Ken Caminiti, 1996 NL MVP, dies at age 41
by Ben Walker
AP Baseball Writer
October 11, 2004
(c) Houston Astros
NEW YORK (AP) -- Ken Caminiti, the 1996 National League MVP who later admitted using steroids during his major league career, died Sunday. He was 41.
Caminiti died of a heart attack in the Bronx, said his agent-lawyer Rick Licht. The city medical examiner's office said an autopsy would be performed Monday, spokeswoman Ellen Borakove said.
"I'm still in shock," San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers said. "He was one of my favorite all-time players."
The three-time All-Star third baseman often was in trouble the last few years. His 15-year big league career ended in 2001, five seasons after he led the Padres to a division title and was a unanimous pick for MVP.
Just last Tuesday, he admitted in a Houston court that he violated his probation by testing positive for cocaine last month, and was sentenced to 180 days in jail.
But state District Judge William Harmon gave Caminiti credit for the 189 days he already served in jail and a treatment facility since he was sentenced to three years probation for a cocaine arrest in March 2001.
In May 2002, Caminiti told Sports Illustrated that he used steroids during his MVP season, when he hit a career-high .326 with 40 home runs and 130 RBIs. He estimated half the players in the big leagues were also using them.
Licht said Caminiti hoped to get back into the game, possibly in a position that would allow him to mentor younger players about avoiding the mistakes he made. Caminiti did return to baseball this year, serving as a spring training instructor with San Diego.
"He didn't look good," Towers said. "I'm not surprised.
"The best way to describe him is that he was a warrior in every sense of the word. I can't tell you how many times I remember him hobbling into the manager's office, barely able to walk, and saying, `Put me in the lineup.'"
Licht said Caminiti was in New York this past weekend to help a friend, but did not go into detail.
"Man, that's just a tough one. I played with him for eight years," Dodgers outfielder Steve Finley said Sunday night, learning of Caminiti's death after St. Louis eliminated Los Angeles from the playoffs.
"He was a great player, but he got mixed up in the wrong things - taking drugs. It's a sad reminder of how bad drugs are and what they can do to your body. It's a loss all of us will feel."
Caminiti batted .272 with 239 homers and 983 RBIs with Houston, San Diego, Texas and Atlanta.
Caminiti's defining moment during his MVP season came on Aug. 18, 1996, in the oppressive heat of Monterrey, Mexico, as the Padres prepared to face the New York Mets in the finale of the first regular-season series played outside the United States and Canada.
Battling dehydration and an upset stomach, Caminiti took two liters of intravenous fluid, then hit two home runs for four RBIs in an 8-0 victory.
"I didn't think I was going to play that day," he recalled after the season. "I'd have to thank the training staff for getting me on the field that day. They made a bigger deal than I thought it was."
Towers and Licht both recalled the enormous ovation Caminiti received during a 2003 ceremony marking the Padres' farewell at Qualcomm Stadium. The team moved into a new ballpark this season.
Licht said he had to go to Houston to persuade Caminiti to make an appearance, and Towers remembered the former star was nervous.
"He didn't know what kind of reaction he would get," Towers said.
After being showered with cheers, Caminiti told Licht it was his greatest day in baseball.
"It's a shame for his family as much as it is for his friends," former Padres teammate Andy Ashby said. "He's got three daughters who are going to miss having dad around. It's a shame. It's a terrible thing."
Caminiti teamed with Tony Gwynn and Greg Vaughn in the middle of the Padres' 1998 lineup, leading them to the World Series, where they got swept by the New York Yankees.
"I'm saddened by the news. He was a terrific kid, it's unfortunate," Houston manager Phil Garner, who coached Caminiti, said from Atlanta. "What we all loved about Cammy was his devotion to the game and his desire for the game. But it went into uncontrollable levels with no discipline."
AP Sports Writers Bernie Wilson and Joel Anderson contributed to this story.
Caminiti dies of heart attack
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
Ken Caminiti, the 1996 NL MVP, died of a heart attack at 41 on Sunday. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
LOS ANGELES -- Ken Caminiti, the 1996 National League Most Valuable Player while playing for the San Diego Padres, died Sunday. He was 41. Caminiti's agent-lawyer, Rick Licht, told San Diego majority owner John Moores that Caminiti died of a heart attack in the Bronx. Licht said that New York City's medical examiner's office would perform an autopsy on Monday.
"I'm absolutely devastated," said Moores, who purchased the Padres just before the start of the 1995 season. "I don't know what to make of it."
