Ahead in the Count

Why I Didn’t Cheat

by Brendan Sullivan

While it was Selena Roberts of Sports Illustrated who last week broke the most recent cover story of baseball’s steroid epidemic, it was a different article inside the same issue that moved me to write the following letter to the editor this afternoon:

Dear S.I.:

Joe Posnanski’s article on the fall of Alex Rodriguez (PLAYERS, Feb. 16) is the best article on baseball’s Steroid Era of the hundreds I’ve read.

Juiced baseballs?

I was a part of the so-called baseball Steroid Era – a submarine relief pitcher in Double-A Mobile, AL the summer that Sammy and Big Mac, disguised as pro wrestlers, shattered the single season home run record. The following two seasons, I played in Triple-A Las Vegas, a phone call away from a Padres uniform in San Diego. Steroids were everywhere – in the big leagues, in my own clubhouse, used by the men I was competing with for promotion; even by the young kids in college and the low minors who would soon be trying to take my job. I don’t know if steroids would have gotten me into the Major Leagues. When you’re that close, however, little things – a few mph here or there – can make the difference. Despite the constant temptation, and the feeling of my career and lifelong dreams slipping away, I never used.

Like Posnanski, I don’t harbor any anger towards those who used, nor do I feel sorry for them when they get caught. This mess was created by the men who run baseball (Commissioner’s office, owners, GM’s and players union alike), not those who play it – but those who juiced knew what they were doing. I agree that the fall of A-Rod shows that the real question of this era isn’t why some players cheated but rather why others did not. I’m only one player of hundreds who played it straight while the game passed them by, but I know what motivated me. I didn’t cheat because from the moment I started playing sports as a young boy, my great coaches emphasized to me that it was the process of sports that was more important than any result. Doing things the right way was more important to them than winning – and therefore it was to me.

A-Rod, just moments before he started feeling the pressure.

A-Rod, moments before the pressure overwhelmed him

My final month as a professional baseball player was spent as a minor league free agent in spring training with Texas. It was March, 2001 – the same month that the $250 million man made his Rangers debut. For thirty consecutive mornings in Port Charlotte, FL, supplemented only by protein shakes and desire, I was the first minor league player in the weight room, hours before the day’s scheduled activities began. Each morning, I walked by A-Rod hitting off a tee by himself in the batting cage – an impressive sight regardless of what was coursing through his veins. Surely, he felt intense pressure to live up to his massive contract – but those of us whose career and dreams could die any day felt pressure too.

I’ll never know if I was good enough to be a big leaguer on a level playing field. But I sleep well at night knowing I made the right choice.

Brendan Sullivan
Washington, D.C.

February 17, 2009 - Posted by | Media Commentary, written by Brendan Sullivan


  1. Role models are very hard to find in today’s society; my son is most fortunate to have found a class-act in Brendan Sullivan. Thanks Brendan!

    Comment by Tiffney Brockway | February 18, 2009

  2. Brendan,
    Thank you for writing this letter. It is extremely refreshing to be reminded that there are morally sound individuals in the world of sports, even if they are not the ones making the absurd (and possibly unwarranted) money. Your desire to go about things the right way and to show others how rewarding that way is inspires everyone around you. I think I speak for everyone that has come into contact with you that you are truly a special individual and the world would be better off if more people acted with the diligence and care that you bring to every facet of your life.

    Comment by Andrew Thal | February 18, 2009

  3. “Do today what others won’t then do tommorow what others can’t” Hopefully from here forward that will be more how baseball is played.

    Comment by Current Headfirst Player | February 18, 2009

  4. Well spoken Brendan …. Even more important … well lived. While performance enhancing drugs have been the main illegal and dangerous lure falsely fueling the greed of sportsman seeking a shortcut edge to their personal fame, there are unfortunately too many parallels in my field of business today. Fueled by similar greed, ego, arrogance, material wealth and societal pressure, the headlines are littered with scandals that have largely contributed to the declining economic spiral that our country finds itself in. While the euphoria of big profile achievement can be addictive… isn’t it ironic that nearly 100 per cent of the time when the cheating is revealed that the press cameras reveal the real character (or lack of it) on the faces of the sports or business heroes as they are disgraced out of the hall of fame or mahogany paneled boardrooms and leather enriched private jet cockpits? Well past your baseball playing prime, you continue to exhibit honesty, integrity and character…. The stuff that makes your family proud and those of us like me with a son schooled by the HEADFIRST system fortunate and blessed to be associated … and challenged to follow your example. As my wife, son and I visit with college baseball coaches from around the country in pursuit of our son’s dream, they all speak of so fondly of “Sully” as if you already were in the Hall of Fame. So you see – you did make it all the way to the big leagues!

    Comment by Kevin Dolan | February 19, 2009

  5. Great entry, this is a perfect lesson in integrity and sportsmanship. Hopefully, baseball will be based off of hard work rather than steriods in the future.

    Comment by Current Headfirst Player | February 22, 2009

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: