingman, Jose Canseco, Dave Stewart, Jose Rijo, Carney Lansford, Dusty Baker, Alfredo Griffin, and Mickey Tettleton, plus McGwire and Terry Steinbach in bit parts.
And, if the 1986 Oakland Athletics are the A Few Good Men of baseball, then that makes Tony LaRussa the Rob Reiner of baseball.
Wait a minute, I think I've strayed from the topic.
. . . Suddenly it all became so clear. Of course the most notoriously unproductive power hitter of all time was on steroids - could it have been any other way? He was useless without his power, and he had the power of a naturally gifted ball player without even remotely resembling one.
But now we have to ask ourselves, where does Six Degrees of Dave Kingman take us? Dave Kingman played with Darryl Strawberry, who played with Kevin Mitchell, who played with Matt Williams, who played with Randy Johnson in Arizona? Kingman played with McGwire, who played with Albert Pujols? We wanted answers. Are we now discovering the truth?
Man, I don't think I can handle the truth.
Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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