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To Cheat or Not to Cheat

This story appears in the June 4, 2012 issue of Sports Illustrated. Buy the digital version of the magazine here.

The 1994 Fort Myers Miracle, a Class A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, included four pitchers of similar attributes. They each threw righthanded, with average velocity, and were either 23 or 24 years old and had been drafted out of four-year colleges in no higher than the fourth round. All would become good friends as they shared the torturous bus rides and even worse food through multiple rungs on the minor league ladder. All clutched the little boy's dream of becoming a big leaguer. Only one of them made it. Only one of them used steroids. Only one of them considered taking his own life. Only one of them harbors enormous regret. The big leaguer, the juicer, the near suicide and the shamed are one and the same.

This is a story about the real cost of steroids in baseball -- not the broken records, not the litigation, not the talk-show drone about the elite players who juiced and how to weigh their Hall of Fame candidacy. This is a story about the hundreds, even thousands, of anonymous ballplayers whose careers and lives were changed by a temptation that defined an era. It is also a story about the secrets we keep and the casualties we create when we allow the corrupt to go unspoken -- especially when the corrupt is something far more horrific than steroids.

*****

On June 18, 2002, Donald Fehr, then the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, was asked a simple question by Sen. Byron Dorgan about steroids in baseball: "Is there a problem?"

Dorgan knew there was, because three weeks before that, a recent National League Most Valuable Player had defined the problem. In an SI cover story, not only did Ken Caminiti become the first prominent player to admit using steroids, but he also described steroid use in baseball as being so prevalent that he held no regrets about his usage. About as many major leaguers were juicing as playing it clean, Caminiti said. Other players confirmed to SI the massive scope of the problem. The unspeakable had been spoken.

Senator John McCain quickly called for a Senate subcommittee hearing, a procedure that Dorgan opened by citing the SI story as a call to action, a reason to decide whether any "legislative action is necessary." Two months later the union, after resisting the idea of steroid testing on invasion of privacy grounds, reversed course and agreed to random drug-testing protocols for the first time in its history. It was the beginning of the end of the Steroid Era.

VERDUCCI: How steroids affected four pitchers on Ft. Myers MiraclePODCAST: Tom Verducci talks about steroids in baseball

This season marks the 10th anniversary of the biggest reformation in baseball since commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned eight members of the 1919 White Sox in what stood as the denouement of an era dirtied by gambling. In the past decade the game and the bodies of those who play it have lost their cartoonish outrageousness, as have the statistics they produce. In the nine seasons before steroid testing, players crashed the 50-home run threshold 18 times, the 60-home run barrier six times. In the nine seasons with testing, there have been only six 50-homer seasons. Nobody has hit 60.

But in many ways, the cleanup came too late. Too late to save the record book and the bodies of ballplayers reshaped to grotesque proportions. And too late to do any good for the four Miracles. By 2001 all of them were out of baseball -- each, in his own way, a victim of steroids. Lost in the noise about home run records and Cooperstown and federal prosecutions are the hundreds of everyday casualties of the Steroid Era. What performance-enhancing drug testing has wrought is at least the hope that what happened to the four Miracles will not happen again.

*****

Dan Naulty was the tall, skinny Miracle, a 14th-round pick out of Cal State Fullerton in 1992 who stood 6' 6" but didn't throw hard. Twins scout Larry Corrigan clocked him early in his senior year at 87 miles per hour and never again at even that modest speed.

Brett Roberts looked a lot like Naulty: tall (6' 7") with a slightly better fastball. The Twins drafted Roberts, a two-sport star who also played small forward at Morehead State, in the fourth round in 1991, the summer before he won the NCAA basketball scoring title. (A year after the Twins took him, Roberts was drafted by the NBA's Sacramento Kings.) Keith Linebarger was a big, strong kid out of Columbus (Ga.) College. The Twins took him in the sixth round in 1992 largely because his 6' 6", 220-pound frame suggested there was still plenty of upside to his 87- to 89-mph fastball. Kevin Legault was a happy-go-lucky control pitcher from Seton Hall. He threw a fine curveball and a fastball that topped out at 88 mph. He was drafted by the Twins in the 33rd round in 1992.

The four righthanders started the 1994 season playing for manager Steve Liddle with Fort Myers of the Florida State League. Of Naulty, Liddle says, "He started out a tall, lanky kid that was mainly just skin and bones. He threw a ball that had a lot of movement. But he was a fringe player at best -- and that was on a good day."

Thirteen years later, Liddle and the others learned that Naulty used steroids to transform himself from a fringe minor leaguer into a massive big leaguer throwing 96 mph. They found out because of a 2007 fishing expedition by lawyers for former senator George Mitchell, who had been charged by commissioner Bud Selig to produce a white paper on the game's steroid problem. In January 2007 one of Mitchell's investigators phoned Naulty, one of the nearly 500 former players they attempted to reach.

"Hello, is this Dan Naulty, the former pitcher?" Naulty recalls the investigator asking.

"Yes, it is."

The lawyer identified himself and asked, "Are you willing to talk about drug use?"

"I'd be happy to."

There was silence from the lawyer. And then this: "Do you understand what I'm asking?"

"You're asking me if I'm willing to tell you if I did drugs or not, right?"

"Yes."

"I'm happy to talk to you about my drug use."

Again, silence, and then: "Are you sure you understand what I'm asking?"

"I clearly understand what you're asking. So let's get on with it."

The two spoke for four hours over two days. The Mitchell Report included only six paragraphs about Naulty. But he was all over television because he was one of the few players among the 68 who agreed to be interviewed to voluntarily admit to Mitchell's investigators that he used drugs. (Caminiti had not been interviewed, having died three years earlier after a cocaine-related overdose.) "I was fairly shocked" that there were so few, Naulty says now.

