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

June 02, 2002

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."

Several players said club trainers do not supply the pills but
are fully aware of their extensive use and don't feel obligated
to stop it. These days, in fact, it's not uncommon for players
to bean up in the clubhouse proper, rather than back rooms and
training rooms that are off-limits to the media, and to joke with
each other about drug use. Last month a current All-Star, upon
being chided by a former player about sitting out one game, shot
back, "That's it. I'm going to take a couple extra beans just for
you now," and reached into his locker for some pills. --T.V.

COLOR PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY JAMES PORTO/ROBERT BECK UPLIFTING Greenies have been a player favorite for decades.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)