Indians pitcher Paul Byrd didn't sit down to write his first book, "Free Byrd: The Power of a Liberated Life," as a response to the human-growth hormone controversy that surrounded him last fall. Byrd had actually begun working on the book two years ago. Initially, his manuscript was merely a series of journal entries he intended to someday pass down to his two sons, Grayson and Colby. At the insistence of a friend, he turned those journals into the book, which will be released Tuesday by Howard Books. The shame of it all is that the book's final chapter, in which Byrd does acknowledge and discuss his HGH use, is the one that will generate the most publicity and fodder for reviews such as this one. Because long before Byrd gives us his first public response to the HGH scandal since Game 7 of last year's American League Championship Series, he offers up a deeply personal, insightful, witty and spiritual tale of an athlete's relationship with God and his admitted struggle to maintain and strengthen that relationship while living the life of a professional ballplayer.
But, yes, the section on HGH will generate the headlines, and it is certainly worth discussing here. Byrd's use of HGH was first revealed by the San Francisco Chronicle on the morning of Game 7. The newspaper reported that Byrd had purchased nearly $25,000 worth of HGH and syringes from the Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center, a Florida anti-aging clinic, between 2002 and 2005, when he was pitching for the Royals and Braves. Byrd responded by telling reporters that he used HGH under a doctor's care and supervision to treat a human growth hormone deficiency that might have been caused by a tumor on his pituitary gland. But the Chronicle also reported that two of the prescriptions Byrd used to purchase HGH were written by a Florida dentist whose license was suspended in 2003 for fraud and incompetence. Speaking to reporters before Game 7, Byrd said he had been working with MLB and the Indians on the issue, but MLB immediately issued a response that Byrd had not been granted an exemption to use the drugs, and Indians general manager Mark Shapiro admitted he had not known about Byrd's HGH use, either. Byrd did not receive a suspension as a result of the revelations, nor has he addressed whether he is currently still using HGH for medical purposes. "Free Byrd" really does not provide any further insight into the matter, either. Byrd writes that most, not all, of the doctors he saw regarding his growth hormone deficiency felt he should be supplementing with the hormone, and he claims to not know why his doctor in Georgia transferred his records to Palm Beach Rejuvenation -- a clinic that was investigated for the illegal distribution of performance-enhancing drugs. "I hadn't tried to cheat or disrespect the game," Byrd writes. "I hadn't thrown the baseball any harder during the times I supplemented with growth hormone ... but I did enjoy sleeping more than four to five hours a night and I think that rest helped me recover and throw bullpens like a normal Major League Baseball pitcher." Byrd admits that he was tempted to double his doses of HGH to see if it would improve his game. "I remember having thoughts that doing better on the field could mean more money for my family, my charities and even supporting churches giving me the opportunity to become some sort of modern-day Robin Hood." Ultimately, though, Byrd claims he didn't do so because he knew God wouldn't want him to cheat the system. It is that relationship with God that is the centerpiece of the book. Byrd writes about his becoming a Christian while playing for Louisiana State University, and he shares deeply personal accounts of his courtship of his wife, Kym, to whom he dedicates the book, and the birth of his two boys. The book's honesty is its hallmark. Byrd is not shy in discussing, among other things, his struggle with an addiction to pornography and his sometimes-difficult relationship with his father, Larry. Make no mistake: This is not a baseball book. It is a book about one man's ever-deepening interest in and understanding of his relationship with his creator. That man just happens to be a Major League pitcher. Within the book's pages, you will discover more than you probably cared to know about a guy who -- contrary to the back of the jacket cover's claims -- has hardly had a "legendary career," but you'll also discover an altogether touching tale of spirituality. If you're coming to "Free Byrd" merely for juicy HGH details, you'll ultimately be disappointed. But you might be pleasantly surprised by the rest of Byrd's first foray into the literary world.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.