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Lucchino pleads ignorance

He says he didn't suspect Caminiti was using steroids

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In the wake of a published admission by San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers that he "felt like I knew" star player Ken Caminiti was using steroids while with the Padres, Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, who was CEO of the team during Caminiti's stint there, said he was unaware that Caminiti was a steroid user.

"I did not," said Lucchino, speaking by telephone from his Boston office, when asked if he knew Caminiti was using steroids when he was with the Padres.

Asked if Towers had come to him with concerns that Caminiti was using steroids, Lucchino said, "No, not that I can recall. You know, it's hard to separate now what you know after the fact from what you knew at the time. But I don't remember any discussions or warnings about it."

Caminiti won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1996, his second season in San Diego, and later became the first major league player to admit to steroid use. He died last Oct. 10 at the age of 41. The New York City medical examiner listed the cause of death as a drug overdose (cocaine and other opiates were found in Caminiti's bloodstream), coronary artery disease, and an enlarged heart.

"The most salient point is we were concerned about Ken Caminiti, but our concern was about Creatine, about alcohol, it was not really about steroids," Lucchino said.

In the edition of ESPN The Magazine that is scheduled to appear on newsstands tomorrow and is on the magazine's website, Towers is quoted by reporter Buster Olney as saying that he "felt he knew" Caminiti was using steroids.

"I feel somewhat guilty, because I felt like I knew," said Towers, who in Sunday's editions of the Globe said he believed that Jose Canseco's allegations of widespread steroid use are "90 percent accurate."

"I still don't know for sure, but Cammy came out [later] and said that he used steroids, and I suspected," Towers told Olney. "Selfishly, the guy was putting up numbers, and I didn't do anything about it. That's just the truth."

The Padres won the National League West in 1996 and two years later went to the World Series.

"The truth is, we're in a competitive business," Towers told ESPN, "and these guys were putting up big numbers and helping your ball club win games. You tended to turn your head on things. And it really wakes you up when someone you admire as a person is no longer around. You can't help but think, could I have done something differently four or five years ago that might have changed what happened to him?

"I hate to be the one voice for the other 29 GMs, but I'd have to imagine that all of them, at one point or other, had reason to think that a player on their ball club was probably using, based on body changes and things that happened over the winter."

On Dec. 28, 1994, the Padres acquired Caminiti from the Astros in a 13-player trade that included Roberto Petagine, who is currently in training camp trying to win a job with the Red Sox, and Craig Shipley, one of Theo Epstein's top assistants.

"When we got him," Lucchino said, "he was already a heavy-workout, well-built guy. That was our initial impression, my impression, of his body type. The point I'm trying to make is we didn't see any radical transformation from 185 pounds to 225 pounds of muscle. What we got in 1995 is what he was."

Caminiti said in previous published reports that he began using steroids in June 1996, when he crossed the border to Mexico and obtained injectable steroids to help him recover from a ligament tear in his throwing shoulder. In the last three months of the '96 season, the third baseman hit 26 home runs; he never had hit more than 26 in a full season.

Caminiti, who never had received a single vote in MVP balloting in previous seasons, was elected National League MVP that November. He finished with 40 home runs and 130 RBIs.

"The key point is, when we got Ken Caminiti, he was a certain body type," Lucchino said last night. "That was a given. We didn't see anything to cause great warnings.

"Again, our focus was on alcohol and Creatine, whether Creatine would lead to injuries from dehydration, muscle pulls, and tears.

"As I look back on it, knowing what we know now, it's hard to separate the perspective we have now from the perspective we had then."

Towers has been an outspoken critic of steroid use, while Lucchino has voiced his support for the new steroid-testing procedures adopted by Major League Baseball. Random testing of players is scheduled to begin Thursday in training camps.

"I think the commissioner is making a determined effort to focus us on this," Lucchino said. "A solution to this problem won't be found overnight. I still think something positive can come out of this."

Towers, who did not respond last night to a call from the Globe, said he believed Caminiti's motivation to use steroids was to play every day despite injuries. But by 1998, Caminiti's last season with the team, he was breaking down physically, sometimes falling during his swing.

"He could hardly stay on his feet," Towers said. "It just got to the point where his body couldn't handle it anymore. He was broke physically, and broke mentally.

"I feel, as GM, I probably get to know these guys better than my own family. And as a young GM, what Cammy did not only for the organization, but for my career . . . If he's not there, not only am I not wearing a ring, who knows if I'm still a general manager? Those were three of the best years we ever had."

Towers told Olney he was stunned by Caminiti's regression.

"I thought, wow, here's a player I care about, like he's part of my family. I knew he had a problem. But I never did anything about it, because selfishly, it helped the organization and helped me."

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