July 1, 2022

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10 things we learned about former Astros star Ken Caminiti in new book ‘Playing Through the Pain’

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Caminiti, who played 10 of his 15 big league seasons with the Astros, is known among national baseball fans as being one of the first players to publicly admit to using steroids during his career in a revealing 2002 Sports Illustrated interview. In Houston, Caminiti is revered as the hard-charging third baseman who thrilled fans in the Astrodome and charmed them off the field.

Former Astros pitcher Rob Mallicoat, who was teammates with Caminiti in both the minors and majors, described his friend perfectly when he told Good, “He burned the candle not on one or both ends, but both ends and in the middle.” That’s a description of Caminiti’s life inside and outside of baseball.

Caminiti, who struggled with addiction for much of his adult life, died of a drug overdose in 2004 at the age of 41.

Here’s what we learned about Ken Caminiti in the new book …

How he got his steroids

Ken Caminiti of the San Diego Padres looks on as he adjust his batting gloves during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Jack Murphy Stadium on May 5, 1996 in San Diego, California. Ken Caminiti played for the Padres from 1995 - 1999.

Ken Caminiti of the San Diego Padres looks on as he adjust his batting gloves during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Jack Murphy Stadium on May 5, 1996 in San Diego, California. Ken Caminiti played for the Padres from 1995 – 1999.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

In his famous interview with Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, Caminiti said he would go to Mexico to get the steroids himself, but he was covering for his childhood friend Dave Moretti, who spoke to Good for the book. Moretti grew up with Caminiti and got involved in bodybuilding in the early 1980s. By the time steroids became popular in baseball, Moretti had spent a decade learning about the drug. According to the book, in 1991, a player gave Caminiti a package of steroids. Moretti checked them out for his friend and found out the drugs were fake and wouldn’t do any good. In 1995, Caminiti brought Moretti another package of steroids, and again they weren’t any good. “At that point, I told him, ‘If you seriously want to do this, do it right. But you need to really consider it and think about it, take some time, and let me know and we’ll talk,” Moretti says in the book. Caminiti started using steroids shortly thereafter with Moretti making the trip to Tijuana to secure the drugs and bring them back to Caminiti in San Diego. Caminiti hit a career-high 40 home runs and won the National League MVP a year later. After that season, Caminiti started sending other players to Moretti, who said he was supplying steroids to too many big leaguers to count.

Final years in Baytown

Ken Caminiti is a valued spectator and racing enthusiast. He sits at the starting line as various classes of street and pro modification drag racers meet 08/08/04 at Houston Raceway Park in Baytown 2525 F.M. 565 South, Baytown, TX 77520 HOUCHRON CAPTION (09/15/2004): CAMINITI
Ken Caminiti is a valued spectator and racing enthusiast. He sits at the starting line as various classes of street and pro modification drag racers meet 08/08/04 at Houston Raceway Park in Baytown 2525 F.M. 565 South, Baytown, TX 77520 HOUCHRON CAPTION (09/15/2004): CAMINITIBILL OLIVE/FOR THE CHRONICLE

While Nancy Caminiti and her daughters lived in Pecan Grove, Ken bought himself a place in Baytown shortly after retiring from baseball in 2001. Without baseball in his life, he dove into his love for cars and was a frequent visitor to Baytown’s Houston Raceway Park. Too much time on his hands also led Caminiti to hanging out with the wrong people. Kent Schaeffer, one of Ken’s attorneys, says in the book he had to go by the Baytown house multiple times to kick out the hangers-on. “There were guys sleeping on the counch, there were three or four people in the kitchen. Just really trashy people. I went over there with my investigator, this bug guy, former federal agent, he just told everybody, ‘Get your -hit, you’re leaving’ and physically kicked people out of the house.”

Ashes at Craig Biggio’s Texas Ranch

Astros third baseman, Ken Caminiti, left, and second baseman, Craig Biggio, were among the players who shed their baseball uniforms for snappy tuxedo attire at an annual benefit for the Women's Center of Houston. Sheraton Astrodome, 07/23/1992.

Astros third baseman, Ken Caminiti, left, and second baseman, Craig Biggio, were among the players who shed their baseball uniforms for snappy tuxedo attire at an annual benefit for the Women’s Center of Houston. Sheraton Astrodome, 07/23/1992.

Paul S. Howell/Houston Chronicle

Craig Biggio and Caminiti were incredibly tight. They once owned a hunting spot that they named Cambo Ranch, a combination of their names. When Biggio bought another plot of land in Sabinal, about an hour west of San Antonio, he named that Cambo Ranch, as well. That’s where Caminiti’s ashes were spread, underneath an oak tree that’s more than 300 years old.


Dealt with sexual abuse in middle school

Through interviews with some of Caminiti’s fellow patients at various rehab facilities, Good uncovered that Caminiti talked about being a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of an older male that started when he was in middle school in San Jose, California. According to Good’s book, Caminiti kept the abuse a secret from everyone, including his family, but tried to unburden himself of his dark past when he went to drug rehab facilities late in his life.

“He had things happen to him when he was younger,” Terry Yates, one of Caminiti’s attorneys, says in the book. “We all have baggage, I guess. Things happen to us in our lives and people cope with them in different ways. I just don’t think he could ever cope with it without using drugs. Drugs and alcohol are what he fell back on to anesthetize the pain he had. He just never found another way to deal with it.”

