Will big leaguers claim ADD so they can take uppers?
Posted: Thursday March 9, 2006 3:56PM; Updated: Thursday March 9, 2006 5:38PM
Former relief pitcher Steve Howe suffers from ADD.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Of all the medical maladies associated with sports, few mesh more perfectly than attention-deficit disorder and baseball. ADD is a syndrome that was once known as "minimal brain dysfunction"; our national pastime is often played by people who exhibit minimal brain function.
The first time baseball focused -- really focused -- on ADD was in 1992. In June of that year, Steve Howe, the part-time New York Yankees pitcher and full-time cocaine fiend, was suspended for the seventh time for drug-related violations and became the first player to be banned from baseball for life because of substance abuse. Five months later an arbitrator overturned the ban, saying that Howe's coke addiction was at least partly due to ADD.
In 1996 the Cleveland Indians had scatty outfielder Manny Ramirez tested for ADD. He attended classes for it at the Cleveland Clinic but stopped going. Five years later Ramirez was asked if the Tribe had ever had him checked for the disease. ''If they did," he said without the slightest trace of irony, "I don't remember it.''
Actually, there is no definitive test for ADD. Patients are diagnosed on the basis of their behavior and questionnaires that ask if they display symptoms, including impatience, inattentiveness and impulsiveness. Among the signs: failure to follow through on things, difficulty concentrating, getting sidetracked easily and acting before thinking.
Depending on how it's defined -- and it tends to be defined very loosely -- ADD occurs in three to 10 percent of children. More and more of them are being medicated with amphetamine-based stimulants. The most popular drug, Ritalin, has been given to children as young as 15 months. In some kindergartens, more than a third of the students are on medication for ADD.
To comfort tykes -- or, more accurately, their parents -- one attention deficit disorder Web site has posted a "famous people with ADD" list. The roster features Julius Caesar, Galileo and Beethoven.
That list may soon bulge with baseball stars, too. This season, for the first time, big leaguers will be tested for amphetamines, which have long been a popular part of the game's underground culture. The new policy makes an exception in cases of diagnosed ADD, which suggests that scores of players will suddenly realize they have the disorder and find physicians who agree.
Already, one prominent doctor has voiced concern that the Steroid Era will be followed by the ADD Era. Last year Dr. Elliot Pellman, baseball's medical adviser, said team trainers were alarmed about an increase in players saying they had the condition. Forget about kids using professional ballplayers as role models: Pro ballplayers have started to model themselves after kids.
The first volunteer of 2006 could be the Yankees' Jason Giambi. Giambi has a problem with concentration, a rather glaring one. He's a very sharp hitter (.312 lifetime) when he plays first base and a very dull one (.252) as a designated hitter. In the 238 at-bats he had as a first baseman last season, he batted .319, smacked 24 home runs and drove in 65 runs. In 175 at-bats as a DH, though, he hit .211, with eight homers and 22 RBIs.
"When I DH, my numbers are terrible," Giambi has said. "I don't know what it is. When I play first base -- maybe it's ADD -- it gives me something to do."
On the baseball diamond, pretty much any scatterbrained or boneheaded behavior -- from getting picked off first base to missing the cutoff man -- can be construed as a symptom of ADD. Perhaps the game's future historians may value the acronym as much as ERA and RBI.
Revisionists may also conclude that ADD played a critical role in the momentous decisions of team owners. Was a deficient attention span -- and not No, No Nannette -- to blame for Harry Frazee's impulsive trade of Babe Ruth to the Yanks? Was George Bush uninformed or merely undiagnosed when he unloaded Sammy Sosa?
No doubt George Steinbrenner sometimes suffers from another form of attention deficit disorder. The disorder being, he doesn't get enough attention.