Caminiti spent 15 years in the Majors and was a three-time All-Star third baseman. He won the NL MVP Award in 1996.
Out of baseball since 2001, Caminiti drifted in and out of trouble. Just last week, he said in a Houston court that he had violated his probation by testing positive for cocaine, and he was sentenced to 180 days in jail.
In 2002, Caminiti admitted using steroids during his MVP season, when he batted .326 with 40 home runs and 130 RBIs.
"Man, that's just a tough one," the Dodgers' Steve Finley told the AP after learning of Caminiti's death. "I played with him for eight years. He was a great player, but he got mixed up in the wrong things -- taking drugs. It's a sad reminder of how bad drugs are and what they can do to your body. It's a loss all of us will feel."
Caminiti's Padre tenure began in conjunction with Moores' purchase of the team. He was obtained from the Houston Astros in a 10-player trade that included Finley on Dec. 28, 1994, and played for the Padres' NL West winners in 1996 and San Diego's last NL pennant-winning team in 1998. Caminiti left the Padres via free agency after the 1998 season.
Moores remained close with Caminiti and flew him out to San Diego last year for the team's final series ever at Qualcomm Stadium. Moores said he had been contemplating giving Caminiti a job in the Padres organization.
"It wasn't going to happen this coming season, but it was definitely on the table," Moores said, fighting back tears. "I'm upset, Rick's upset and my wife Becky is very upset. It just is what it is."
Caminiti had documented problems with alcohol abuse during his first tour with the Astros, but was best known for his gutsy performances while he was with the Padres.
The story of his recovery from the flu during an August 1996 trip to Monterrey, Mexico, where the Padres played the Mets was legend. Caminiti was prone on the clubhouse floor in Estadio Monterrey and took fluids intravenously so he could play in a Sunday afternoon game.
He scraped himself off the floor and hit two homers in the game, an 8-0 Padres victory. That season, Caminiti hit .326 with 40 homers and 130 RBIs and was named the only NL MVP in San Diego's 36-year MLB history. But his skills began to erode quickly.
"The best way to describe him is that he was a warrior in every sense of the word," said Padres general manager Kevin Towers. "I can't tell you how many times I remember him hobbling into the manager's office, barely able to walk, and saying, 'Put me in the lineup.'"
The Padres have had other former star players die young. Pitcher Eric Show and second baseman Alan Wiggins, both core players on the 1984 NL championship team, passed away from drug-related problems. Show, then 38 years old, died in a rehabilitation center from a drug overdose. Wiggins was 33 when he died of AIDS, which he contracted because of drug needle use.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
Statement from Padres chairman John Moores on Caminiti's death
Becky and I are grief-stricken at the premature death of one of the bravest athletes that we have known. We admired Ken tremendously and remained optimistic that he would conquer the personal challenges that he was dealing with during the past several years.
Though we lost a dear friend today, we are thankful that we were able to watch one of baseball's consummate craftsmen at work. Ken's immense talent was driven by a tremendous work ethic and an insurmountable passion for the game. He will be deeply missed by the entire Padres' organization.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Nancy, his children and the entire Caminiti family.
The final hours of Ken Caminiti's life
by William Weinbaum and Jeremy Schaap / ESPN.com
November 3, 2004
Five days before he died on Oct. 10, 41-year-old Ken Caminiti walked out of the Harris County Jail in Houston, where he had spent four weeks for violating his probation by testing positive for drugs. It was the fourth time he'd tested positive since he was arrested in 2001 for possessing less than a gram of cocaine.
Among the first people he visited the day after his release were Albe and Deetta Ethington, Caminiti's friends and neighbors in suburban Houston. The Ethingtons describe Caminiti as a surrogate son.
"He came over and gave me a bear hug like you wouldn't believe, and as he was hugging me, he says, 'Well, I let you down. I broke my promise to you, but it's not gonna happen again,' " Ethington said. " 'From this day on, I'm going to get help and I'm going to get my head clear.' "
Ethington said Caminiti told him he was traveling that night to see Maria Romero's son, but promised that he would return to pick up his dogs, two yellow labs named Casey and Candy, from Ethington, and take them to Montana for a hunting trip.
"That was the last I saw him," Ethington said.
After visiting the Ethingtons, Caminiti visited his attorney, Kent Schaffer. "Ken said he had to catch a plane to Florida," Schaffer said, "and he explained the situation in which he needed to go from Florida to New York to help Maria's son.
"He said he thought he was in a unique position to help, because this kid would listen to him," Schaffer said. "We urged him in very strong terms not to get involved to the point of him actually going to New York, because of the toxic relationship between him and Maria."
