SI Vault
Edited by Franz Lidz
March 26, 1984
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March 26, 1984


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The growing influence of drugs has been the principal topic of off-the-field conversation among baseball executives during spring training. SI's Herm Weiskopf reports from Florida:

Since 1981, at least 20 major-leaguers have admitted using—or have been caught using or possessing—drugs, or have admitted to being alcoholics. Of those 20 cases, 13 surfaced last year. One of the 20, infielder Juan Bonilla of the Padres, told The Arizona Republic last week, "I've used my drugs. I've smoked my joints. I've done my lines of cocaine, but tell me who hasn't."

And baseball officials worry that the worst is yet to come. They fear a player may die from an overdose, or that games will be found to have been fixed by an addicted player deep in debt to a pusher, or that drug dealers will intensify their efforts to hook players. "It's likely that of the 650 players in the big leagues, some are pushers," says Cardinals general manager Joe McDonald.

Many of the game's higher-ups have either real or mental "drug sheets"—lists of players suspected of using and/or selling drugs. One reason for compiling such lists is to avoid trading for a player with a chemical dependency. Twins owner Calvin Griffith says he has released one player and traded another because he thought they were involved with drugs. Griffith didn't tell the club with which he made the deal about his suspicions.

It's widely thought that the Giants knew or had good reason to believe that pitcher Vida Blue was on drugs when they dealt him to the Royals in 1982. Blue flamed out in K.C., was released last summer and is now serving a three-month jail term on a drug conviction. "Scouting players with that [drugs] in mind is now a serious consideration for us," says Royals general manager John Schuerholz, who refuses to accuse San Francisco of any wrongdoing in the trade. "We haven't been on guard, but now we are." For their part, the Giants this season have written clauses that call for spot urine checks into the contracts of five players who were willing to go along with the idea. A similar effort by the Cubs met with universal resistance.

Cardinals outfielder Lonnie Smith, who interrupted his 1983 season for a drug rehabilitation program, is doing his part to keep others from getting addicted. At the Cards' behest, he has talked about drugs to the organization's minor-leaguers. But few other baseball people are in a position to lend assistance. "Most clubs have drug programs to help players in need," says Rangers general manager Joe Klein. "But I don't know enough about drugs to help yet."

More and more front-office men are attending lectures, reading books, going to clinics and seeking advice about drug abuse. "I'm learning how to spot a user by his behavior patterns, so we can help him before it's too late," says Dodger vice-president Al Campanis.

The educational and treatment procedures are likely to become formalized soon. "By the end of spring training, we hope everyone will have approved a proposal for a drug program that we've presented [to the clubs and the players' union]," says Expo president John McHale, a member of baseball's Drugs Study Committee. "The situation is emotional. One side says, 'Feed 'em [drug users] to the lions, show no mercy.' The other side says, 'Players are under tremendous pressure; they need understanding.' " And Klein says, "We as an industry cannot afford not to have a drug program."


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