Astros, Art Howe tried to help

Houston Astros' Ken Caminiti (#11) is greeted by manager Art Howe, (in jacket) and teammates after hitting an eighth-inning homer Monday.
Houston Astros’ Ken Caminiti (#11) is greeted by manager Art Howe, (in jacket) and teammates after hitting an eighth-inning homer Monday.David Fahleson/Houston Chronicle

When Caminiti got a DUI late in the 1989 season, the Astros met with him to talk to him about his drinking. By 1993, there were signs that Caminiti’s troubles were more than just alcohol. Astros general manager Bill Wood met with him but Caminiti told him he didn’t have a problem. Astros manager Art Howe offered to tell everyone Caminiti had pulled a hamstring so he could step away from the team and go to rehab during the season without anyone knowing about it. Caminiti refused and instead tried to get clean on his own after the season.

Recurring problem

San Diego Padres Ken Caminiti during San Diego photo day at the Padres spring complex in Peoria, Arizona in 1997

San Diego Padres Ken Caminiti during San Diego photo day at the Padres spring complex in Peoria, Arizona in 1997

Icon Sports Wire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty

After the 1993 season with the Astros, Caminiti tried to get sober on his own, staying clean for 18 days until he attended the wedding of good friend and teammate Gerald Young, who also struggled with addiction problems. The wedding in the Pittsburgh area sent Caminiti on a three-day bender that ultimately ended with him calling former Rockets star John Lucas for help. He entered Lucas’ treatment center in Houston that offseason. Four years later, Caminiti had been sober for more than three years until he attended the 1997 ESPYs. Hanging out with celebrities and having to go on stage to give a speech was too much for Caminiti. When a fellow baseball player handed him a glass of vodka, he drank it. “I thought I could go ahead and sneak a drink. Told the bartender to make me a vodka drink but make it look like ice water. I drank about a hundred of them.” By the next season, Caminiti was back to drinking beers on the team’s bus and plane.

His first greenie

The late Ken Caminiti had two different tours of duty with the Astros, from 1987-94 and 1999-00. He died at age 41 on Oct. 10, 2004, the day before the Astros clinched their first playoff series victory.

The late Ken Caminiti had two different tours of duty with the Astros, from 1987-94 and 1999-00. He died at age 41 on Oct. 10, 2004, the day before the Astros clinched their first playoff series victory.

Getty Images

Caminiti claimed the first time he ever took a “greenie” – amphetamine pills popular throughout baseball decades ago because of the energy boost it gave players – was before his major league debut with the Astros in 1987. Most players used speed like that only when they needed the extra boost, especially when they had a day game after a night game. Caminiti quickly began using them more and more often, becoming scared to play “naked,” without any substances in his system. “He was one of those guys who believed that the drugs were the key,” former Astros sports psychologist Fran Pirozzolo says in the book. “I came into the game when 90 percent of players used stimulants, and even the most straitlaced players … would be bouncing off the dugout walls.”

Craig Biggio tried to help

July 1993:  Ken Caminiti and Craig Biggio, right, July 2, 1993 in the Astrodome. .

July 1993:  Ken Caminiti and Craig Biggio, right, July 2, 1993 in the Astrodome. .

Kerwin Plevka/Houston Chronicle

A 36-year-old Caminiti returned to the Astros in 1999, and his good buddy Craig Biggio tried to keep him clean. During that first spring training back together, Biggio lived in the same Florida condo complex as Caminiti. He would take his buddy out to dinner. Check in and make sure everything was OK. They’d go back to the condo together and things would seem fine. “We’d come back, time for bed, and Craig would get up, peek outside … Cammy’s car was gone,” said Barry Axelrod, Biggio’s agent. “We would do our best to get him home and safe and sober, and then he’d just make those decisions. You try that hard to help someone and you think you’re making progress, and then they make that decision. Man, it’s tough.”

First sign of trouble

Ken Caminiti #11 of the Houston Astros looks on during a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs on August 1, 1990 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Ken Caminiti #11 of the Houston Astros looks on during a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs on August 1, 1990 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Caminiti had been drinking since middle school and was known as a partier throughout his high school and college years, but beer became a big part of his life in the minor leagues where there’d be beers on the long bus trips, and players would go out after games and drink to either: Forget about the miserable night they just had at the plate, or celebrate the good night they just had. The book says plenty of Caminiti’s minor league teammates didn’t think he had a problem, because they all were drinking quite a bit, but former Astros minor league pitcher Anthony Kelly, who played with Ken from Class A Osceola all the way to Class AAA Tucson, saw it differently.

“We knew he had a problem, and we would talk about it,” Kelly says in the book. “We’d talk about it a lot. But it was always controlled. Never come to the ballpark drunk, high, or under the influence. Never play games under the influence.”

Casey Candaele tried to help from Class AAA New Orleans

08/23/1992 - (L-R) Houston Astros Casey Candaele and Ken Caminiti disembark from the Astros' team plane at Hobby Airport on Sunday night. The Astros completed their longest road trip in franchise history, 26 games in 28 days, made necessary because the Republican National Convention took over the Astrodome for the month.
08/23/1992 – (L-R) Houston Astros Casey Candaele and Ken Caminiti disembark from the Astros’ team plane at Hobby Airport on Sunday night. The Astros completed their longest road trip in franchise history, 26 games in 28 days, made necessary because the Republican National Convention took over the Astrodome for the month.Paul S. Howell/HC staff

Casey Candaele, who played five seasons with the Astros, was one of Caminiti’s close friends with the two even getting matching tattoos at one point. In 1999, Candaele was hanging on in the Astros’ minor leagues, playing at Class AAA New Orleans when Caminiti came through on a rehab assignment from a strained calf. Caminiti had a particularly rough night in New Orleans that nearly included a bar fight during the rehab stint, and Candaele told Astros assistant general manager Tim Purpura that someone needed to help Caminiti. “I’m just afraid that he won’t last five years after he’s out of the game; he’s going to be dead,” Candaele says he told Purpura. In the book, Purpura said the team offered Caminiti and tried to help anyway they could but he wasn’t willing to take their help.



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