Ken Caminiti was a star third baseman who played 15 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) with the Houston Astros, San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves. He was named the National League (NL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) with San Diego in 1996, and is a member of the Padres Hall of Fame. He was also a troubled man who struggled with drug addiction and depression throughout his career and life. On October 10, 2004, he died of a cocaine and heroin overdose, also known as a speedball, in a New York City apartment. His death shocked the baseball world and revealed the extent of drug abuse among players.
The Rise and Fall of Ken Caminiti
Ken Caminiti was born in Hanford, California on April 21, 1963, to Yvonne and Lee Caminiti who had another son, Glenn, and a daughter, Carrie. He starred in football and baseball at Leigh High School in San Jose, California, where he graduated in 1981. He attended San Jose State University, where he played baseball for the Spartans in 1983 and 1984. He was signed as a third round pick in the 1984 amateur draft by the Houston Astros.
Caminiti made his major league debut at age 24 with the Houston Astros on July 16, 1987. He immediately received a large role, starting 51 of the Astros’ final 75 games at third base. He became a regular starter for the Astros in 1989, and established himself as one of the best defensive third basemen in the league. He also showed power at the plate, hitting 18 home runs in 1991 and 26 in 1994. He was selected to his first All-Star game in 1994.
In 1995, Caminiti was traded to the San Diego Padres, where he had his best season in 1996. He led the NL with a .326 batting average, hit 40 home runs, drove in 130 runs, stole 11 bases, won a Gold Glove Award for his fielding, and was unanimously voted the NL MVP. He also helped the Padres win their second NL pennant and reach the World Series, where they lost to the New York Yankees. He was named to two more All-Star games in 1996 and 1997.
However, Caminiti’s success came at a price. He admitted later that he had used steroids during his MVP season, and that he had started using them in 1995 to recover from injuries. He also suffered from chronic pain in his shoulders, back and knees, which led him to abuse painkillers and alcohol. He became addicted to cocaine and heroin as well. His performance declined after 1996, and he bounced around with the Astros, Rangers and Braves until he retired after the 2001 season.
The Tragic End of Ken Caminiti
After his retirement, Caminiti tried to overcome his drug addiction and depression. He went to rehab several times, but relapsed repeatedly. He also faced legal troubles, such as being arrested for cocaine possession in 2001 and violating his probation in 2003. He divorced his wife of 14 years, Nancy Smith, with whom he had three daughters: Kendall, Lindsey and Nicole.
On October 10, 2004, Caminiti was visiting his friends Maria Romero and Dan Smith in their apartment in The Bronx. He had been told to stay away from drugs and Romero by his parole officer, but ignored the warnings. He injected himself with a speedball, a lethal combination of cocaine and heroin that causes a surge of euphoria followed by a sudden drop in blood pressure and heart rate. He collapsed on the floor and went into cardiac arrest. Paramedics tried to revive him but were unsuccessful. He was pronounced dead within the night at Lincoln Hospital.
His autopsy report confirmed that he died of “acute intoxication due to the combined effects of cocaine and opiates” according to ESPN. It also revealed that he had an enlarged heart and liver damage due to years of drug abuse. His death was ruled accidental by the medical examiner.
The Legacy of Ken Caminiti
Ken Caminiti’s death shocked and saddened the baseball community and his fans. Many former teammates, managers and friends expressed their condolences and praised his talent and passion for the game. His former manager Bruce Bochy said: “He played every game like it was his last day on earth” according to Sportscasting. His former teammate Tony Gwynn said: “He was one of those guys who would run through a wall for you” according to CBS News.
However, Caminiti’s death also exposed the dark side of baseball, especially the widespread use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs among players. Caminiti was one of the first players to admit publicly that he had used steroids, and estimated that at least half of the players in the league were doing the same. He also claimed that the MLB and the players’ union were aware of the problem, but did nothing to stop it. He said: “I’ve made a ton of mistakes. I don’t think using steroids is one of them” according to ESPN.
Caminiti’s death prompted the MLB to implement stricter drug testing and penalties for steroid use in 2005. It also sparked a series of investigations and scandals that tarnished the reputation of many players, such as Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez. Some of these players have been denied entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame due to their alleged steroid use.
Ken Caminiti’s death was a tragic reminder of the human cost of drug addiction and the pressure to succeed in professional sports. He was a gifted athlete who achieved great heights, but also fell victim to his own demons. He left behind a legacy of both glory and controversy, but also a lesson for future generations. As he said in his last interview with Sports Illustrated: “Don’t be like me” according to Ark Behavioral Health.