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.
March 26, 1984
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."
RUNNING FOR OFFICE
With all the foot-racing allusions that have been trotted out, you'd think the Democratic presidential primaries were a track meet. "When the campaign began," said Walter Mondale late on Super Tuesday, "it looked like Walter Mondale doing a 100-yard dash. Then it looked like Gary Hart doing a 100-yard dash. But tonight that's all changed. It's going to be a marathon all the way to California." Actually, it would be an ultra-marathon, but why be picky?
Jesse Jackson, who seems to prefer point-to-point courses (e.g.: "from the courthouse to the statehouse to the White House"), announced: "This race is not a 30-yard [30 yards?] dash; it's a decathlon struggle."
The only real runner in the original pack was Alan Cranston, a Masters Division sprinter who dropped out after an early heat. But, then, sprinters tend to fade over the long haul.
ITCHING FOR BETTER NEWS
Lee Stern, owner of the Chicago Sting in the North American Soccer League, has an unusual allergy. He sneezes and his eyes get watery whenever he reads newspapers. He once was advised by an allergist to bake newspapers in the oven before reading them. Now he's under doctor's orders to wash his hands after touching papers and not to read them in bed; such precautions limit the extent of his exposure to the offending newsprint and ink. But one other source of discomfort may not be quite so easy to deal with. "The allergy is at its worst when a columnist criticizes me," Stern says, only half-joking. "Then I break out in hives."
Under the rules of the Major Indoor Soccer League, a player must sit out a game after amassing 20 penalty minutes. Going into a recent match with the Kansas City Comets, Paul Child, a star forward for the Pittsburgh Spirit, had 18 penalty minutes. He and coach John Kowalski agreed that he'd draw a two-minute penalty during the game if he could do so without hurting the team. Their reasoning: The Spirits' next game, with the lowly New York Arrows, was one Child could miss, while the next game was a critical encounter with the St. Louis Steamers.
With play stopped, two seconds left and the Spirit leading the Comets 8-5, Child saw his chance. Without provocation, he began mercilessly cursing referee Herb Silva. Silva assessed a penalty, with an air of genuine puzzlement. Child said afterward, "He was wondering what I was screaming at." Walt Chyzowych, the league's supervisor of officials, said that Silva would have had to call the penalty even if he'd realized what Child was up to—which he didn't. "The refs don't know who has 18 minutes or who has 16." Spirit coach Kowalski was somewhat sheepish: "It seems comical, but those are the strategies of the game."
A COUPLE OF LEMONS
A couple of Hall of Famers were talking contracts the other day at an A's-Indians exhibition game in Phoenix. Bob Lemon, now a scout for the Yankees, playfully accused his old Indians general manager, Hank Greenberg, of shortchanging him in their 1955 negotiations. Lemon had won 23 games in '54, but Greenberg offered Lemon the same $50,000 he'd been signed for after the '53 season, when he'd won only 21 games. Then, after much bartering, Greenberg agreed to sweeten the deal with a car.
"Fine," said Lemon. "What kind of car?"
"You'll like it," Greenberg assured him. "It's only got 100 miles on it."
It turned out the car was the Nash Rambler the Indians used to bring relievers in from the bullpen.
"I don't want that piece of junk," barked Lemon.
He and Greenberg finally settled on a new Ford from the dealership of former Cleveland outfielder Bob Kennedy.
Greenberg's hard line perhaps could be traced back to the contract battle he'd waged with Detroit after the 1938 season. He had 58 homers that year, but the Tigers argued that he didn't deserve the $5,000 raise he was requesting because his batting average had dropped 22 points to .315 and his RBIs had plummeted from 183 to 146. Greenberg threatened to hold out, which was about the only option a player had in 1938. And the Tigers coughed up the raise.
He and Lemon were still jawing good naturedly last week when Greenberg looked toward the playing field. On the mound was the A's Tim Stoddard, who'd just been given a $90,000 raise for going 4-3 with a 6.09 ERA.
"Bob," said Greenberg consolingly, "what we needed was a good agent."
FRUITS OF THE DOME
For nearly half a century Syracuse's mascot, the painted and befeathered Saltine Warrior (presumably named because the area was known as Salt City) tomahawked the air and whooped along the sidelines of Archbold Stadium. But in the late '70s, Onkwehon-weneha, the Native American organization on campus, protested that the mascot—invariably a Caucasian behind all that war paint—was racist and degrading. "Army had a mule, Navy had a goat, Georgia had a bulldog, and Syracuse had an Indian," said alumnus Oren Lyons, chief of the Turtle Clan on the nearby Onondaga reservation.
So in 1978 the Saltine Warrior went the way of the Indian mascots at Dartmouth and Stanford. He was supplanted by a gladiator of indeterminate origin, who lasted about as long as a Christian among the lions. Since then Syracuse hasn't had an official mascot.
When the Orange began playing both football and basketball in the Carrier Dome in 1980, a clan of dome gnomes sprang up. These free-lance mascots include the Dome Ranger, an insurance agent in an orange cowboy outfit and blue mask who reads dome poems over a local radio station before games; Dome Eddie, a gnatlike figure in orange sweats, Elton John glasses and an incandescent fright wig; and the Beast from the East, an electric-green cross between the Loch Ness monster and Klinger. Finally, there's The Orange, a juiced-up, bumbling citrus fruit from which two legs encased in furry brown booties protrude. It's known on campus as "the official embarrassment."
All of which leads to enormous nostalgia for the relatively restrained image of the Saltine Warrior. Two years ago, Jim Beardsley, a 30-year-old chemical processor who never even attended the university, donned the Saltine war paint and headdress at a Syracuse football game and dashed across the field into the arms of a cop. Charges of trespassing were dropped, and Beardsley's action failed to arouse wide enthusiasm for bringing back the Indian. "I was sick of all those fruits floating around," Beardsley says. "I can't see oranges as the school's mascot, being that the closest orange grove is about 2,000 miles away." Beardsley thinks a homegrown carrot or pumpkin would be more appropriate, and equally orange. Chief Lyons suggests a suitable mascot might be a comic Pilgrim shot full of arrows.
THEY SAID IT
•Frank Kush, coach of the Baltimore Colts, on why he likes to read biographies of Churchill, Mussolini and Hitler: "What intrigues me about all those guys is how they managed people."
•Tom McVie, coach of the New Jersey Devils, asked how he'd slept after an 8-5 loss to the Buffalo Sabres: "Oh, I slept like a baby. Every two hours I woke up and started crying."
•Larry Anderson, erstwhile pitcher for Seattle, on the Mariners' former manager Rene Lachemann and owner George Argyros: "One time Lachemann said he needed a switch hitter. George said, 'Well, we're not going to have that kind of person on our club.' "