Caminiti and Romero met four years earlier when both were patients at the Smithers Center, a drug rehabilitation facility in midtown Manhattan. Romero said she was engaged to marry Caminiti, a divorced father of three.
Two people who knew Caminiti said he described Romero as the love of his life, but others painted a far different picture.
"In the time that I knew Ken Caminiti, not one time did he tell me that he was in love with Maria," Schaffer said. "He never told me that they were engaged, had any plans to be married, and ever since the first month that they started seeing each other, the only thing I ever heard about were problems that he was having with Maria and the problems he was having trying to get rid of her and not having to support her any more."
No one contacted by ESPN could substantiate that the couple were engaged.
Caminiti's friends, in fact, worried about violence in the relationship. "Sometimes it was so bad that she would actually strike Ken," Ethington said, "and being the gentleman he was, he never hit back."
Romero acknowledges striking Caminiti in the face on one occasion, but says he provoked the attack with verbal abuse. "We had our ups and downs," she said.
Romero, 34 years old and a mother of three, still wears the ring she said Caminiti gave her on March 25 when he proposed in the parking lot of a mall in Arizona during spring training this year. Caminiti was working as a part-time hitting instructor for the San Diego Padres.
Romero said she and Caminiti had not set a wedding date, but planned to "get married, be healthy and be happy."
Caminiti's friends offer a different account.
"Maria had come back and told us that Ken wanted to be married," Ethington said. "So I asked Ken outright if he had proposed to her and wanted to marry her, and he said, 'Absolutely not.' He had no intentions of marrying her."
"He said he did buy a ring while he was in Phoenix because she liked it ... but nothing about matrimony at all, no way," Ethington said. "His ultimate goal was to get rid of all the drugs and be clean for 2, 2½ years, and then -- he told me this himself -- he wanted to start courting his ex-wife and see if they could get back together again.
"He loved her and the kids dearly and this is where he wanted to go."
On April 23, a month after Romero said Caminiti proposed, probation officer Tracy Burns got a call from Caminiti, who had apparently relapsed with his drug addiction.
"He [Caminiti] said he was trying to get Maria out of his house and she would not leave," Burns said. "He was distraught and I had to go out there and intervene."
Caminiti paid for Romero to fly from Houston to Tampa with two of her children who had been living with the couple. Romero said she left Houston because she and Caminiti were "having changes" and that she needed medical treatment in Florida for a kidney ailment
But Burns said Romero was asked to leave. "We made sure that she left before we left."
On May 11, Harris County Criminal Court Judge William Harmon amended the terms of Caminiti's probation and ordered Caminiti to cut off all contact with her.
Despite the judge's order, flight records suggest that Romero and Caminiti traveled to see each other throughout the spring and summer. From June through August, Caminiti was in Tampa three times. Romero flew to Houston twice, in May and at the end of August.
"He was lonely," Burns said. "He had lost everything -- his family, his friends, his career. I just think she was the only person that he thought he could trust."
"He was able to help her. He had the finances to help her and she took advantage of that," Burns said.
On Sept. 14, Caminiti was arrested again after testing positive for cocaine.
One night after his release from jail, Caminiti flew from Houston to Tampa. Ethington and two other friends said Caminiti had several thousand dollars with him when he left Houston to see Romero.
A day later, Caminiti and Romero flew to New York and checked into a Queens hotel. After midnight, according to Romero, they went by taxi to visit her teenage son in Bushwick, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Brooklyn, where crime and drug use are commonplace. Romero's son was living in Bushwick in an apartment with his father, Robert Silva.
"He just came to talk to my son to try to help him out of running with the wrong crowd, stuff like that," Silva said. "I think he was the right person to talk to him because I know he loved my son a lot."
Said Romero of Caminiti: "He was doing real good. He wanted to do a lot of things. He was real positive. Very positive."
Romero said she and Caminiti spent the next two days relaxing, shopping and visiting her family. Caminiti, she said, worked out at a gym near their hotel on Friday. She doesn't know whether Caminiti took drugs that Sunday, but said she and Caminiti had not used drugs together that week.
On Oct. 9, two nights after arriving in New York, Romero said she and Caminiti attended her niece's birthday party at her mother's apartment in Bushwick, then stayed at the apartment overnight.
Caminiti woke her up at about 4 a.m., Romero said, and told her he was going to the hotel to start packing for their flight to Houston that afternoon. She said there were no arguments and nothing unusual in Caminiti's demeanor. He left the apartment with $24 in his wallet.
