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The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine
Saturday, October 24 2020 @ 05:30 AM EDT
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The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine
Saturday, October 24 2020 @ 05:30 AM EDT
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The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine

Baseball strikes out at stimulant abuse


BASEBALL'S BANE
BASEBALL'S BANE
Here's the entire history of Major League Baseball and drug testing for energy-boosting stimulants in the first 60 years they were part of the game:

Nothing.

Not after fighter pilots and other servicemen brought them back to their major league teams after World War II, having been issued them by the military to stay alert.Not after Jim Bouton wrote about them in "Ball Four," his candid account of the 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots.

Not after Congress made amphetamines illegal without a doctor's prescription in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

Not after all-time hits leader Pete Rose admitted using "greenies," baseball slang for amphetamines, or after the prevalence of stimulants in major league clubhouses emerged in sworn testimony from the 1985 cocaine trial involving the Pittsburgh Pirates, or after Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler died during 2003 spring training from heatstroke linked to his use of ephedra.

Not after David Wells wrote in his 2003 book that you could "stand in the middle of your clubhouse and walk 10 feet in any direction" and "chances are you'll find what you need," or when San Diego Padres great Tony Gywnn said amphetamine use was "rampant on my club," or when 1996 National League MVP Ken Caminiti estimated there were "only a couple guys on a team that don't take" them.

But in late 2005, amid mounting pressure from Congress and impassioned pleas from medical personnel, Major League Baseball and its players union negotiated Attachment 18 to their collective bargaining agreement. It was a revamped drug policy that included stiffer penalties for steroid use and, for the first time, regular testing for amphetamines and other energy-boosting stimulants.

"It's time to put the whispers about amphetamine use to bed once and for all," Commissioner Bud Selig wrote in a letter to Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. "To the extent that our culture has tolerated the use of these substances, that culture must change."

The new policy went into effect last season, and so far no major league player has served a suspension for testing positive for an amphetamine or any other banned stimulant.

So they're finally out of baseball. Right?

Padres broadcaster Jerry Coleman was a Marine pilot in World War II and Korea, but he never took amphetamines to stay awake, as many of his comrades did. His introduction came during the 1957 World Series.

Coleman, then a second baseman for the New York Yankees, had spent the final week of the '57 regular season in the hospital for a minor ailment. He got out, and the Series started.

"I said, 'Gus, I am whipped. Can you give me something to bolster me?'" Coleman recalled. "He gave me something that was a capsule with little capsules inside it. I took it, and I felt like I couldn't control myself. I got all jittery."

These were the Yankees of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Don Larsen. Gus? He was the Yankees' trainer, Gus Mauch.

Coleman doesn't know exactly what Gus handed him that day, and it scared him so much he never took one again. He never had much of a chance anyway, because he retired after the '57 World Series. But the use of stimulants in baseball certainly didn't end there.

There are reasons, of course. One is that baseball has the most grueling schedule in professional sports, grinding mind and body to a lethargic pulp with a numbing combination of night games and 7 a.m. wake-up calls and endless road trips in sweltering summer heat. Another is that, in the words of Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative founder Victor Conte, "stimulants work."

When the National League was founded in 1876, teams played a 70-game season. They figured that was a tad long, and in 1877 they played 60. Over the decades the regular season was lengthened to 154 games and then to its current 162. And with teams in every time zone and every corner of the country now, the days of getting on a bus for relatively short road trips are history.

Last season the Padres were away for 95 days. They were on 40 flights. They traveled 41,000 miles.

That's just during the 183-day regular season. Spring training lasts six weeks, and the playoffs can go on for a month.

"You're constantly traveling," Padres outfielder Brian Giles said. "And when you're home, you might have kids that are keeping you up all night. All of a sudden, you've got to go to the ballpark and perform in front of the public and be scrutinized by the media."

Added Padres reliever Trevor Hoffman: "People just see a three-hour ballgame and assume we kind of take off after that. They don't see all the preparation before games, all the travel. That's not an excuse, but ...."

And there it is. The "but."

Amphetamines. Speed. Greenies. Beans. Red juice.

"It's just something you do to get by," said one player, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It's something you do that you wouldn't want your son to do."

