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Thursday, July 23, 2009
Updated: August 10, 6:00 PM ET
Parque loses the crowd

By Melissa Isaacson
ESPNChicago.com

I was sailing along, reading former White Sox pitcher Jim Parque's compelling confession in Thursday's Chicago Sun-Times and even leaning toward sympathy with the desperation that led him to use performance-enhancing drugs to save his baseball career. Then something stopped me.

Parque wrote that in admitting to using human growth hormone, he hoped to give us a glimpse into the psyche of the men inside the uniforms, and I am grateful that he did. But I don't think I reached the conclusion he wanted us to reach.

It was when I got to the part that truly fueled his motivation. Parque wrote that two years after injuring his shoulder in the 2000 postseason, he didn't know what he was going to do with the rest of his life, and having spoken to dozens of professional athletes over the years facing the same fear, I understood that.

Despite his college education, Parque said he had "no real-world job skills," and I understood that as well. Jumping into the job market at age 26, his age at the time, can certainly be a scary thought.

"I had a family to provide for, a young daughter to raise and no future," he wrote, and he almost had me.

Parque said he was not making "an upper-echelon salary."

"I made good money [his best contract was $3 million over three years], but it was not enough to retire on or feel financially secure for the rest of my life," he wrote.

He was losing me.

And then, there it was:

"Even though the game gave me a lot, my family means everything to me, and I must put them first," Parque wrote. "Were they going to starve if I stopped playing? No, but I did not want to sacrifice our lifestyle or put them in a situation in which 'the unknown' was dictating our future."

It was greed, the root of the entire steroids scandal in so many ways. He didn't want to sacrifice their "lifestyle."

At 26, with a college education, presumably a few decent contacts and, for all intents and purposes, good health, Parque was frustrated he could no longer pitch. But he was panic-stricken -- enough to inject vials of unmarked substances into his body -- that he had not yet struck it rich, bought a house suitable for MTV's "Cribs" and amassed enough money to play golf for the rest of his life. And he made a conscious decision to break the law.

He succumbed not to the pressure to use performance-enhancing drugs to become a better baseball player. Ultimately, he risked his life, his reputation and prison for the chance at more fame and fortune.

That's what I got out of it.

Parque wrote that HGH was not banned by Major League Baseball (because there was no testing), but we all know by now that it is and was an illegal drug, and as such, it was banned by baseball.

Parque wants us to forgive him and I feel for him. I have no problem forgiving him. But he asks every family man what he would have done in the same position. He tells us of his poor beginnings, and so we are supposed to understand why a $3 million contract was not enough of a foundation upon which to build the rest of his life. And yet he tells us that he eventually made the transition into the real world and now has a baseball training facility where he advises kids not to make the same mistake he did.

"We are all vulnerable," he wrote.

With that, I agree.