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From the Far Side of the Foul Line
The Legacy of Ken Caminiti
by Asher B. Chancey
October 11, 2004
Some anonymous opposing player hits a hot smash down the third base line. From the instant the ball shoots off of the bat, the nimble Astrosí third baseman springs to action and in a blinding flash miraculously stabs the ball on one hop. His momentum carries him about five feet into foul territory, where he plants his right foot sharply, halting all motion in an instant, and fires a laser beam to first base, where he nails the runner by a step.
The Pythagorean Theorem tells us that the hypotenuse of a right triangle can be derived from the equation a2 + b2 = c2. Which means that the distance between third base and first base is a little more than 127 feet. However, whenever Ken Caminiti made the highlight reels in the 1990s, it was usually for making throws that carried well more than 127 feet. Every night it seemed Caminiti would make plays from the far side of the third baseline look routine, gunning out even the fastest runners with the cannon attached to his right shoulder. Caminiti was exciting.
Unfortunately, stardom in Major League Baseball in the 1990s required more than flashy defense. The 1990s were truly a long-ball era, and the days when a player could go out every day and flash his glove to be a star (see Ozzie Smith) were gone. We cannot say for sure how many major leaguers have used steroids; what we can say is that Caminiti used them. His own admission serves as proof enough.
Going into the 1994 season, Caminitiís career high home run total was 13. His career high OPS was .791. But 1994 marked a new era in Caminitiís career, as he hit 18 home runs in only 111 games in that strike-shortened season. In 1995 he hit 26 home runs and set a career high in nearly every offensive category. Then, in 1996 Ken Caminiti had his big year. He hit 40 home runs and drove in 130, scoring 106 times. His OPS topped 1.000. Caminiti won the 1996 National League MVP that year and sat on top of the world as he guided the San Diego Padres into the post-season before losing in the first round to the Cardinals. At the age of 33, Caminiti finally had the offensive skills to match his stellar defense.
But success would be short lived for Ken Caminiti. He continued to punish the ball, but his health became a constant issue. Caminiti would not play another full season, as injuries limited him to fewer than 500 at-bats in each of the next two seasons, and he failed to complete even half of a season in the two seasons after that. In 2001, Caminiti played in 118 games, hitting 15 home runs in 356 at-bats, but his skills had eroded. He hit just .228 that year with a .719 OPS. After 2001, Caminiti hung it up, no longer able to put together a full season at the age of 38.
Unfortunately, the last years of Caminitiís career were mired not only by injuries but also by his admission that he used steroids before his MVP 1996 season. His admission, along with that of Jose Canseco, cast a shadow of suspicion upon baseballís elite players in the 1990s, tainting the records set by Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds. To think Caminiti and Canseco are the only players who used steroids would be naÔve. However, their admissions and accusations of others have made them outcasts, while other players who have used steroids have continued their playing careers in a league that cannot afford to find out just how widespread its steroid problem has become.
Hopefully, from tragedy will come response and action by a league that has looked the other way for too long. Ken Caminiti died of a heart attack yesterday at the age of 41. Caminiti was less than a year older than Barry Bonds and younger than Roger Clemens, this yearís presumptive National League MVP and Cy Young Award winner. It was all too easy to ignore Ken Caminiti when he was simply a washed-up former major leaguer. His death should not be ignored so easily.
For many, Ken Caminitiís death may serve as a wake up call. Caminiti's death comes as more of an indictment of the excesses of sport generally rather than steroids alone, as Caminiti also had a cocaine habit. Maybe we will finally begin to deal seriously with steroid use and stop looking the other way as major leaguers continue to abuse their bodies in the name of the game. Ken Caminiti may become a symbol of an era gone by and a reminder of the dangers of steroid use as well as other illegal drugs for not only current major leaguers but for future major leaguers as well. Ken Caminiti will be remembered for his most significant contribution to baseball: awareness of a problem which now must be considered deadly.
Hopefully, whatever Caminitiís ultimate legacy, he will also be remembered for the miraculous stab, the planted right foot, and the cannon shot from the far side of the foul line.
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Asher resides in Alexandria, VA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org