Archive for Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Former MVP Caminiti dead at age 41

All-Star third baseman had admitted to violating parole last month in Houston

October 12, 2004


— Ken Caminiti was fearless on a baseball field. He made incredible stops at third base, swatted home runs from both sides of the plate and played through pain that would wither most men.

Friends and former teammates shocked by Caminiti's death Sunday in New York at age 41 remembered not only the great plays, but many off-field struggles.

He admittedly used steroids at the height of his career and had been arrested on cocaine charges in recent years. Early in his career, he admitted to abusing alcohol and painkillers.

"We all want to reduce people to pegs in a board. He just wasn't that kind of guy," San Diego Padres owner John Moores said Monday. "There was something that was horribly defective, and we loved him in spite of it."

Caminiti died of a heart attack in the Bronx, said his agent-lawyer Rick Licht. The city medical examiner's office performed an autopsy Monday but could not rule on a cause of death until toxicology tests were complete. That process could take as long as 10 days.

Caminiti was a fan favorite both in San Diego, where he led the Padres into the 1998 World Series, and Houston, where he played two stints with the Astros.

Houston All-Stars Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell heard the news about Caminiti's death several hours before playing in the deciding Game 5 of the division series against Atlanta on Monday night.

"We're both kind of devastated about it," Biggio said. "We feel terrible. We played with this guy for a long time. My wife and his wife are best friends; we know his kids. It's a tough thing. I guess the best thing we can do today for him is just go out and play well."

Caminiti's 15-year big league career ended in 2001, five seasons after he led the Padres to a division title and was named NL MVP.

Last Tuesday the former All-Star admitted in a Houston court that he violated his probation by testing positive for cocaine in September and was sentenced to 180 days in jail.

"I just don't know if he ever came to grips with not being able to go out and perform," Padres general manager Kevin Towers said Monday. "He loved the game so much, he probably had a hard time making the transition to not being a ballplayer again."

For all his off-field trouble, the Padres stayed loyal to Caminiti. He sat in Moores' box during the final game at Qualcomm Stadium last year and received a rousing ovation from the fans.

"It was meaningful for him and damn meaningful for me," Moores said.

Towers said Caminiti never did anything to hurt the Padres' organization.

"He hurt himself and his family with what he did off the field," Towers said. "He helped put San Diego back on the map. He was a good person, a very lovable guy, a guy you always wanted to be around. He put the team and the city ahead of his own well-being. There are not a lot of guys who will do that."

Caminiti admitted to being "shamed and embarrassed" about his post-baseball life during spring training. In May 2002, he told Sports Illustrated that he used steroids during his MVP season.

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