August 8 – Happy Birthday Jason Grimsley
Its a lot easier for me to criticize star players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens for allegedly turning to PEDs to help them pad already impressive personal stats and lengthen their careers, than it is to criticize today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Back in 1996, it looked as if Jason Grimsley’s career as a Major League pitcher was over. In seven seasons, pitching mostly as a starter with the Phillies, Indians and Angels, he had not been able to win more than five games or earn much more than the league’s minimum salary. He was 28 years-old and being sent back to the minors and the odds were he’d never put on a big league uniform again.
Then three years later, he re-emerged in the Bronx, in Joe Torre’s Yankee bullpen. When New York’s late-inning relievers Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson both struggled during that 1999 season, it was Grimsley who picked them up. The tall right-hander appeared in 55 games that year, won seven of his nine decisions and finished with a 3.60 ERA. When asked to explain why he was pitching so much more effectively than he did earlier in his career, Grimsley credited the improvement to his conversion to a full-time reliever. He said the change in roles permitted him to focus on mastering one pitch, a hard sinking fastball, instead of trying to master four different ones. That made sense, but seven years later we learned that other factors may have also been involved.
In 2006, the front door doorbell of Grimsley’s Arizona home rang. When the Cleveland, Texas native answered it, he found federal agents with a search warrant. They were there looking for human growth hormone and in the conversation that followed, Grimsley not only admitted using the substance, he reportedly gave the agents the names of several teammates who used HGH, steroids and amphetamines. The next day, Grimsley asked his then current employer, the Arizona Diamondbacks to release him and they immediately obliged.
So why do I find it so hard to criticize Grimsley for turning to performance enhancers? Simply put, I feel he was cheating just to survive and feed his family, while guys like Clemens and Bonds, who had already made their marks and fortunes in the game, could only have been motivated by greed and/or ego. Grimsley’s drug-taking helped him get back to the majors and raise his salary from $425,000 to $2 million annually. During the eight years after his return to the big leagues, Grimsley earned over $8 million and probably secured his family’s future for life. If I were Grimsley, faced with the same choices, I’d have a real difficult time not making the same exact one he did.