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Rick Helling, the player who warned the union about steroids, hired by union

March 17, 2009 |  9:00 am

Helling Rick Helling's major league career was nothing remarkable. He won 20 games for the Texas Rangers in 1998, albeit with a 4.41 ERA, but mostly he showed up every fifth day and ate a lot of innings.

But Helling, a Stanford product, was active in the players' union. In the winter of 1998-99, following the season in which Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa captivated America with the race to set the single-season home-run record, Helling stood up at a union meeting and said--this according to an excerpt from Joe Torre's book, "The Yankee Years"--what prompted Time magazine to label him "The Man Who Warned Baseball About Steroids."

He told his fellow union leaders that steroid use by ballplayers had grown rampant and was corrupting the game.

"There is this problem with steroids," Helling told them. "It's happening. It's real. And it's so prevalent that guys who aren't doing it are feeling pressure to do it because they're falling behind. It's not a level playing field. We've got to figure out a way to address it.

"It's a bigger deal than people think. It's noticeable enough that it's creating an uneven playing field. What really bothers me is that it's gotten so out of hand that guys are feeling pressure to do it. It's one thing to be a cheater, to be somebody who doesn't care whether it's right or wrong. But it's another thing when other guys feel like they have to do it just to keep up. And that's what's happening. And I don't feel like this is the right way to go."

What Helling had just done was the equivalent of turning up all the lights, clicking off the music and announcing the party was over. "He was the first guy," David Cone said, "who had the guts to stand up at a union meeting and say that in front of everybody and put pressure on it."

Donald Fehr, the executive director of the players' union, begs to differ in his recollection. "I was there. I don't quite remember it that way," Fehr said last week at the Angels' spring training camp.

The news: Fehr hired Helling as a special assistant this morning. From the union's news release:

Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Donald M. Fehr today announced that former major league pitchers Rick Helling and Mike Myers are joining the association's staff. Helling and Myers join former major leaguers Bobby Bonilla, Phil Bradley, Stan Javier and Steve Rogers as special assistants to the executive director.

"Mike Myers and Rick Helling had long and successful major league careers, during which they served on the association's executive board and represented the players as members of the negotiating committee in bargaining for our basic agreement and pension agreements," said Fehr. "They are very familiar with the interests and needs of the players, and understand intimately the job that the MLBPA does for its members."

-- Bill Shaikin

Photo: Former Texas Rangers pitcher Rick Helling throws a pitch during a game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on May 2, 2000. Credit: Chris O'Meara / Associated Press

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