Conte, who pleaded guilty and served four months in prison in the BALCO steroid case, estimates 80 percent of major leaguers used stimulants before they were banned. Caminiti, now deceased, told Sports Illustrated in 2002 that maybe only "one or two guys" on a team might play "naked," or without them.

Even last year, according to court documents, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Jason Grimsley told federal investigators who had raided his home searching for banned substances that "everybody had greenies. That's like aspirin."

How effective are they?

Conte says if given a choice between steroids and stimulants, many athletes would choose the latter - the theory being that all the muscle in the world does you no good in late August if you're too droopy-eyed to pick up the rotation on the 98-mph fastball that takes four-tenths of a second to reach home plate. (And remember, San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, one of several big-name athletes tied to BALCO, reportedly tested positive last season not for steroids, but for amphetamines.)

"Reaction time, batting, focus, concentration," Conte said. "Stimulants have a tremendously powerful effect on performance."

How dangerous are they?

"They can stone-cold kill you," said Charles Yesalis, a professor emeritus of health policy and administration at Pennsylvania State University. "They are highly addictive. They can cause psychotic episodes. I'm not saying steroids aren't dangerous, but this is several rungs up the ladder."

Stimulants act on the central nervous system, sharpening focus and alertness while also often increasing the heart rate. They were developed in the late 1800s and have been most commonly used in decongestants and appetite suppressants. Before Congress made most stimulants illegal without a prescription in 1970, they were popular among truck drivers and college students who used them to stay awake.

Here's the rub: Amphetamine is classified as a stimulant. But so is caffeine.

If the average Joe can have a cup of joe before heading to work, or gulp down a caffeine-laced Red Bull to stave off afternoon drowsiness, why can't a pro baseball player get a little jolt at the ballpark? Most fans can understand how use of an anabolic steroid is crossing the line of illicit performance enhancement, but that line quickly blurs when it comes to a little artificial stimulation.

One, the argument goes, makes you do your job better. The other merely allows you to do your job.

Or, as baseball players like to put it: They're performance enablers, not enhancers.

The anti-doping establishment blanches at this notion. Stimulants have been banned from the Olympics since 1968, and the current list of prohibited stimulants contains 62 substances.

There's also a big difference between caffeine and amphetamine, experts say. Caffeine is considered a mild stimulant; amphetamine is a chemical cousin of crystal meth.

"I'm not going to get into semantics," said Dr. Gary Wadler, a doping expert from New York University. "(A stimulant) masks fatigue. It masks pain. Athletes talk about being 'in the zone.' This puts you in the zone. It makes you more aggressive, more alert. There is evidence it increases hand-eye coordination.

"All those things are performance-enhancing. It's performance not at a natural level. It's performance that has been altered by drugs."

Conte goes a step further, saying stimulants are a bigger problem than steroids.

"Nobody really looks at them," he said. "Baseball acts like: 'Oh, that's a little flea. Flick it off.' No, it's a big, big problem. No one is talking about this elephant in the room that is stimulants."

There used to be two coffee pots in each clubhouse, one labeled "regular" and one labeled "hot." Or sometimes it was "unleaded" and "leaded."

Baseball players quickly figured out what chemists know, that caffeine can ramp up the effectiveness of other substances. So they dumped a handful of greenies - so named, according to baseball lore, because the amphetamine Dexedrine came in green tablets - into a pot of coffee to kick it up a notch.

These days, there aren't two coffee pots in clubhouses. There are three, four or five, all with plain old java, none of it decaffeinated. Players are drinking that much of the stuff.

"I probably drink an entire pot myself," Oakland A's first baseman Dan Johnson said.

He's not kidding. Johnson says he fills a 33-ounce jug to the brim with coffee each morning, then has a 16-ounce mug when he arrives at the ballpark, then another 16-ouncer after batting practice.

"Usually about halfway through the game, I'll pour myself another," he said.

That's the equivalent of 11 1/2 normal (7-ounce) cups of coffee.

Other players will stash Red Bull or similar caffeinated energy drinks in the clubhouse cooler. But the point is, the quest for that buzz, for that edge, remains eternal.

This furrows the brows of doping experts, because they've seen the research indicating caffeine is most effective in low doses - maybe a cup or two - and after that reaches a point of diminishing returns. The research is compelling enough that the World Anti-Doping Agency dropped caffeine, which was banned above certain levels, from its prohibited list in 2004.