His Miracle teammates were shocked too. Legault said it never occurred to him that Naulty used steroids. Linebarger had noticed in 1994 that Naulty's legs were much larger than they had been, and had asked his teammate what he did in the off-season. "Ah," Naulty said, "me and some football coach really got after the weights."

"I always thought about that," Linebarger says now.

Naulty's revelation hit Roberts hardest. He was the only one of the Miracle pitchers who had played with Naulty when he wasn't using steroids: They had been in Class A ball in Kenosha, Wis., in 1992, after Roberts had decided not to pursue an NBA career. On his off days between starts, Roberts operated the radar gun behind home plate. He consistently clocked Naulty at 84 to 86 miles per hour. Fifteen years later, on a Sunday morning in 2007, Roberts watched Naulty give a television interview about how steroids helped him reach the big leagues.

"I was pretty upset," Roberts says. "Gosh, it's hard enough trying to make it in this profession. You want to make it on your own abilities and work ethic, and all of a sudden, when you think it's an even playing field, you've got somebody cheating. I was very upset, knowing my chance to get to the big leagues was cut short. I was jealous, hurt, frustrated, angry ... all that stuff.

"I guess I should have been suspicious. How can a guy go from 85 miles an hour to 95 in three or four years? As I look back on it, it's so clear and obvious that I can't believe I was that naive and incredibly stupid. All the signs were there."

*****

Vin Scully provided the sound track to Dan Naulty's childhood in Southern California, and Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Davey Lopes, Dusty Baker and the rest of the Dodgers embodied a dream. Naulty grew up with two ambitions: to win the College World Series and to become a major leaguer. "All I could think about was being a baseball player and all that comes with it," he says.

He had little interest in schoolwork, especially as he grew to his full height in high school and showed promise as a pitcher. But Naulty, despite sporadic weightlifting and a healthy appetite, could not gain weight. He knew a small group of classmates who were into bodybuilding, and the word was they had access to steroids.

"Sure, I'll get you anything you want," one of the muscleheads told him. "I'll put size on you."

Naulty bought steroids in pill form from the guy but says he did not take them. In 1988 he enrolled at Cerritos Junior College, then transferred to Cal State Fullerton two years later. He spent his entire college career on academic probation. One day during a sports psychology class, his professor asked why he didn't give more of an effort. "I don't need this class and I don't need school," Naulty said. "I'm going to play baseball and make more money than you can even think about."

"I've known Dan since he was 19, 20 years old," says Jeff Horn, a former catcher who played with Naulty at Cerritos and against him when Naulty pitched for Fullerton, and was again his teammate with the Miracle. "The thing that stuck out to me was his competitive nature. He loved to compete and figure out a way to get better."

As a senior, Naulty had a chance to realize the first of his childhood dreams when Fullerton played Pepperdine for the 1992 College World Series championship. Titans coach Augie Garrido gave the ball to Naulty, his ace, on two days rest. Naulty gave up two runs in the first inning on a walk and three hits. Garrido pulled him after that one inning. Fullerton lost 3-2. "It was a devastating loss for me," he says. "I just wanted to come home. I needed a rest."

A few weeks later he reported to Kenosha to begin his professional career. Still despondent, he was further depressed by the threadbare Class A life. He lived in a spare bedroom in the home of a man who hosted a Kenosha player each year. Every night Naulty would come home after a game and find his host asleep in a chair in a room filled with books, a lit cigar in his mouth. He was sure they were going to die one night in a fire.

Naulty pitched six times for Kenosha, starting twice. He gave up 22 hits and 11 earned runs in 18 innings. He arrived at a quick conclusion: He wasn't nearly good enough to become a major league pitcher. "I didn't have the speed," he says. "I didn't have the location. I didn't have the size. I had the height. That's all. That's essentially why I got drafted."

Naulty concocted a way to get sent home: He exaggerated an injury. He took an awkward step and tripped during pregame fielding practice and milked the opportunity. He went home to Huntington Beach halfway through the season. "I just kept pretending my hip was bothering me and that was it," he says. "I had scouts telling me, 'Just gain weight, just gain weight.' Everybody was telling me that. My coaches, scouts, friends ... everybody. 'Man, you're 6' 6". If you could just gain weight, you'd be throwing a hundred!'

"Kenosha was really telling. I may not have taken drugs if I got there and was able to compete. But there was no way. I was not getting out of A ball. No chance."

Naulty knew what he had to do. There was no way he could face people as a failed baseball player. The game was his only option. Soon after he returned home he spoke to a friend who played junior college baseball, a guy he had previously spoken to about steroids. He asked his friend for a supplier, who arranged a meeting.

"Tell me what you want to do," said the supplier, a bodybuilder.

"I need to throw 95 miles an hour," Naulty said, "and the only way I can see doing that is if I weigh 220 pounds."

It was an outrageous number. Naulty weighed 180. Ten pounds gained would have been a colossal amount for him. Forty? The supplier didn't blink: "I've got whatever you want."

The supplier injected him, a job Naulty would later learn to do himself. "Within a few days I started gaining weight," Naulty says, "and I was hooked. I started eating like a horse because when you take this stuff you just eat and eat and eat and you can work out like a fiend."

He reported to spring training the following season at 200 pounds and with several extra ticks on his fastball. The Twins' instructors were impressed. It was a cycle that would repeat itself every year: Naulty would use various steroids through the winter, gain muscle mass and velocity, and wow the coaches in camp. He would not use steroids during the season, causing him to lose some weight -- about 10 pounds if he had gained 20 -- and his numbers to fall off as the year progressed. Then it was back to an off-season of doping, with a veritable buffet of steroids. "We were mixing them," he says. "Some for size, some for speed. There was a steroid I took one off-season that was purely to speed your body up. You didn't gain any size at all. [Your arm speed] just got faster. The point was the faster I moved the harder I'd throw."

