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Grimsley is thrown into drug spotlight

Popular among his teammates, ex-Oriole had desire to keep pitching despite injuries

By Childs Walker

Sun Reporter

June 10, 2006

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The player at the center of baseball's latest drug controversy, Jason Grimsley, is perhaps more distinguished by the company he kept than anything he did in his 15-year career.

He has played with everyone from Lenny Dykstra to Eddie Murray to Derek Jeter. He won two World Series rings as an anonymous bullpen guy for the star-studded New York Yankees of 1999 and 2000. He was the guy who climbed through a false ceiling to swipe Albert Belle's corked bat from the umpires' locker room in 1994.

Through it all, he was the ultimate supporting player, a spot starter and middle reliever who never won more than seven games in a season and had a 4.77 career ERA when the Arizona Diamondbacks released him Wednesday.

But Grimsley emerged as a leading man this week when the Arizona Republic reported that federal agents had caught him receiving human growth hormone at his house in Scottsdale, Ariz.

In an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court after the bust, Grimsley tied more than 30 players to the use of hGH, steroids and amphetamines. He referenced conversations about amphetamines with teammates last season, when he played for the Orioles. The names of those players were blacked out in the released version of the affidavit.

A trip through Grimsley's biography reveals a man who loved baseball so much that he'd pitch every day, rush back from injuries and, according to his own testimony, use illegal drugs to keep going.

Former teammates had nothing but nice things to say about him.

"Jason is a great guy," said Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts . "Anybody I've ever known who's played with him thinks highly of Grims, and certainly none of us know any details."

Orioles reliever Todd Williams dressed beside Grimsley at Camden Yards last season.

"Definitely, as far as a baseball standpoint, he was a gamer," Williams said. "He could go out and pitch every day. He was a good teammate. Yeah, he was definitely good for the clubhouse."

In a move that was widely criticized, the Orioles acquired the journeyman Grimsley from the Kansas City Royals for hard-throwing prospect Denny Bautista in 2004. He had appeared in 70 or more games for three straight seasons and the Orioles hoped he'd be a steadying presence in a struggling bullpen.

During that season, his hand swelled and he lost feeling in his fingers. Grimsley pitched through the pain but learned in the offseason that he had a shredded elbow ligament surrounded by scar tissue. He needed Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery.

In addition to the usual rehabilitation, Grimsley told The Sun of "clearing locust trees with a chainsaw and ripping down 200 yards of barbed-wire fence" on his family's 525-acre farm in Kansas.

Also that winter, a twin-engine plane crashed into Grimsley's home. The crash killed all five people aboard, but Grimsley's wife and daughter escaped unharmed. He and his two sons weren't in the house.

He couldn't have been happier when he returned last season. His comeback was hailed as one of the quickest ever from elbow surgery - nine months, compared to the usual 11.

"I know the end is near," he told The Sun in a long article about his recovery. "But this is, like, my second chance. Nobody loves going out there more than me. There's a part of you that plays this game that never grows up.

"Remember Field of Dreams? Walking out there again between those white lines, and chasing that dream - that's what I want to feel."

He hugged his young sons outside the clubhouse after his first post-surgery appearance.

A few weeks later, Grimsley was among the first Orioles to defend his sport and his teammate, Rafael Palmeiro, in the wake of Palmeiro's positive steroid test.

"There's definitely been something that has been taken away [from fans], but there are steps being made and things being done to fix that," Grimsley told The Sun. "I hope the fans see that, I hope the public sees that, and I think the people in Major League Baseball offices and the people on Capitol Hill see the efforts that are being made to change things."

He added in reference to Palmeiro, "He's my teammate. I'll go to war with him any day."

According to Grimsley's affidavit, he had been using performance enhancers for years and had failed a 2003 drug test when he made those statements.

Grimsley was never a large presence in the Orioles' clubhouse as he pitched only 58 1/3 innings in his two seasons with the team.

He liked to take sound naps before batting practice, and if a reporter wanted a quote, the question had to be posed before he nodded off. Other times he'd take his electric guitar in the team's video room and jam.

Williams couldn't believe the news of Grimsley's troubles.

"To hear that about a guy you think you know pretty well, a guy who was out in the bullpen with you, these things shock you," he said.

Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo couldn't believe it either. He said he had a good relationship with the reliever and exclaimed, "Holy cow!" to his wife when he saw the news about Grimsley on television.

Perlozzo and his players said Grimsley's testimony about amphetamine use doesn't reflect the Orioles' clubhouse they know.

"It's hard to make an opinion about it because everybody does their own thing," Williams said. "Some guys drink Red Bull. Some guys, it used to be the Ripped Fuel. Some guys, it's coffee."

He said he had never seen coffee pots labeled "leaded" to indicate amphetamines and "unleaded" to indicate regular, as Grimsley described.

"He was probably just on the team that had that, because I've certainly never seen that," Williams said.

childs.walker@baltsun.com