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Former Sox starter admits steroid use

Crawford says it was 'everywhere' in baseball

Paxton Crawford, reached by phone last night, offered no more than a minute to explain himself, despite the fact that in the ESPN The Magazine issue that hit newsstands yesterday he detailed his steroid use beginning in 1999 in minor league camp with the Red Sox and continuing in the majors with the team in 2000 and 2001.

``I thought it was a one-time story deal, bro," said Crawford, who at 28 is out of baseball and working on his family's farm in Arkansas. ``If any other reporter called, I was not interested."

The reporter mentioned that he'd covered the Sox for about a decade, including Crawford's time with the club, and didn't know for sure who'd used steroids.

``You didn't know?" Crawford asked, surprise in his voice.

No, the reporter said. How widespread was it? Were there a lot of players?

``Yup," he said.

Five, 10, 20, 50, how many?

``It was just everywhere," he said.

Did this begin in minor league camp, in big league camp?

``So, anyway," Crawford said, ``it's kind of a sore subject, bro. That's it."

And he hung up.

You may remember a 22-year-old version of Paxton Crawford, who in July 2000 with Triple A Pawtucket tossed a seven-inning no-hitter. The next night he fell out of bed in a hotel room in Ottawa and landed on a water glass (that's what he claimed, at least). The rumors that made the rounds suggest a different cause of the gash that cost him 2 pints of blood and a chance to be recalled by the Sox later that month. In 2002, at Pawtucket, he was reprimanded by the team for an incident that took place in the stadium parking lot while the game was in progress.

Crawford, who made 15 big league appearances, all with the Sox in 2000 and 2001, had his share of missteps as a pro baseball player. In ESPN The Magazine he documents yet another: steroid use. Until this, no big league player who has been suspended for steroids or who willfully acknowledged using steroids was a member of the Sox organization at the time he used.

Crawford, in a first-person story, told ESPN The Magazine's Amy Nelson, ``I always envied the guys with rubber arms. I was the type who was always in pain. During minor league spring training with the Red Sox in 1999, some of the other guys saw I was hurting. They told me that if I took this stuff, it would make the pain go away and cut my recovery time in half. Shoot, why not? I'm just a country boy. I didn't even think twice.

``It seemed like everybody else was doing it, so it wasn't a big deal, right?"

Crawford, who stood 6 foot 3 inches tall and weighed about 205 pounds, said he began by injecting himself with 1 cc of Deca Durabolin each week, ``a lot less than some guys were taking." He also began taking Winstrol .

``That was the big thing with pitchers -- a combo of Winny and Deca," he told ESPN The Magazine. ``Winny would improve your fast-twitch muscles and help you gain velocity. Deca, which is oil-based, would keep your tendons and joints lubed up and make you feel better the next morning.

``When I started using, I noticed my fastball jumped from 92-93 to 95-96 m.p.h. But the biggest change for me was consistency. My breaking pitches had more velocity and sharper break. I was probably using the most back in 2001, when I made the Red Sox' rotation out of spring training. About that time I was getting pretty big, and another player introduced me to human growth hormone (HGH), which had started to make the rounds in the majors."

Crawford, however, said he didn't like HGH and stopped using it ``because it cut me up. It's a fat burner, and it made my muscles really lean and tight."

One of Crawford's surprises amid steroid use: instead of experiencing ``roid rage," he felt the opposite.

``I was so sure the Deca would feed my aggression that I actually let up; I was going to the mound less pissed off than before," he told ESPN The Magazine. ``That's when some of my teammates introduced me to greenies [amphetamines]. The whole thing is a cycle. That's why I think steroids are a gateway drug. One time I took this pill called speckled trout. It was pink with red flecks in it, and it made my heart almost jump out of my chest.

``Back in 2001, I thought I was the man. I had no shame, and I thought nobody could touch me. One time, I walked right into the Red Sox clubhouse with a bunch of needles wrapped in a towel and left them on my chair. A few minutes later, one of my teammates came running over, saying, `Paxton, someone knocked your chair over and your freaking needles are all over the floor!' Man, we just died about that. He said it was the funniest thing he'd ever seen, told me I was nuts. But that's the way it was back then."

Only three members of the current Sox were teammates with Crawford in Boston in 2001: captain Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield, and Trot Nixon (Doug Mirabelli was dealt to the Sox in June 2001 but wasn't teammates with Crawford).

Both Varitek and Wakefield, when informed of Crawford's account, said the scene with needles on the clubhouse carpet sounds difficult to believe. Wakefield called ``ridiculous" the suggestion that a member of the Sox one of those years introduced him to steroids.

But, Wakefield added, ``I didn't see him in spring training that much. I really don't know him. He was up here, what, two months?"

Indeed, Crawford's major league career was a brief one. He debuted July 1, 2000, pitching 5 1/3 innings at Chicago and allowing two earned runs in a 7-2 loss. He made 15 total appearances over that season and the next, 11 of them starts, going 5-1 with a 4.15 ERA. Varitek remembers that debut.

``I caught him," Varitek said. ``That one sticks out. It was a pretty phenomenal start. He had a pretty explosive fastball. We were looking to utilize him."

His major league career, though, lasted less than a full calendar year. He was in the rotation to begin 2001 but made just seven starts. He suffered a stress fracture in his lower back in June 2001 and had shoulder surgery in February 2002. He never got out of Pawtucket in 2002, going 2-3 with a 5.55 ERA in just nine games. In October 2002, the Sox released him.

``That was quite something," Mike Port, who released Crawford, said yesterday, after reading the ESPN account. ``I remember he wasn't throwing the ball well. But I never had any reason to suspect anything. Nor do I expect any of us did. He was a big strong fellow to begin with.

``Unfortunately, I would say it's a story I hope -- not at Paxton's expense -- but a story I hope a lot of people should read now. And be advised, knowing the things we know now.

``As I knew him, his personality, I never had a problem. He was cooperative enough. I think he was just trying to make his own way. I'm sorry to read about it, but if any good can come out of it hopefully others will read it this week."

Port was interim GM for just one season, 2002, and was an assistant GM the years Crawford acknowledged using steroids (1999-2001). But Port said there were no indications Crawford was using steroids. The same notion was voiced by Varitek and Wakefield.

``There's so much we don't know about what other guys are doing," Varitek said. ``We know on the field, where we all compete. Granted, this team over the years has gotten to where guys hang out more, go to dinner, and I still don't think you're necessarily going to know, no matter what it is."

Crawford's career just recently came to an end, though not without another forgettable incident.

In August 2004 with Chattanooga, the Double A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, he was suspended 15 days for violating the league's alcohol and drug abuse policy. His last destination, last summer, was with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, home of those with nowhere left to turn. His teammates included John Rocker, Pete Rose Jr., and former Cardinals prospect Donovan Osborne. He was off to an 8-2 start with a 1.92 ERA but went into a tailspin and called it a career in August.

Now, he's home in Arkansas, helping his parents, Carl and Marilyn, on the family farm.

``Sometimes I feel like it's my fault, like I brought this on baseball," Crawford told ESPN The Magazine. ``I'll never name names, but I know it wasn't just me. Steroids had a hold on the game. Guys were walking around like zombies. Baseball is mostly mental, and all these things you're putting into your body are going to affect how you think.

``In 2001, that started happening to me. I was taking way too much stuff, and I'd get rattled. You can't get rattled in the big leagues. And then I messed up my back. I think the steroids had something to do with that, too.

``It's like playing with fire."

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