In four years Naulty gained 50 pounds and added 10 miles an hour to his fastball. (He would eventually top out at 248 pounds.) His legs were enormous. His shoulders looked like cantaloupes, with the rounded, watery hallmark of steroids. He loved the way his body looked, loved to take his shirt off, loved the compliments he got from coaches and loved the way nobody in baseball asked, How? The Steroid Era was taking hold, made possible by a don't ask, don't tell policy. "Everybody is telling you how great you look," Naulty says. "Nobody ever asked if I was using drugs. I never had one discussion about steroids around another baseball player. All my discussions about steroids were with bodybuilders."

*****

Ninety percent of all drafted players never spend one day in the big leagues. Steroid users made the odds even worse for clean players.

Thirty-three players appeared in at least one game for the 1994 Fort Myers Miracle. Only six of them reached the majors long enough to earn $500,000 in their careers. Half of those players are known PED users: Naulty, outfielder Matt Lawton (who tested positive in 2005) and pitcher Dan Serafini (who flunked a test in '07).

Kevin Legault was one of the naive ones. He was a three-sport star at Watervliet (N.Y.) High, near Albany. As a sophomore, he once threw a complete game and told his coach he was ready to pitch relief in a playoff game the next day. The coach took him up on the offer, and Legault threw another 150 pitches or so over seven innings, striking out 11 and walking six. He always took the ball. Years later in Triple A, his Salt Lake City team once used him in nine straight games.

Legault says it never occurred to him to use steroids. He was afraid of drugs and afraid that the bulk that came with them was anathema to ballplayers. He only threw 89 mph, and, he believed, "there would have been no way to juice up" enough to make a difference. He was unaware of how potent steroids could be, and that his natural velocity was already better than Naulty's. Though the two were drafted in 1992, they didn't play together until the following year. "He was already throwing [in the 90s], so I'm shocked he would even do it," Legault says.

Legault grew up and remains a fan of Roger Clemens, whose perjury trial for allegedly lying to Congress about his steroid use is now entering its seventh week. Legault collects Clemens memorabilia and believes that the seven-time Cy Young Award winner had to have come by his 354 wins naturally. "People say, 'Your stuff is worthless,' " Legault says, "and I'm like, 'No way.' I just think with steroids you get so much bigger. He didn't get any bigger. I just don't believe it."

Linebarger, also, says he "had no clue about the steroid thing at the time." Steroids, he says, scared him because of the medical risks they carried. Plus, he could not imagine living with "the guilt that never went away." He played clean -- and he never did gain velocity after the Twins drafted him.

Roberts never gained velocity either; in fact, he lost it because of arm trouble. "I would have known I was cheating," Roberts says, imagining how he'd have felt if he had taken steroids. "I would have felt guilty the entire time. These guys were my friends. I couldn't look them in the eye knowing I was cheating."

In 1996 the Twins invited Roberts and Naulty to the club's major league spring training camp in Fort Myers. Naulty, after his fourth off-season doping regimen, again reported with increased size and velocity. He made the team. Roberts was sent back to Triple A Salt Lake City. Three months later, Roberts was sitting in a hotel room in Vancouver with his roommate when the phone rang. It was Jim Rantz, head of minor league operations for the Twins. Minnesota needed a pitcher because of an injury.

"Hey, Brett. Gosh, I see your numbers are really good," Rantz said.

Roberts's heart began to leap.

"Keep it up," Rantz said. "Hey, is Danny there?"

His heart sank. He handed the phone to his roommate: Serafini. Rantz told Serafini that he needed to get on a plane right away: He was pitching against the Yankees in a few days.

Says Roberts, "I was crushed. I was like, 'I don't know what else I could do.' That was one of the lowest points of my career, other than getting released."

Serafini was a lefthanded pitcher who, Roberts says, used to joke about steroids. The Twins selected Serafini out of Junipero Serra High in San Mateo, Calif., with their first round pick in 1992 -- the same year they drafted Naulty, Linebarger and Legault. He stood 6'1'' and weighed only 160 pounds. He went 15-16 with a 6.04 ERA for six major league teams. In 2007, just after MLB and the union tightened its penalties for steroid use, Serafini became one of the first players banned for 50 games for flunking a PED test. (Serafini says he was given steroids by a doctor to recover from an Achilles injury, and that it was the only time he used steroids.)

After going 9-7 with a 5.40 ERA in '96, Roberts returned to Salt Lake City the following year. By July his ERA had ballooned to 6.90, but he had just thrown the ball well in an outing against Edmonton. His dad had been in the stands for the game, and the ball came out of his hand with ease. His velocity was picking up. And then one day the manager, Phil Roof, called him at his apartment.

Roberts knew something was up. He figured he was getting traded. Roof came to the apartment and sat down.

"Brett, you're the hardest working guy I've ever had," Roof said. "The way you take care of yourself is second to none. But at this time the organization has decided to go in a different direction. ... . "

Roof's subsequent words floated and dissolved into the air like puffs of smoke. It was your standard-issue release. "Like Bull Durham and all those classic things," Roberts says. "Knowing how I felt at the time, and years later there's Dan Naulty on TV apologizing. ... It's bitter."

Like a flower, a boyhood dream, for all its vibrancy as it grows, is an ugly thing when it dies. The four Miracles all played for the Salt Lake Buzz in 1997: Naulty, who was on a brief injury rehab assignment, Roberts, Linebarger and Legault. All of them would be finished with organized baseball within a year -- except Naulty, the one who juiced. "It's cheating," says Roberts, who bristles at the steroid users who made it. "It sticks in my craw because I know how hard I worked. Was I going to be a guy with a five- to 10-year career? Probably not. But I know I could have been there."