According to billing records for Caminiti's cellphone, there were calls at both 4:14 and 4:16 a.m. to Romero's brother, and another call to him 36 minutes later. Hector Romero is a convicted drug dealer.
At 4:39 a.m., a call was placed to Silva, whose Bushwick apartment is just a few blocks from where Romero's mother lives.
"He just called me and said, 'Dude, let's meet somewhere,' " Silva said. "That's about it."
Silva, 35, has served four prison sentences on drug charges: three for selling and one for possession.
Caminiti met Silva in the park across the street from where Romero's mother lives. "He just wanted to hang out, walk around," Silva said.
After meeting at the park, Silva said the two men hailed a taxi and went to Caminiti's hotel.
Two calls were placed just after 6 a.m. from Caminiti's cellphone to American Express. According to information obtained by ESPN, he received a cash advance of $1,025 from American Express at 6:47 a.m.
Between 7:30 and 8 a.m., six calls were made from the phone to Romero's mother's apartment.
"We had some money at the hotel and he couldn't find that money," Romero said. "So he called me a couple of times asking me where we could have put it." She said they had left about $400 in the hotel room the previous day.
According to the hotel bill, a call was placed at 8:40 a.m. from Caminiti's room to the Bronx. The call was to Angel Gonzalez.
Silva met Gonzalez, 41, when both men served time at the Hudson Correctional Facility in upstate New York on drug charges.
"I'd been talking with him every now and then. I said, 'When are you coming over?' " Gonzalez said. "So out of the blue moon, he just calls me and tells me, 'I'm coming over.' I said, 'All right. Good. We'll watch the football game.' He said, 'I'm going to bring a friend over.' I said, 'All right. That's fine.' "
Between 8:57 and 9:04 a.m., eight calls were made from Caminiti's cellphone to Romero's mother's apartment. Romero said Caminiti told her he was coming home, but he never showed.
At 9:23 a.m., a taxi was dispatched to the hotel. The driver told ESPN it took 25 minutes to reach Hunts Point, a section of the Bronx notorious for drugs. The driver said he was paid a $60 fare, $8 for tolls but didn't receive a tip.
"We went to buy a phone," Silva said. "We went to them stores, he wanted to get me a present like a cell phone, and he also wanted to get somebody like a video camera, you know, like a portable one.
"We just wound up over there. We could have gone to Queens. We could have gone to Brooklyn. We just went over there."
Silva said he saw neither drugs nor much money in Caminiti's possession.
"He was sweating a lot, but he looked OK to me," Silva said, "We were laughing. We were talking. Everything was all right."
At 10:13 a.m., a call was made from Caminiti's cellphone to Gonzalez's apartment.
Romero, meanwhile, said she began to worry. She called Caminiti's travel agent at noon, and learned that Caminiti had canceled the plane tickets for that afternoon.
At about 1 p.m., according to Gonzalez, more than four hours after Silva first called him, Silva and Caminiti arrived at his apartment in Hunts Point. "He looked familiar to me at first," Gonzalez said. "Then, when [Silva] told me, 'It's Ken Caminiti,' I said, 'You're damn right it is.' "
Silva said it was his idea to visit Gonzalez. "He lived around the area, so I said, 'Let me call a friend.' I wanted him to meet Ken, and he was excited, you know what I'm saying? Then everything just got messed up."
Gonzalez said Caminiti and Silva were at his apartment, watching football, when he left to get chicken and beer from a neighborhood store.
"[Caminiti] went to use the bathroom while Angel went to buy some chicken," Silva said. "Next thing I know, he came out of the bathroom. He said, 'I'm not feeling good,' and he just collapsed, and at that moment everything went like blank. I was freaking out. First time I'd seen anything like that happen."
Gonzalez said that when he returned, he saw Silva administering CPR to Caminiti.
"My first thing, I went to look in the bathroom to see if there was anything, but there was nothing in the bathroom," Gonzalez said.
Silva said he doesn't know whether Caminiti was using drugs in the bathroom. "I can't say anything," Silva said. "I can't speculate or nothing, because I didn't see him do anything, so I can't say nothing."
"He didn't look like he was overdosing," Gonzalez said. "I've seen people overdose, when they spit stuff out of their mouth and stuff like that, and that was not happening with him."
At 3:36 p.m., a 911 call was made from Gonzalez's apartment. An ambulance arrived two minutes later, and paramedics attempted to revive Caminiti. He was still in cardiac arrest at 4:20 p.m. when he reached the emergency room at Lincoln Hospital. Caminiti was pronounced dead at 6:45 p.m. Just $3 remained in his wallet.