Oblique Strain

When a blogger fingered him in the Jason Grimsley scandal, strength coach Chris Mihlfeld found himself in a world of pain.

Leitch says his source was operating on second-hand information leaked by another person who claimed to have seen an unredacted version of the Grimsley affidavit. Leitch acknowledges that the mainstream media wouldn't have considered the source legitimate. But he says his site did annotate the report by explaining that its credibility was an eight on a ten scale. "Is the New York Times willing to run with that story? Probably not," Leitch admits. "But we said upfront there's a possibility that we're not 100 percent on this. I have no choice but to stand by my source just like any other journalist would."

Olbermann did not respond to requests for comment for this story. Callis admits his comments to Keith Olbermann were based on "innuendo." "That's why I was trying to be very careful when I was on the show." Callis says.

Kansas City Star reporter Wright Thompson says he only considered the story newsworthy when Mihlfeld and Sweeney were willing to give him first-hand accounts about how they felt the Deadspin.com piece jeopardized their reputations. He adds that he didn't need to question who the source was because by that point he was writing about how the perception of guilt had ruined others' realities. "This is the kind of stuff that everybody used to whisper about and it would never see the light of day," says Thompson, who recently left the Star to work for ESPN.com. "There's such a fuzzy line between reporting a story and creating it as far as blogs. I think in this instance they created it," he says. "The fact that no one can be sure he's involved shows how infected the game has become."

Albert Pujols as a gangly kid (at left above)
provided by Helen Pujols
Albert Pujols as a gangly kid (at left above)
Albert Pujols as a college star under the tutelage of Chris 
Albert Pujols as a college star under the tutelage of Chris Mihlfeld.

Joe Strauss, a Post-Dispatch staff writer, defends a piece he wrote about Mihlfeld that referenced the Internet and MSNBC allegations. "Any time the National League MVP is connected to a guy who is allegedly cited in a legal inquiry, it lands on the radar screen," Strauss says. "At that point we felt it would have been somewhat irresponsible not to investigate it and see what was at the bottom of it. The story for me became how this whole media frenzy upset his life and damaged his business."

Mihlfeld says he has decided against filing a lawsuit. "But someone needs to be held accountable," he says. "For certain folks in the media, this needs to be a lesson that they can't be so reckless."

The day after the Deadspin story broke, Mihlfeld rolled open his gym's heavy, garage-style door to reveal his entire operation, a message that he had nothing to hide.

He removed the autographed photos of Jason Grimsley from the montage of star clients adorning the wall behind his desk and issued a series of straightforward denials. "I know Jason Grimsley very well, and I have only two statements to make," he told a reporter for Sports Illustrated's Web site. "One, Jason Grimsley is still my good friend. And two, I've never been involved in any illegal steroids, amphetamines or HGH activity. Period."

Then his premier athletes swung away. Sweeney told Wright Thompson he'd swear on the Bible that Mihlfeld was innocent. Pujols offered himself up for testing. "I'll do it. I've said before I have nothing to worry about. If they want to test me and Mike, then let's go. I'll do it tomorrow. No problem," Pujols told the Post-Dispatch's Strauss. "But Chris has been put in a very unfair position. I know it bothers him. I hear it every time I talk to him."

To combat steroid suspicion, some training houses require players to sign an ethics policy promising to stay drug-free. But Sweeney says Mihlfeld based his drug policy on an old-school tenet: trust. "When I first met Chris, there was a lot of junk going around with this Bonds thing, and Chris told me flat-out, 'Mike, if I hear you are using this stuff, I will not train you.' So from day one Chris has been drug-free and stresses a drug-free environment."

Mihlfeld says he shouldn't be required to investigate his players. "It's almost like, is it my responsibility to find out, is he cheating on his wife?" Mihlfeld says. "I get sick and tired of everybody pointing the finger at the strength coach when it's the players who are doing it. It's not us."

With all the criticism, Mihlfeld feels like a target. He says a pack of high schoolers recently drove by his home shouting Grimsley's name while his daughters were playing on the front lawn. His sister, who runs a Web site for a scrapbooking company, has received hundreds of hateful e-mails. And he won't go near the Cardinals' or Royals' clubhouse to meet with his clients.

"I don't know when I'll go back," he says. "I don't feel comfortable leaving my family right now, to be honest with you."

It's a balmy 95 degrees at Busch Stadium on the first day of July, but inside the Cardinals' swank new clubhouse, the atmosphere couldn't be chillier.

The team is coming off its worst losing slide in nearly twenty years, having dropped nine out of the last ten games, including a 7-5 loss the previous night to the last-place Royals. For the first time in recent memory, the self-proclaimed "best fans in baseball" have begun to boo their own team.

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