Linebarger was released by the Twins at the end of spring training in 1998. Rantz gave him the choice of taking his release or being stashed on the Triple A disabled list, even though he wasn't hurt. He detected the lack of confidence in him and took the release. But five minutes later, after consulting with a coach who recommended the DL option, Linebarger walked back into Rantz's office and said, "Is that still on the table?"

"Sorry, the secretary already put in the paperwork."

He got the message. Linebarger hooked on with the Cubs organization, pitched poorly in Double A and retired.

Legault, who reported to Twins camp in 1998 after putting up a 7.52 ERA with the Buzz in 1997, was released within days of Linebarger. Legault remembers his first camp, in 1993, when he looked around and saw about 75 pitchers -- all the minor leaguers begin together -- and instantly understood that spring training is a fierce survival game. Players jockey for roster spots as instructors wearing sunglasses cruise the ball fields in golf carts, leaving nervous prospects to guess whom they're watching. Naulty trumped the system by juicing every winter and standing out in the spring because of his peak physical condition and velocity. Others weren't as lucky. The ones identified quickly as nonprospects sometimes were asked in the middle of a workout to leave the field and meet with a Twins official in an office, where he would be handed his release.

It was a day-to-day existence for Legault in 1998. Every day he made it to the morning stretch was a good day. And then one morning, before he could get dressed, Terry Ryan, the Minnesota general manager, called him into his office. Just like that, the dream was over.

Legault walked out to his '88 Grand Am. A few teammates followed him to the parking lot to say goodbye. They fought back tears. Legault, with his upstate New York accent and goofy sense of humor, was especially popular. Naulty once called him the funniest guy he ever played with. Legault drove to his hotel, packed up his stuff and headed north.

It takes 24 hours to drive from Fort Myers to Watervliet. Legault did it straight through except for a brief break at a truck stop to take a nap. "The whole time I was like, Wow, it's over," he said. "You're numb. Since you're a kid, that's what you think about -- playing baseball. And then ... it's over. You're crushed."

Twenty-four hours in an '88 Grand Am is a long time for a released player to ponder the thin line between the minors and the majors, between a dream realized and one broken to bits. But not once did it occur to him that the way to cross that thin line was with steroids. Meanwhile, Dan Naulty was beginning his third season with the Twins, pulling down $185,000 and living the major league life.

******

He was good at keeping secrets. Steroids? He carried around worse demons for much longer without anybody knowing.

In 1976, Dan Naulty was six years old and living in Pasadena when his father, Richard, and his mother, Una Mae, divorced. Richard stayed in Pasadena while Dan moved to Palos Verdes, Calif., with his mother and older sister, who was 10. Dan saw his father every other weekend. His mother would soon be overwhelmed with the care of his sister, who by her early teens was a heroin and crack addict and a thief who habitually stole from her mother. (Naulty's sister is now clean and sober.)

"I was raising myself from seven [years old]," Naulty says. "I didn't have that moral compass that parents are when you're younger. I was my own compass. I was having sex at a very, very young age, making terrible decisions about every area of life. You saw a pattern in my life starting at seven of making terrible decisions."

The boy had a gift for baseball, though. When Dan was 12, a local coach who knew of the boy's talent suggested that Dan and Richard move to Huntington Beach, where the competition was better. The Naultys agreed. Soon, however, Richard took a job as a management consultant in Kuwait that kept him overseas for all but a few days each month, leaving Dan in the care of others.

The abuse of young Dan by the coach, who never had him on a team, began so slowly and gradually -- the hand on the leg, the rubbing of the back, the massages -- that he doesn't even remember the first time it crossed into sex. "It's a very slow process," Naulty says, "and then once you're sucked in and they're abusing you on a regular basis, you're so afraid to say anything. I couldn't tell somebody I was being sexually abused, because I thought maybe it was my fault. I was 12, man."

As the coach was sexually abusing Dan, so, too, was a woman, a teacher. Una Mae, who still spent time with Dan, had no idea about any of it. The abuse by both the coach and the teacher, which were not connected, went on for several years, until Dan was 15. "In my situation I was willing to give a little to get a little ... to get the love I so desperately wanted. It's whacked. I'm not sure I can explain it other than I was a desperately hopeless little kid and really wanted adults, an authority figure in my life, to love me."

Naulty likens his upbringing to the launching of a rocket toward the moon with a one-centimeter mistake in the launch angle. The rocket winds up missing the target by 100,000 miles. "I was a little off [at the start]," he said, "and by the time I was older I was way off."

Naulty did not tell anybody about the coach or the teacher until he was 30 years old. As with steroids, he kept the unspeakable unspoken for too long. "It's a similar feeling to cheating the Kevin Legaults of the world," he says. "It's, 'I abused you' or 'I let others be abused by you' and never said anything. Those two things in my life I think about a lot and am saddened a lot because I shouldn't have done it. I'm culpable even though I was the one being abused. I recognize I'm guilty for not doing [anything]."

*****

The stuff works. When Naulty beat out Roberts for a roster spot with the 1996 Twins, he was throwing the ball harder and better than ever before. The skinny kid from California, the fringe prospect from Fullerton who threw 85 mph, had become a physical beast and was blowing the ball past major league hitters. By August '96, Naulty had pitched in 47 games for Minnesota and had a 2.65 ERA. Big league hitters were batting .194 against him. Nobody questioned why.

