"Perhaps no team comes off worse in the 409-page report than the Dodgers," says the trio of Times reporters who pored over the Mitchell report on steroids and human growth hormone. Ross Newhan, the paper's semi-retired lead baseball writer, comes back to contribute to the coverage, which focuses on a time when he was around the team. The print story fleshes out the earlier bits about catcher Paul Lo Duca.
Fans and teammates anointed him the "heart and soul" of the Dodgers, the late-blooming hard-charger whose 2004 trade stung like a betrayal to those who bleed blue.
Now, the explosive report by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell on the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in baseball paints a much different picture of Paul Lo Duca. The All-Star catcher is described in the document as the pivot man in the virus-like spread of steroids and human growth hormone through the team clubhouse, to the lockers and doorsteps of then-Dodgers Eric Gagne -- the beloved "Game Over" relief icon -- and pitcher Kevin Brown, and even to the former minor league franchise in Albuquerque.
Lo Duca is portrayed as both consumer and conduit of the drugs, the happy-to-oblige middleman between teammates and Kirk Radomski, a onetime New York Mets clubhouse worker and admitted steroid pusher.
"Thanks," Lo Duca once wrote to Radomski on Dodger Stadium stationery, the report says. "Call me if you need anything!"
And when Dodgers officials decided to trade Lo Duca, the report suggests, one of the reasons wasn't his own use of steroids, but the fact that he apparently had stopped taking them.
"Got off the steroids. . . . Took away a lot of hard line drives," the report quotes from notes of an internal discussion by the officials in 2003. "Can get comparable value back would consider trading. . . . If you do trade him, will get back on the stuff and try to show you he can have a good year. That's his makeup."
During his L.A. tenure, the report says, Lo Duca was referred to Radomski by Hundley, and soon after the Dodgers catcher and Mets clubhouse assistant were exchanging money for drugs.
Radomski told the Mitchell investigators that he sent kits of human growth hormone by overnight mail to Lo Duca's home or to the Dodgers clubhouse, and the player would send him a check -- typically for $3,200 -- about a week later.
Eric Gagne doesn't come across too well either, if you think steroids are bad. He is described as getting the drugs through Lo Duca. (Remember, Gagne suddenly became an unhittable closer after languishing as a so-so starter.) When the Red Sox were thinking in 2006 about getting Gagne, their GM's note to a scout suspected he was a druggie:
"Have you done any digging on Gagne? I know the Dodgers think he was a steroid guy. Maybe so. What do you hear on his medical?" The report says the scout, Mark Delpiano, responded: "Some digging on Gagne and steroids IS the issue. Has had a checkered medical past throughout career including minor leagues. Lacks the poise and commitment to stay healthy, maintain body and reinvent self....Mentality without the plus weapons and without steroid help probably creates a large risk in bounce back durability and ability to throw average while allowing the change-up to play as it once did."
The Red Sox finally did get Gagne at the end of last season — and he did bomb. They didn't want him any more and he signed this week with Milwaukee for one year at $10 million. Lo Duca's skills collapsed this season and he was dumped by the Mets, then signed by the Nationals this week.
Family affair: Newhan's son David got in 56 games for the Mets this season, but is not on the winter roster.