Authors: Barrett Snyder

West Chester University, West Chester, Pennsylvania, USA

Corresponding Author:

Barrett Snyder
PO Box 128
West Chester, PA 484-889-7321

Barrett Snyder is a WCUPA graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in Exercise Science with a specialization in Sports Psychology

BOOK REVIEW: Playing through the pain: Ken Caminiti and the Steroids Confession That Changed Baseball Forever

Good, D. (2022). Playing through the pain: Ken Caminiti and the Steroids Confession That Changed Baseball Forever. Abrams Press.

Two decades prior to gracing the cover of Dan Good’s 2022 baseball novel “Playing Through the Pain: Ken Caminiti and the Steroids Confession That Changed Baseball Forever,” Ken Caminiti, a native of Hanford, California, was prominently featured on the cover of the June 3rd, 2002, edition of Sports Illustrated Magazine. The cover portrayed a baseball with two intersecting syringes overlaying it, accompanied by the bold inscription “Steroids in Baseball” positioned just above. In more discreet lettering, the caption “Confessions of an MVP” accompanied a quote from Caminiti, the recipient of the 1996 National League Most Valuable Player award, which read, “At first, I felt like a cheater, but I looked around, and everybody was doing it.” It was at that moment in time when Caminiti took the bold step of openly acknowledging a truth that many others were hesitant to address: the pervasive use of steroids within the realm of ‘America’s National Pastime.’

The Sports Illustrated article has undeniably shaped the perceptions of many casual baseball fans and sports enthusiasts regarding Caminiti. For them, he might be perceived as a cheater, rendering his MVP award and place in the history of professional baseball seemingly undeserved. However, such judgments should be withheld until one immerses themselves in Good’s captivating narrative. In the case of Caminiti, his story is complex and multifaceted, extending beyond the realm of his admitted drug use. This intricacy underscores the significance of having his tale told. Good, inherently a skilled storyteller, emerges as the optimal candidate for this task. His capacity to weave narratives together effectively lends credence to the notion that Caminiti’s narrative, despite its shadows, is one that warrants thorough exploration.

Good’s meticulous examination of Caminiti’s life involved a decade-long endeavor delving into Caminiti’s story. This endeavor encompassed in-depth interviews with a diverse array of over 400 sources, resulting in a narrative that stands as perhaps the most comprehensive and nuanced account of any former professional athlete’s journey. Good’s portrayal is unflinchingly honest, adhering to the principle of telling it like it is. However, a discernible undercurrent of empathy runs through the entirety of the 384-page narrative. While Good’s primarily focus revolves around Caminiti’s life within and around baseball, Good also exposes the extensive reluctance of professional baseball to acknowledge, let alone confront, the pervasive steroid epidemic that influenced the sport for many decades.

Since his earliest years, the youngest offspring of Lee and Yvonne Caminiti garnered widespread affection and admiration from virtually everyone who crossed paths with him. Close companions from his formative years were attracted to his bold demeanor, genuine kindness, and impressive athletic abilities. Caminiti, who, if he had the option, would have inclined towards a professional football career over baseball, gained a reputation as an individual who exhibited exceptional determination, famously playing through injuries that would have benched most players. As Good eloquently conveyed “He played the position [third base] like he had played football, bruising and relentless. Ken’s play at third motivated and inspired his teammates and competitors. It made them dig deeper and ask more of themselves.”

A particularly noteworthy aspect that Good emphasizes is that the unwavering fondness and regard others felt for Caminiti remained steadfast, even as his inner struggles gradually surfaced over time. Scores of both present and past teammates and coaches, spanning his journey from Little League to the major leagues, maintained their adoration and respect for the seasoned 15-year veteran. They earnestly endeavored to offer assistance and solace during his most challenging moments.

Good presents the reader with an unprecedented exploration of Caminiti’s internal struggles. A tenacious third baseman who burst into the major leagues with a remarkable debut on July 16, 1987—hitting a home run, a triple, and securing the game-winning run—Caminiti’s struggle began in middle school when he started consuming alcohol, mainly beer. This enjoyment of partying continued throughout high school and college. As time elapsed, his reliance on beer escalated, and in a parallel development, Caminiti began developing an affinity for other substances. Among them were “greenies,” amphetamines readily accessible within the clubhouse, which ultimately transitioned into a reliance on cocaine and crack cocaine. Eventually, as extensively documented, Caminiti delved into the world of steroids.

Upon reaching Chapter 14 titled “Earthquake,” readers finally uncover the long-awaited resolution to the question: What happened to Ken Caminiti? Concealed from everyone, including his parents, Caminiti during his rehabilitation sessions spanning 2001 and 2002 disclosed the hidden truth that he was the victim of childhood sexual abuse beginning in middle school. The individual, an adult male, responsible has never been identified. Caminiti’s addictions were deeply rooted in childhood trauma. Whenever memories of his past surfaced, feelings of shame would emerge, leading him to turn to numbing substances in an attempt to dull the inner pain he carried.

Playing Through the Pain stands as an unflinching testament to the depths individuals can descend to either conceal their struggles or confront them with unhealthy vices. It serves as a poignant reminder that the private battles someone wrestles with behind closed doors, can forever elude the comprehension of even those closest to them. This truth finds its embodiment in the life of Caminiti. His narrative transcends the confines of a mere Sports Illustrated cover story; it unfolds as a tale woven with undeniable complexities—kindness, compassion, love, fear, shame, and hurt. Through Good’s narrative, readers are compelled to confront the intricate layers that compose Caminiti’s story.
Good distinguishes himself from fellow sports writers by crafting a manuscript that speaks not solely to baseball enthusiasts but resonates universally with those grappling with personal or familial struggles linked to addiction, inner turmoil, substance abuse, and the burden of shame. His masterpiece extends far beyond sports into the realm of shared human experience. As readers, we are privileged to receive this beautiful gift that transcends boundaries and speaks to audiences across the spectrum.

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