And then Naulty's jacked-up body started breaking down. In August his arm suddenly went numb; he was shelled in two appearances before doctors figured out he was suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition in which his first rib was pressing upon an artery. Doctors went through his neck to cut out the rib. In 1997, Naulty tore his right triceps. The year after that his groin muscle ripped off his pelvis. By then he weighed 240 pounds, 60 more than he did when he was drafted six years before. His body wasn't built to handle such muscle mass.

Naulty started taking human growth hormone to help him recover from the injuries. He was also using so much synthetic testosterone that his body's natural production of the hormone shut down. He was taking 7 to 10 cc's a week of testosterone -- seven to 10 times the dosage for someone who would be prescribed testosterone replacement therapy.

Naulty pitched in 97 games for the Twins from 1996 through '98 with a 4.61 ERA, which was better than the league average. (As steroids took hold, the American League ERA in 1996 swelled to 4.99, the second-highest in history. This season it is 4.00.) While he says no one talked to him about steroids in those years, players talked openly about amphetamines -- so openly that Naulty estimated that "80 percent of guys used drugs, no question." Speed was socially acceptable in the clubhouse. Naulty would take greenies, little light- and dark-green pills, before games. Some guys took "black beauties," massive pills that were so potent they frightened even a drug abuser like Naulty. The greenies were powerful enough. "They were equally as powerful as any drug I took," he says. "You could run through a wall. You had stamina forever. I mean, you never got tired. That's why I had to start drinking because I couldn't get to sleep. It's three o'clock in the morning, and I'm ready to go run a marathon."

Naulty slid into a cycle of addictions. Every morning he would wake up hungover, so he would take amphetamines when he got to the park for an instant boost. He'd then pitch with the benefits of steroids, HGH and speed, and after the game medicate himself with alcohol to come down from the amphetamine high.

It was 1998. The country was enamored with the magic show that was the great home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Both of them smashed through the record of 61 home runs set by Roger Maris, a mark that had stood for 37 years but would be exceeded four more times in the next three years. Don't ask, don't tell remained the unspoken covenant.

The rationalizing and enabling goes on even today by players, fans and media. The popular myth is that before testing, steroids in baseball "weren't illegal" (in fact, their use was made illegal by the federal government in 1988 unless prescribed to treat a medical condition), were "not against the rules" (a 1991 memo by commissioner Fay Vincent specifically prohibited steroids) and that "everybody was doing it, anyway." (Tell that to Legault, Linebarger and Roberts.) But the silence in the culture of steroids is a dead giveaway that the users knew they were corrupt. "I was a full-blown cheater, and I knew it," Naulty says. "You didn't need a written rule. I was violating clear principles that were laid down within the rules. I understood I was violating implicit principles.

"I have no idea how many guys were using testosterone. But I would assume anybody that was had some sort of conviction that this was against the rules. To say it wasn't cheating to me ... it's just a fallacy. It was a total disadvantage to play clean."

In 1998 the Yankees won 125 games, the final four of which came in a sweep of the Padres (with Ken Caminiti at third base) in the World Series. Twenty-six days after the end of the season, the Yankees traded for Naulty. He was amazed that an elite team wanted a middle reliever with a body that was breaking down.

Shortly after the trade, Naulty went to a bar near his home in Southern California. He was a full-blown alcoholic by then. There was a dispute over a woman. A bouncer asked him to leave. Somebody wanted to mess with him, and Naulty was ready. Naulty wasn't about to back down from a bouncer -- or two or three or four or five. It took six men to finally bring him down.

"Just more testosterone," he explained. "You're a wild animal. It's amazing I didn't kill somebody, myself included, as much as I was drinking and everything."

The cops hauled him away and, after emptying his pockets and taking his mug shot, threw him in a cell. Naulty sat there weeping, his head in his hands, convinced he had just blown his chance to pitch for the Yankees. Suddenly one of the cops walked toward the cell, holding up a card.

"Hey, is this real?"

It was Naulty's Major League Baseball player identification card. The cop had found it in his wallet.

"Yeah," Naulty said. "I just got traded to the New York Yankees."

The cop immediately unlocked the cell and let him out. Other cops printed four copies of his mug shot and asked Naulty to autograph them. They slapped him on the back, shook his hand and sent him on his way. No charges were filed.

"I barely graduated high school," Naulty says. "I probably graduated college with about an eighth-grade reading level. And when you play major league baseball, society is at your beck and call.

"They don't care if you have character. They don't care if you ruin your life. They care about performance. Nobody once ever told me anything because I was performing. I was getting bigger, and I had always been thin; and now they're telling me I look great, and I'm playing for the New York Yankees."

Naulty, though, realized he had become too big. Steroids had built up his body, and now they were destroying it. Before he threw his first pitch for the Yankees, he made a decision: He would stop using steroids.

*****

On his first day of spring training with the Yankees, Naulty watched David Wells walk out and Roger Clemens walk in, the result of a trade between New York and Toronto. "I was like, 'How can we possibly get better, but we just got better!'" he says. "'I'll get the water, you guys just win the World Series. This will be great!'

"[Manager] Joe Torre called me into his office to say, 'I know you've had it rough.' He was very kind and gracious to me. I wasn't used to that in Minnesota. He said, 'There's eight guys trying to make one spot. You're one of them. We'll see how you do in six weeks.' "

Naulty made the team as its mop-up man. The Yankees won 98 games, but they were 6-27 in the games Naulty pitched. But he pitched the year largely clean: no steroids, no amphetamines -- except a few days when he was too hungover and needed the speed to snap himself back. He was still an alcoholic.

Naulty was assigned a locker between relievers Mariano Rivera and Jason Grimsley, two of many devout Christians on the team, a group that also included Andy Pettitte, Joe Girardi, Mike Stanton and Chad Curtis. They would invite Naulty to what they called "daily devotionals," gatherings in a dingy storage room in the bowels of Yankee Stadium to read Scripture and pray together. After a month or so, Naulty decided to join in.

