November wasn't too early for Rico Brogna to begin his 2000 winter workouts. He reached into a bathroom bag for his bottle of andro, popped the first of two pills for the day and headed down the stairs of his Connecticut home.
There were no windows in the basement, just a mirror to reflect the quality of his labor: ribbons of rising sinew acquired by attacking the $12,000 of equipment every morning. Hours disappeared in that room, the clank-clank of the weight machines providing treble to the classic rock that blared as Brogna lifted. When he took andro, he felt like he just wanted to keep lifting. "Do another set!" he'd tell himself. "And let's do it again tomorrow!"
Brogna remembers first buying andro off the Internet three years earlier, in 1997; he then played the best ball of his career, hitting 44 homers and knocking in 206 runs for the Phillies over the following two seasons. Nearly 15 pounds of fresh muscle allowed him to feel as strong in August as he did in April. Late in the 1998 season, he reaped the
reward: a one-year, $3.2 million extension, easily his richest payday. The next August, he topped it, signing a second extension for $4.2 million.
Two years later, though, Brogna had to wonder if his body was finally breaking down for good. The 2000 season had been brutal: a shattered wrist, surgery on his right knee, pink slips from the Phillies, then the Red Sox. With his career up in the air, Brogna fleetingly considered taking a step up, to injectable steroids. He'd heard about the benefits of those drugs in 1991, when he was given a diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis, a debilitating form of arthritis; a minor league teammate offered to hook him up at the time. More recently, one Phillie was so overt with his steroid use that on a road trip he called Brogna in his room and asked for help with the injection.
Brogna says he opted against injectable steroids in 1991 and again in 2000 for the same reason he'd declined to pump them into that teammate: he hated needles. They were already too big a part of his life -- cortisone shots offered the only relief from his
worsening arthritis -- and he'd fainted many times from the sight of them. Plus, no matter how he justified to himself the use of andro, he still felt dirty popping it. He kept the pills a secret, even from his wife. Upgrading to harder stuff would feel even worse.
As Brogna waited to hear from potential employers before the 2001 season, he heard Andres Galarraga was leaving Atlanta. He told his agent to call the Braves. "Do the deal," he said. "Whatever it takes." The Braves made a $1.5 million offer, and Brogna accepted. But almost as soon as the season started, there were days when his stiffening spine and hips ached so badly, he needed help with tying his shoes. One night, as
he rounded third trying to score, he wasn't sure he could make the final 90 feet. Painkillers were all that stood between him and the bench.
Atlanta got off to a 26-26 start, but elsewhere the season was looking like another record breaker. By June 1, Barry Bonds had 29 home runs and was on pace to better Mark McGwire, whose troublesome right knee would limit him to 97 games and force him into retirement. Alex Rodriguez was in his first season as the $250 million Ranger. Roger Clemens, at 38, was headed to a sixth Cy Young.
In July, the Braves decided Brogna, at 31, was finished. To replace him, they brought in a former MVP, but one who wasn't a regular first baseman. Before the Braves let Brogna go, they asked him to take one more for the team.
They asked him to teach Ken Caminiti how to play his position.