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GETTING AMPED
Tom Verducci
June 03, 2002
Popping amphetamines or other stimulants is part of many players' pregame routine
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June 03, 2002

Getting Amped

Popping amphetamines or other stimulants is part of many players' pregame routine

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The idea of playing baseball without taking amphetamines or other stimulants is so absurd to some major leaguers that they have a catchphrase for it: playing naked. There are, of course, varying degrees of nakedness; but the fact remains that popping pills—everything from caffeine tablets to Ritalin to the amphetamine capsules known as greenies or beans—is as standard to many ballplayers' pregame routine as stretching exercises and batting practice.

Amphetamines, particularly, have a long, documented history in baseball. Pete Rose admitted in a 1979 Playboy interview that he had used "greenies." Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Randy Lerch testified under oath in 1981 that the physician for the Phillies' Double A Reading affiliate had written him prescriptions for amphetamines; several other members of the 1980 world champion Phils were also alleged to have gotten prescriptions for the drugs.

More recently, even more rampant use of stimulants has been confirmed to SI by players on a spectrum from heavy users to those who have only observed it. According to 1996 National League MVP Ken Caminiti, who admits to having taken amphetamines as well as steroids during his 15-year career, there are some teams on which almost everyone uses some kind of stimulant: "You hear it all the time from teammates, 'You're not going to play naked, are you?' Even the guys who are against greenies may be popping 25 caffeine pills, and they're up there [at bat] with their hands shaking. This game is so whacked out that guys will take anything to get an edge. You got a pill that will make me feel better? Let me have it."

Chad Curtis, an outfielder who retired last year after 10 big league seasons and says he never used performance-enhancing drugs, agrees with Caminiti's approximation that perhaps 90% of the players take some form of pregame stimulant. "You might have one team where eight guys play naked and another team where nobody does, but that sounds about right," Curtis says. "Sometimes guys don't even know what they're taking. One guy will take some pills out of his locker and tell somebody else, 'Here, take one of these. You'll feel better.' The other guy will take it and not even know what it is."

Curtis adds that amphetamine use is so prevalent that nonusers are sometimes ostracized as slackers. "If the starting pitcher knows that you're going out there naked, he's upset that you're not giving him [everything] you can," Curtis says. "The big-time pitcher wants to make sure you're beaning up before the game."

Players today are also using a wider selection of stimulants, both legal and illegal. The choices include over-the-counter medications and supplements such as Ripped Fuel and Ultimate Orange that contain caffeine or ephedrine—an amphetaminelike stimulant that has been banned by the International Olympic Committee, the NCAA and the NFL—or ephedra, its herbal form. Ephedrine is a central nervous system stimulant that elevates heart rate and blood pressure, making it especially dangerous for people with hypertension.

Dr. John Lombardo, the NFL's adviser on anabolic steroids, warned players and teams last year that ephedrine has been tied to heart problems, stroke and seizures. The FDA recommends that ephedrine not be used for more than one week. Continued usage leads to tolerance of the substance, which may lead to increased dosage, which could produce toxic results.

For a stronger effect, however, players turn to illegally obtained Ritalin, a central nervous system stimulant that is said to sharpen focus and concentration and is often prescribed for children with attention deficit disorder, and greenies—Dexedrine and Adderall are among those commonly prescribed—that are obtained through physicians or drug dealers. "Greenies are easy to get," Caminiti says. "They cost two to three dollars a pill, and guys are buying thousands at a time."

Caminiti, a recovering alcoholic, says he often arrived at the clubhouse lethargic and weary after a night of drinking. Almost immediately after beaning up, Caminiti says, he felt more energetic. "You take some pills, go out and run in the outfield, and you get the blood flowing," he says. "All of a sudden you feel much better. There were other times when you'd say, I feel good enough to play naked today, but you know what? I can feel even better. So you'd take them then, too."

But Caminiti says now that amphetamines are just as bad as cocaine. "There is a chemical-based dependency that develops. So you're always saying, I feel good, but I can feel better." San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers agrees: "Once you get on greenies, it can lead to other addictions, especially alcohol. One brings you up, and one brings you down."

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