Naulty was not raised in a religious home. In January 1997 a friend asked him to go to church, and Dan agreed. At the end of the service, the preacher invited people to come to the front of the room and confess their sins. "And I did," Naulty says. "I never heard the gospel before. I walked to the front of the room and accepted Christ as my savior. But nothing happened. My lifestyle didn't change."

Naulty was shocked at the participants in the Yankees' daily devotionals: star players with huge contracts. "I was just floored that people who made that much money needed God," he says. "Why on earth would I need God when I was with the Yankees and I've got hundreds of thousands of dollars and I've got whatever I want?"

When the players bowed their heads to pray, Naulty lifted his and added up the salaries in the room. The devotionals did not change him. "By day I would hang out with the Christians and talk to them about God," he says. "When I left the park it was a Jekyll and Hyde thing. I'd run around Manhattan with my head cut off all night and just get loaded up and start the whole process again."

Years later, Pettitte, Stanton and Grimsley, like Naulty, were named in the Mitchell Report. "Shocked," Naulty says. "It would obviously contradict everything we believe as Christians. That was certainly shocking."

Off steroids, something else was changing with Naulty. He was beginning to realize that he didn't love baseball anymore. One day during a rain delay at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Naulty was watching television on a clubhouse couch. Centerfielder Bernie Williams, famous for his ability to fall asleep anywhere, was dozing next to him. Suddenly word came that the game was back on. Williams awoke.

"What's going on?" he asked.

"Oh, man, they've got the game back on and we've got to play," groused Naulty.

"Awesome!" Williams shouted.

"What? You want to play?"

"Yeah. What else would I want to do?"

Naulty didn't say it, but he was thinking, What else would I not want to do?

It began to hit him: Naulty started playing baseball because he loved it, but he kept playing it because he had nothing else in his life. "My motives were no longer like Derek Jeter's," he says. "He plays -- and this seems to be the case with all the great ones -- because he loves it. I loved it as a child and parts of high school, and it started to fade and I should have stopped. Then I was tied to this steam train and couldn't get off. I thought I had to do anything I could to stay on this steam train because I had nothing else."

*****

Pull over."

It was closer to sunrise than it was to midnight, and Naulty was the only one in the backseat of the limo who wasn't passed out from the night of drinking. The Yankees had won the 1999 World Series the previous evening, with Clemens finishing off a sweep of the Braves. Naulty had stopped drinking at three in the morning, an unusual act of restraint for him. The limo was rolling through Manhattan, making its way to the George Washington Bridge and eventually to Naulty's New Jersey condo. Naulty needed somebody to talk to. He did not know the limo driver -- didn't even know his name -- but he was the only other one in the car who wasn't asleep.

The driver pulled over. Naulty jumped out, opened the front passenger's door and sat down. The driver studied him with a bewildered look and resumed driving.

Naulty began to talk to the stranger. He had poured his very being into baseball, sacrificing character, health, friendships, education, morals ... everything. And yet at the pinnacle of that pursuit -- he had just won the World Series as a New York Yankee -- he felt a profound emptiness.

But he did not think about life at that moment. He thought about death. It was far from the first time. Naulty often thought about killing himself during his drug-and-alcohol-addled years. "Suicidal thoughts were a regular pattern for me," he says. "I'm surprised I'm living, man. Between all the drinking and driving I did and all the suicidal thoughts, how I'm alive is only by the grace of God."

The thoughts, however, never had been this powerful. Even at this late hour, the traffic on the bridge was heavy. The limo was crawling along. Almost once a month somebody leaps off the bridge, some 200 feet above the Hudson, to his or her death. Naulty had his hand on the handle of the door.

"Tell me," he said to the driver. "Tell me if this is all there is to life. Because if this is all there is, just stop this car right now and I'll jump."

The driver looked at Naulty like he was crazy.

"He was so scared, he didn't say anything," Naulty says. "But I was serious. I had no hope. I had sold myself that bill of goods so long that I believed it. But I realized at that moment I had totally destroyed my life. And I had destroyed countless other people's lives. I was ready to die."

*****

Not long after the 1999 World Series, the National League champion Braves invited Jeff Horn to their major league spring training camp. Horn had been one of Naulty's closest friends. They both grew up in Southern California, and when Horn arrived at Cerritos Junior College after transferring from Oklahoma State, Naulty had reached out and made him feel welcome. The Twins drafted Horn in the 47th round in 1992, the same year they took Naulty, Linebarger and Legault. Over the next five years Naulty and Horn were teammates in three cities in the Minnesota farm system. But while Naulty moved up to the Show, Horn became a real life Crash Davis, a hard-nosed catcher who loved loud guitars, hard rock and the nuances of catching.

Horn had never been in a big league camp. By the end of 1999 he was 29 and had kicked around the minor leagues for eight seasons as a career backup, never playing more than 79 games in a season. The Twins dumped him after he played in only 24 games in '98 at Triple A. The Dodgers picked him up and released him. Then the Braves signed him for the 1999 season and demoted him to Double A, where he hit .229.

The idea of major league camp with the NL champions was powerful. "It's all I ever wanted since I was eight years old," he says. "After so many years, I was finally getting an opportunity, an opportunity to use everything at my fingertips to make a good impression."

Everything.

As Naulty was thinking of leaving baseball, Horn was contemplating whether to take the plunge with steroids. By then PEDs were so prevalent in the game that players had started to whisper among themselves about who was on them and what worked best. Horn knew a handful of players who were juicing. He noticed guys reporting to camp with 30 pounds of muscle they didn't have five months earlier. He overheard hushed conversations about steroids.

