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April 13, 2009: Bash Brother, Interview with Dale Tafoya

Dale Tafoya is the author of “Bash Brothers: A Legacy Subpoenaed” — which I reviewed here on “Why I Like Baseball” back on December 14th, 2008. The book reminds readers of a lot of very significant facts about the early days of the Steroid Era which are being quickly forgotten in the onrush of debate as the controversy rages on. I interviewed Dale in the wake of this spring’s revelations about A-Rod in the belief that the Performance Enhancing Drug news is far from finished and that we will still be figuring out the full impact of this chapter of baseball history for decades to come.

Cecilia Tan, WILBB: I think a lot of fans, and certainly the owners, are still in denial about the whole steroids issue. They just want it to go away and pretend it either never happened or that at least it’s “over” now. Do you see it going away any time soon?

Dale Tafoya: Well, I think steroid use in baseball has been significantly curbed, especially since MLB began dishing out these 50-game suspensions to busted players. But it would be naive for us to think that the game is completely clean, especially since there is still no HGH testing in MLB. From a historical perspective, it’s clear that a majority of premiere players, including pitchers, who played during the late-1990s and the early part of the millennium were using some sort of performance-enhancing drug. How many careers have mysteriously tumbled since MLB started its testing program? But I think most fans are getting somewhat fatigued about the controversy and won’t be shocked if other superstars are exposed. They are gaining a clearer understanding on how steroids were a big part of the game. Period. It would be interesting to see how much interest this controversy will generate 30 or 40 years down the line. Based on my research, 1996-2003 should be painted as the steroids era in baseball. This seven-year span in baseball should be considered a period when players used illegal supplements to illegally improve performance, altering records. This period should be isolated and not be compared to other years in baseball.

WILBB: A-Rod really seems to be a trouble magnet. You knew, somehow, if his name was one of the 104 supposedly anonymous positive tests, that it was going to leak. So of course it did. Do you think we’ll ever see the other 103 names? Do you think we should?

Dale Tafoya: I definitely think those names will be leaked soon and more top-tier players will be exposed and careers tainted. We have speculated for years that larger, beefed-up players like McGwire, Canseco and Sosa were the obvious juicers. But based on the names that have been linked with steroids in the past, juicers come in all shapes and sizes. Remember the slim and toned Luis Gonzales, who pulled a Brady Anderson and abruptly hit 57 homers in 2001, during the peak of steroid-use? Why did Mike Piazza’s numbers deteriorate after the 2002 season? What happened to Nomar Garciaparra? Steroids made a lot of money for a lot of players.

WILBB: Is steroids in baseball really something Congress should be spending their time on?

Dale Tafoya: Based on our country’s economic downtown, the epidemic of chemically-enhanced, million-dollar athletes playing baseball could be put on the shelf for a minute. But I must say that the Congressional Hearings in 2005, which included McGwire, Canseco, Sosa, Palmeiro and Schilling was riveting television and that footage will be a big part of MLB’s history. Palmeiro wagged his finger and McGwire refused to discuss the past.

WILBB: Why is steroids in baseball such a huge issue, whereas in football it’s hardly noticed?

Dale Tafoya: That’s a good question and I believe it has something to do with people’s perception about baseball: There was always a consensus that the ordinary-sized person––the overweight, the slim, the short people could just slide on a uniform and play the game. Because of the physical nature of football, fans understand that size and strength requirements. That’s just my theory; some may disagree.

WILBB: I’m curious how you got into being a sportswriter. What’s your story?

Dale Tafoya: I enjoy writing about my passions and one of them is baseball. Since I briefly played college baseball and passionately followed the sport for 25 years, I explored a career as a journalist. So I took journalism courses, read a ton of books on writing, read good journalism, and won some awards in college. I also grew up on good sports journalism in the Bay Area. Sports columnists such as Dave Newhouse, Bruce Jenkins, Ron Kroichick, and Glenn Dickey were great inspirations to my writing career. Then I wrote for a few local publications and websites, which helped establish a platform to write my first book.

WILBB: Was it difficult to decide to write a book like Bash Brothers? Have
you been accused of “bashing” the sport?

Dale Tafoya: The idea to write the book really sprung from my fascination with the Bash Brothers, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. Growing up in the Oakland area, little leaguers like myself idolized them as the duo who helped propel the A’s back into the playoffs. Their arrival in Oakland brought back the spotlight on the franchise. So there was some emotion attached to this subject, but as a journalist, I had to remain objective. Most of the feedback I’ve received, though, is that I was fair to Canseco and McGwire, especially since they refused to be interviewed for the book. The book details the inception of steroid use in baseball––dating back to the mid-1980s. Personally, I believe a few players had already dabbled with steroids before Canseco claims he began using in the winter of 1984. With or without Mr. Canseco, it was a culture that was going to seduce and ultimately overwhelm baseball. And it did. I began this project in 2004––before the 2005 congressional hearings––when some players were more willing to talk about Canseco and McGwire. In all, I interviewed over 150 former teammates, coaches, scouts, friends, lovers, trainers and journalists for this book, which was acquired by Kevin Cuddihy, one of the acquisitions editors at Potomac Books in April 2007. The book was originally scheduled to be released in the summer of 2008, but Potomac wanted to capitalize on the scandal and pushed it up four months.

WILBB: What do you think is next on the horizon for the steroids scandals?

Dale Tafoya: Well, if those 103 positive tests are released to the public and more superstars are uncovered, it’s obviously going to smear baseball and stir more controversy. I’m not sure what’s next, but nothing would surprise me, even if Bud Selig was one of the 103 on that list.

WILBB: From my perspective, the owners were willfully negligent in letting a whole drug subculture flourish in major league clubhouses. Now they at least seem like they want to clean up. Do they really? What about the players? Should players be policing themselves better?

Dale Tafoya: If players like Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco hadn’t spilled the beans in 2002, which spurred a congressional probe and pressured MLB into implementing a mandatory steroid testing policy, we probably would still be seeing shattered home-run records and 50-year old players going for the Triple Crown. Back in 1987, Reggie Jackson told reporters that no player would ever hit 70 home runs. Well, a decade later, steroids enabled some hitters to reach and surpass that incredible mark. We just can’t legitimize that era of baseball. Don’t get me wrong: The home runs were real; money was real; attendance was real; but players, owners and executives were living a lie. It wasn’t real baseball.

Owners and players are only trying to clean up the sport after they’ve been caught. Owners and executives were aware of steroid use in baseball, but I’m not sure many of them knew how to address it, especially since that type of baseball was so profitable for them. Players were using steroids with minimal side effects. I can remember the thrilling home run chase in 1998, when McGwire and Sosa brought baseball back into the spotlight. Nine years later, 2009, we realize it was a lie. Those players were cheating and acquired an edge. They shouldn’t be considered greater––based on statistics––than past baseball greats such as Willie Mays, Ted Williams and Hank Aaron. Same game; but different era. The steroids era was about money and muscle.

WILBB: If you had a chance to sit down with Jose Canseco for a cup of coffee now, what would you want to ask him or say to him?

I sort of feel bad for the guy. He blew millions and is an attention-whore. But while growing up in the late 1980s, he was a player I modeled myself after. One fact about Canseco is this––after getting beaned, he never charged the mound. That big, muscular herculean figure was hit many times throughout his career, and he pointed, threatened and strolled toward the mound, but he never went after a pitcher. So my question would be: why? But he’ll probably say he did.

(Dale’s book Bash Brothers was published by Potomac Books. Click HERE to buy it through and a portion of the proceeds will go to support Why I Like Baseball.)

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