Training staffs have gone to great lengths to educate players about better eating and sleeping habits, about recharging the body through natural means. But the fear is that as the season grinds into August and September, players won't get enough oomph from coffee beans and will return to the other type of "beans."

Assuming, that is, they haven't already.

"From what I can tell, from the vibe I'm getting, guys are making a concerted effort to try legal stuff," said Oakland A's designated hitter Mike Piazza. "Does it still go on? I'm sure it does. If you're so intent on finding greenies and breaking the rules, you probably will.

"I'm not going to mention any names, but I know a lot of guys were freaking out when they announced they would start testing for them."

Freaking out, doping experts surmise, because perhaps the most sinister part of amphetamines is their high addiction and dependency rates. Take a greenie for a night game, lean on alcohol or other downers to get you to sleep, take a greenie the next day to get you going again.

It's the Southwest Airlines syndrome - up, down, up, down.

"Some guys cannot play without greenies," said Kansas City Royals reliever Octavio Dotel. "Their body is so used to it, they have to have it."

So what we have here is a highly addictive drug that has been ingrained in baseball culture for decades and an exhausting season and a testing program with, in Conte's words, so many loopholes that "you could drive a Mack truck through it."

There are 30 stimulants on baseball's banned substances list; of those, 25 appear on the anti-doping agency's list of 62, meaning there are 37 substances you could presumably take as a baseball player that are no-nos in the Olympic world.

Rob Manfred, the executive vice president of Major League Baseball who helped craft the policy, says he proposed the entire WADA list of banned stimulants be adopted, but that the 30 substances ultimately banned by baseball were a "product of collective bargaining." He says some substances were left off the list because they can be found in over-the-counter cold medication and others because "we didn't feel they really provided a performance-enhancing effect."

Players are tested at least twice a year, once when they report to spring training and once unannounced during the regular season. Those tests are always conducted before games and not after them, players say.

So they can play doping's version of Russian roulette. If they don't get tapped on the shoulder for a test the afternoon of a game, they pop a greenie that night. The drug's chemical fingerprint is gone from their urine in two or three days, sometimes sooner. Unless they're tested the next day, a statistical long shot in baseball's program, they're probably clear.

Even if they do get caught, as Bonds reportedly did last season, the first positive test draws six unannounced tests over the next 12 months, but no suspension and no public admonition. A second positive test fetches a 25-game suspension, or about a month of games. In the Olympic world, a second positive brings two years of exile.

U.S. sprinter Torri Edwards, a gold-medal favorite, missed the 2004 Summer Olympics after failing a test for the stimulant nikethamide a few months earlier. Nikethamide isn't banned by baseball.

And then there's the TUE, or therapeutic use exemption. It allows players to take otherwise-banned substances for certain medical conditions. They include attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Its most common treatment: amphetamines.

Manfred says baseball has a "rigorous" procedure for players to apply for a medical waiver for ADHD, but several sources have indicated it isn't as strict as in the anti-doping agency's code and that there's room for abuse - and that, indeed, the number of requested ADHD exemptions in baseball has risen.

Of course, no one outside baseball's inner sanctum knows for sure how many TUEs exist or how many positive stimulants tests there have been. The biggest criticism of baseball's testing policy is its lack of transparency - a conspicuous absence of numbers and statistics for a sport rooted in them.

"As long as baseball and football and the NCAA have this nontransparent system, that's the first thing I'm going to get in your face about," Penn State's Yesalis said, "because no one knows if the system is working or not, or how many people are getting passes. As far as I know, they could all still be using."

Manfred, who's one of maybe a half-dozen baseball executives privy to testing results, disagrees that the testing program isn't transparent or effective enough.

"If in fact we have driven underground in a single year what was a massive problem in the game, we've made some real progress," he said. "I think we can all agree on that. We're doing the right thing.

"I will tell you unequivocally, if there are players who are addicted to greenies, they will get caught under this program. We may not get him the first time, but we'll get him sooner or later."

Players will tell you stimulant use appears to be down markedly from its storied past. They'll also tell you they honestly don't know how much because it's no longer out in the open.

Then they'll lower their voices to a whisper and say this: "Baseball's tough, man. It's a long season."
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