Horn knew steroids were wrong, illegal and dangerous, but ... this was big league camp! He talked to a guy at the gym, a bodybuilder who was a chemist, to learn about steroids. He went back and forth in his mind for weeks.

One day Horn sat down at his computer and went on the Internet. He found a website. They would ship steroids from Europe to his front door. He placed his order, typed in his credit card information, and it was done. He panicked a bit. He worried that as soon as he accepted the package on his front porch an entire police department would be there to arrest him. He worried that his heart would explode as soon as he injected the steroids.

He took the steroids that winter and something incredible did happen: He got better.

"I was, at best, an average hitter," Horn says. "A good fastball could tie me up. When I had the stuff in me I could get to those pitches easier. With steroids you could do those things you otherwise couldn't do. The things that kept you in the minor leagues all of a sudden didn't hold you back anymore.

"It's not like you could take a guy off the street, give him steroids and he can hit a Jered Weaver fastball. But if you have the ability to do it, you can get a little help doing things you were not able to do."

Horn loved big league camp. He played golf with Chipper Jones and Greg Maddux, picked the brains of Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and especially Maddux. "For some reason he took me under his wing and taught me a lot about pitching," Horn says.

One time he asked Maddux, "When you're 0 and 2, do you want me to move even further outside? Because if I do, I'll be in the other batter's box."

"Nah," Maddux said. "Just stay in the same spot. I'll decide when I miss."

Says Horn, "He could put the ball exactly where he wanted it." There was nothing like this in the minors.

"It felt like the eight years prior were worth every minute to have those two months in big league camp," he says. "I feel very lucky and blessed. That was only spring training. I can only imagine what the regular season is like."

During a game in camp, Horn suffered two herniated disks in his neck in a collision at home plate. He wound up playing just 13 games in Triple A in 2000 before he needed surgery. He was done for the year. Horn had been 220 pounds, but dropped to 178 pounds after the surgery. "I needed some help to get back to where I was," he says.

He went back on steroids. He returned to Double A in 2001 and hit close to his career minor league average of .258. Then one day in June, somebody told him he needed to give a urine sample for a drug test. It was the first year of a Bud Selig-mandated program under which all minor leaguers who were not on 40-man rosters would be tested for PEDs. (Players on the 40-man roster were protected by the union, which was holding firm to its stance against random testing.) Horn wasn't worried. He hadn't taken steroids in three months.

Weeks later a trainer told him, "You tested positive." Horn thought it was a joke. He was about to turn 31 and was a known drug cheat in Double A in his 10th minor league season. He analyzed the situation, calculated the odds of getting another opportunity and came to a quick decision: He retired. His big league dream was done. "For a number of years I felt like a failure because I didn't quite get there," Horn says. "Now I know that's not the case. No one thinks about the guys that never get there."

Legault and Horn played together at every level of the minors. They roomed together through six spring training camps. But until a reporter told him last month, Legault didn't know that Horn had used steroids.

"He did?" Legault says. "I thought maybe, but, no, not Jeff Horn."

"It's overwhelming," Horn says, recalling the pressure to cheat. "You're a young man, and you're not fully developed intellectually; and you're forced to make some challenging decisions, and man, it's tough.

"As close as Kevin and I were with the Twins, we never really talked about it. When I made the decision it was very private. It's not black and white. I can understand how it might seem that way to people not in the industry. I didn't make a decision overnight. I went weeks and weeks thinking about it and being nervous.

"If I had to do it again, those would not be the decisions I would make. It's something you want so bad, and you spent so many years in the minor leagues, and you're watching guys leapfrog you. ... I just wanted to get there to prove to myself and the people who didn't have much faith in me that I could do it. It was not a decision to get as big as I could and make millions. I was looking for some kind of personal validation."

*****

Dan Naulty rode down the Canyon of Heroes in 1999, met the President, cashed a World Series check for $307,809, got a world championship ring and bought himself a Corvette. But that winter, the emptiness still gnawed at him. Meanwhile, the Yankees traded him to the Dodgers -- the Dodgers! -- his hometown team, the team that launched his dream in the first place. But by the time spring training began, he didn't want to play for the Dodgers, or anybody for that matter.

He was thinking about being a pastor.

He did report to spring training in Vero Beach, Fla., but his heart wasn't in it. Every morning he would meet with a pastor for breakfast and explain he wanted to quit. "Well, you don't know what you want," the pastor advised. "You should keep going. Maybe this is what God has planned for you."

One day Richard, his father, came to visit. They went out to dinner. What little relationship they did have was dysfunctional.

"Dad," Dan told Richard, "I think I'm going to quit."

"Quit? Quit what? Quit baseball? You're going to quit now? After you've gone all this way?"

"Yes. It's killing me. Don't you understand that? My life is so destructive I could blow my brains out at any moment."

The competitor inside Dan Naulty already was dead. Naulty pitched horribly in camp and didn't care. The Dodgers released him before the end of spring training. He went home to Tustin, Calif., and was happy. He went to church every night. He talked to pastors.

A month after his release, the Royals called. They wanted to see him throw. They flew him to Florida, where he showed enough for the Royals to sign him and ship him to Triple A Omaha. He was horrible there too. The Royals released him after he threw just 12D 3 innings -- long enough to give up eight walks and nine runs.

His agent, Scott Boras, told him if he wanted another shot, he would have to find someplace to keep pitching. He wound up with an independent team in Atlantic City. He went 2-4 with a 5.54 ERA in 17 games. After that, Naulty was sure he was finished with baseball. All he wanted was to be a pastor.

*****

It has been 10 years since Caminiti came clean, the Senate called its hearing and the players and the owners agreed to test for steroids. The game has changed. Penalties for using steroids were tightened in 2005. Amphetamines were banned as well. "I believe they're trying to make it better," Brett Roberts says. "Before Ken Caminiti, I don't even know that they were trying. I want to believe the good in the game. I really do. I want to believe they want a clean game and healthy players."

