Cubbage saw baseball’s steroid era up close
When former senator George Mitchell unveiled the findings of his 20-month investigation into steroid use in Major League Baseball, many fans were caught off-guard, but Charlottesville native Mike Cubbage saw it coming like a hanging curveball. After a 13-year career as a coach with the New York Mets, Houston Astros, and Boston Red Sox, Cubbage says he'd heard rumors of players using illegal performance enhancing drugs as early as five years ago.
"I wasn't surprised that a lot of the guys I coached were on the list," he says. "I know a lot of Major League players were sweating it out yesterday and more names will continue to come out."
As third-base coach for the Mets from 1990-1996, Cubbage– now a scout with the Tampa Bay Rays– worked alongside Kirk Radomski, a Shea Stadium clubhouse attendant who was one of the two major informants in the Mitchell Report. "He was kind of a brash, cocky kid," says Cubbage. "He was a weightlifter who wore these t-shirts so you could see his muscles."
Still, Cubbage says he never saw Radomski engaged in any of the steroid distribution to which he has pled guilty in federal court. "All I ever saw him do was shine shoes and pick up equipment bags," he says, "though I guess he was up to more than that."
All Cubbage could do was shake his head at the names of his former players splashed across today's newspapers, but says they all make sense in hindsight. On former Mets catcher Todd Hundley: "He set a record for catchers with 47 home runs, never having had that kind of power before, and then his body broke down."
On former Mets second baseman Fernando ViÆ?Â±a: "He was the last guy to make a 25-man roster, just trying to battle his way onto a big league club." On former Mets pitcher Josias Manzanillo: "He was a fairly hard-throwing guy who had surgery and then came back more quickly than most who had the same kind of surgery."
Cubbage confesses he should have "put two and two together" when players starting hitting more home runs in the late-'90s, but says that he, like baseball fans everywhere, was simply awestruck. "When Mark McGwire first took batting practice at the Astrodome, it looked like he was hitting a super ball," he says. "All of us coaches made a point watch him each night he was there, and every night he hit 7 or 8 balls into the upper deck. We just thought we'd never seen anything like it before."
As for who is to blame for the tainted play, Cubbage says there's enough of it to go around. "I think we're all to blame," he says. "After the strike in '94, there was this great renaissance with all these home runs, fans were coming back, and everyone was making all this money. So, those who knew about it looked away."
–Photo of Cubbage with Astros in 2000 from Reuters