One who spoke up

We’ll send you into the weekend with a well-done column about one player who tried to warn baseball about its growing performance-enhancing drug problem a decade ago — Rick Helling, a former Texas Rangers righthander and an ex-teammate of Alex Rodriguez.

Writes Bergen County Record columnist Ian O’Connor on North

In 1998, when he saw his game devolving into a pharmacological freak show, Helling arrived at the winter meetings of the Executive Board of the Players Association and became the first known athlete to rise before a union and declare war on performance-enhancing drugs.

“I think we have a problem with steroids,” Helling told the room.

. . . He had just gone 20-7 with the Rangers, tying Roger Clemens and David Cone for most victories in the American League. Only Helling wasn’t playing hardball with his newfound status. He was merely representing the clean players — many of them marginal talents — who were sick of losing jobs, contracts and on-field faceoffs to those who had crossed over to the dark side.

“It’s one thing if you’re a person who will cheat and do whatever it takes to make money,” Helling said. “But what bothered me were the players — tons of guys — who didn’t feel that way but who told me they were feeling pressure to keep up with the cheaters.

“They would say, ‘I don’t want to take stuff, but I feel like I might have to if I want to keep my job.’ These were the guys I wanted to help.”

While Helling found that his pleas repeatedly fell on deaf ears, he did leave the game with his conscience clear.

“I can look back knowing I did it the right way, that it was 100 percent me,” he said. “Could I have played longer, and better, and made more money? Maybe, but it wasn’t something I would risk my values on.

“You hear the common phrase, ‘Everyone was doing it back then,’ but that wasn’t the case. I have three young kids, and I’m so thankful they don’t have to see on TV that their father was a cheater.”

Good stuff from a player who clearly had a perspective that extended beyond the next game. Judging by some of the dubious Rangers teams Helling played on, it’s fair to assume he was in the minority there.

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