But every year, the cloverleaves of minor league fields are filled with dreamers. The line between the minors and the majors can be so thin, and yet the difference between crossing it or not is everything.

What would you do to cross that line, even for a day? Even with testing, the answer for many is to use drugs. Since 2005, there have been 527 violations of the drug testing agreement by minor league players and 35 by major leaguers -- about 70 confirmed cheats every year. One of the most common causes of a failed test is the drug stanozolol, also known as Winstrol, an old school steroid that can be injected or taken in tablet form. It is a favorite among body builders and ballplayers because it adds lean muscle mass and strength without excessive weight gain.

Cheaters can use fast-acting testosterone creams and gels to keep their testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio below the allowable 4-to-1 threshold. They can use HGH, which functions more as recovery agent than strength builder, virtually all year long. This season, baseball became the first major American pro sport to use a blood test for HGH, but the program amounts to one announced test: Players know they will be screened when they show up for spring training, and not again during the season. Still, the testing protocols over 10 years appear to have slowed the cheating considerably.

"I think it's a good thing, absolutely," says Horn, the former catcher. "One thing that baseball has is its numbers. Baseball numbers are sacred. Anything to preserve the integrity of the numbers is paramount."

Horn, now 41, went back to school after he retired, was intrigued by an anatomy class and wound up at medical school in Utah, where he is doing his residency as an anesthesiologist. Dr. Crash Davis, if you will. "I don't think there's anybody in my past who thought I'd ever be a doctor," he says. "My parents are still floored."

Keith Linebarger, 41, works as a technician in a metallurgical lab in Georgia, and he coaches kids. Kevin Legault, 41, delivers mail near Watervliet. Brett Roberts completed his college degree, obtained a masters in school administration and is the assistant principal and athletic director at South Webster High in southern Ohio.

"Roberts, Legault, Linebarger, those guys to me, they are men of integrity," says Steve Liddle, the former Fort Myers Miracle manager who's now the Twins' third base coach. "They played the game clean and took their chances on God-given abilities. They didn't seek out any synthetic help. They have nothing to be ashamed of."

Occasionally Linebarger thinks about what his career might have been like if he hadn't played in the Steroid Era. His first thought is, "Maybe I could have made it." One thing he knows: Having played the game clean in a dirty era is not what he considers an accomplishment. "That's not something to be proud of," Linebarger says. "I guess you could look at it and say, 'That's normal.' That's not a feather in my cap. That's just common sense."

*****

The 10:15 service, the second of two on Sunday mornings, is nearly full of worshippers at The Rock Community Church. It's not a church in the classic sense of stone and steeple. It's more like a hotel-style ballroom inside a modern building in a Yorba Linda, Calif., industrial park. There are five sections of chairs, a stage with elaborate lighting, three video screens and singing. Lots of singing. Two men play soft Christian rock, and the worshippers are enthralled. They sway and stand with arms aloft when the spirit moves them.

Dan Naulty attends with his wife, Cassie, and two sons, ages five and seven. He has come back to Orange County a changed man, and not just because his body is lean and lanky again. After he quit baseball, he started the Dan Naulty Pitching Academy, in which he gave baseball clinics as a way to introduce people to Jesus. He has earned a B.A. at Moody Bible Institute, a masters degree from Iliff School of Theology and a postgraduate degree in applied theology from Oxford University. He pastored in Washington state before joining The Rock Community Church, with its congregation of about 500, in April.

Everywhere he went, Pastor Dan told his story, including his experience as a victim of sexual abuse, as part of his testimony. "What I've done as a Christian so far exceeds what I did in baseball," he says. He holds no secrets anymore. "I'm fully transparent, to the point that many Christians are a little uncomfortable."

Horn spoke with Naulty three years ago when Naulty was studying at Oxford. "It sounds like he's real remorseful," Horn says. "You spend your life trying to get the gold ring. A lot of us never get there. He did. I can't imagine what he was going through on that bridge. I'm so glad he didn't jump. He has so many good things to offer people."

Naulty sold the Corvette. He never wears his World Series ring -- he rarely even takes it out of the safe where it is stored. The major league money? Gone. It went to pay for years of therapy and counseling. "It's a funny thing," he says. "I thought I was going to be a millionaire playing baseball, and I ended up using all the money to try to heal myself."

He never thought about Roberts, Linebarger and Legault when he was taking steroids. But as a Christian, what happened between them became too painful to him. Speaking about what he did, and his regret, is part of his therapy. "How do you forgive yourself for screwing over people you played with?" he says. "How do you forgive yourself for abusing all these people? How do you get to that point? It took a long time."

The musicians stop and are replaced on the stage by the lead pastor of The Rock. He is John Werhas. He is also Naulty's father-in-law and a former infielder for the Dodgers and the Angels in the 1960s. Dan and John helped found this church soon after Naulty quit baseball. When Naulty returned this year, he sat down and figured out the minimum salary his family would need to live on and asked for nothing more. "I pastor not because I'm good at it," he says. "Well, hopefully I'm good at it. I do it because I love it. I'm grateful for where I'm at. I love my job."

Pastor John, his camp shirt untucked, walks around the stage and the floor, stopping occasionally to stand behind the rostrum to read a Bible verse. In one of his still moments, he reads from the 12th book of the New Testament, the Epistle of Paul to the Colossians. The video boards highlight the passage he reads aloud: Colossians 3:2.

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.

Dan Naulty, sitting with his wife and sons, nods. He knows all too well. After all he has been through, the abuse received and the abuse inflicted, his heart is filled with joy. It is, to borrow from his past self, something of a miracle.