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THE COCAINE CRISIS: BASEBALL OR SLEAZEBALL?
The Mets' Keith Hernandez took the stand in the case of the United States of America v. Strong last week and admitted he had used cocaine. It was a hot, humid Friday morning in Pittsburgh, and Hernandez looked uncomfortable as he told of waking up with a nosebleed, his body shaking. "It's the devil on this earth," said Hernandez of cocaine.
His was dramatic but not unusual testimony. Although the prosecution had emphasized that alleged cocaine-dealer Curtis Strong, one of seven men indicted for selling cocaine to players, and not baseball was on trial, that was only literally true. With each new witness, the roster of players who admitted using or were alleged to have used cocaine grew: Hernandez, Joaquin Andujar, Lonnie Smith, Enos Cabell, Dave Parker, Jeff Leonard, Lary Sorensen, Al Holland, Dickie Noles, Gary Matthews, Dick Davis, J.R. Richard, Bernie Carbo, Dale Berra, Rod Scurry, John Milner....
The list will grow longer. The FBI has information that some players brought cocaine home from the Venezuelan winter league in their fielders' mitts, and the prosecutors in the Strong case claim that one big leaguer spent more than $100,000 on drugs in a single year. Kansas City's Smith testified that he bought cocaine for Andujar and Hernandez when they were Cardinal teammates and that he received cocaine through the U.S. mail. The list of crimes possibly committed by major-leaguers includes possession, use, smuggling, illegal transport and distribution of cocaine. While the players cooperating with the Pittsburgh investigation have been granted immunity from prosecution, they could face punishment by baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth. In 1983 NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended Cincinnati Bengals Ross Browner and Pete Johnson for four games after they had testified under immunity regarding drug purchases.
What has emerged from the Pittsburgh trial is a pattern of what Smith called "sleazeball" behavior. He himself once snorted a quarter-ounce of coke in one night and was too strung out to play the next day. Others did play under the influence of drugs. Players bought cocaine in hotel rooms, in elevators, in saloons, in a bathroom at Three Rivers Stadium. Some used their friends; Hernandez admits he sent Smith to buy his cocaine in 1982 because, "I didn't want to take any chances."
Baseball's drug culture grew because people looked the other way, or lied about its existence. Only four months ago Hernandez denied "any involvement in cocaine, ever," and in 1984 he threatened to sue Kenneth Moffett, former executive director of the Players Association, when Moffett implied that Hernandez was involved in an FBI investigation of drug use by baseball players.
Hernandez testified earlier in secret grand jury hearings that he thought 40% of the players in the majors were using cocaine in 1980. If his estimate was correct, that meant an average of 10 users per team or 260 in both leagues, more than 10 times the number whose use of cocaine has now been made public. How many are still on cocaine? Hernandez said he thought drug use has declined since four Kansas City players—Willie Wilson, Jerry Martin, Willie Aikens and Vida Blue—were sentenced to jail in 1983 on cocaine charges. Yet it would be naive to believe that the number of cocaine users (not to mention those who habitually pop amphetamines) has diminished to the point where the problem is no longer serious.
Can a player deeply involved in cocaine take himself off the drug? Not easily. Hernandez said it took him 2� years and that he did it only after he was shaken by the sight of Smith so "overloaded" that he was unable to play. Smith voluntarily entered a rehabilitation center in 1983.
Clearly, something has to be done, and Ueberroth and the Players Association must do it. Objections have been made to the idea of mandatory urinalysis. It's not yet foolproof, the arguments go; it could yield erroneous results; it's a violation of the players' civil rights. But testing, with adequate safeguards to protect rights and privacy, seems a step in the right direction. Combined with a rehabilitation program like that used in the National Basketball Association (users who come forward are helped without penalty; second offenders are helped but lose pay; third offenders are summarily fired) and perhaps some harsh Rozelle-like suspensions, testing could help rescue baseball and its players from a sick situation. The integrity of the game is at stake.
THE GLITZ OPEN