Three years ago today, Ken Caminiti apparently had a heart attack. His substance-abused body failed him, and he passed away at age 41.
For a couple years, Cami was among baseball’s best; a gold-glove third baseman with excellent hitting skills. I remember him more as an infielder than a hitter; a cat-like pounce and a rifled throw to first. Fans in Houston and San Diego loved the man for his soft-spoken competitiveness. The mid-90s Padres were a formidable team, and for two summers Cami outshone Gwynn and Rickey. Quite an accomplishment.
Of course, we now believe that Caminiti’s 1996 MVP season was steroid-assisted, and discount the accomplishment. As we should, I think. That discount brings danger, though; we tend to forget the man and condemn his memory for his Great Sin. In this case, the Sin does not make the following untrue: Ken Caminiti was a talented and disciplined ballplayer; no drug could, alone, have made him the National League’s Most Valuable Player. His obituaries make it clear that his teammates thought him a troubled soul; in the end, his demons got him. A sad story.
I also had a heart attack on October 10, 2004; I lived to tell about it. In my heart, Ken’s death and my life are connected.