By Joseph Jones
March 23, 2011
Players once thought to be first-ballot Hall of Famers are struggling to garner more than a pittance of support from sports writers and fans alike as the sport carries on the best it can.
Attendance remains high—despite an ongoing quasi-recession—television revenue is streaming in and it appears that many of the measures taken by commissioner Bud Selig and his merry band of nitwits salvaged what little dignity this great sport had left in the wake of all that ugliness.
But alas, as always, looks can be deceiving.
I, for one, was more than a little bit surprised when MLB decided to include a ban on stimulants in its new drug program a few years back.
Now the use of uppers is neither new nor surprising in the baseball world, going back as far as the days of Willie Mays players have been using some form or another to endure the grueling demands of the 162-game season.
While steroids, and their artificial augmentation of baseball’s favorite play, the longball, have received most of the mainstream media coverage, anyone who really knows two shits about baseball recognizes that “greenies” have always been a much more pervasive part of the game.
Countless stories of large Ronald Reagan-esque like jars filled with amphetamines (as opposed to Ronnie’s trademark jellybeans) and pots of coffee labeled “extra-caffeinated” could be found without much effort at all.
A baseball season is a long & grueling one, after all. 162 games, packed into about 180 days, taking players, coaches and fans through a hot and humid summer can wear down even the best of men. So for decades players have turned to “artificial means” to carry them through the dog days of summer.
I told more than one friend that it would be interesting to see who “faded down the stretch” and chuckled at the sudden emergence of energy drinks as sponsors for the big league clubs.
But I never could have imagined the thing that would catch my eye exactly one year later…and every year since.
When the league banned these drugs, an amazing thing happened. The number of players claiming and obtaining “therapeutic use” exemptions for stimulants nearly quadrupled from 28 to 103.
“Therapeutic use” means you can justifiably use the drug because you need it for a medical condition. If you didn’t have the condition, you’d just be a normal pro baseball player, and the attention-focusing benefits of Ritalin would be a form of “enhancement,” i.e., cheating.
Before the ban only 28 players had “therapeutic use exemptions” allowing them to take drugs such as Ritalin or Adderall. Twenty-eight. Then somehow magically that number jumps to over 100 as soon as the ban kicks in?
Color me suspicious but do they really think we are that dumb?
I mean how the hell can ADHD multiply fourfold in a sport in a single year? How can it become three times as prevalent in that sport as in the adult population? Is it contagious? Can Derek Jeter give it to Dustin Pedroia if he coughs on him as he slides into second base? Of course not.
ADHD is a psychological diagnosis. Like post-traumatic stress disorder or bipolar disorder it’s open to interpretation in any given patient. Three doctors may say you don’t have it. A fourth may say you do.
It’s that subjectivity that should have led to the league having a more discerning eye. After all they had literally just caught the foxes trying to rob the hen house when they found over 100 major leagues had tested positive in their last round of anonymous testing.
MLB should have also taken notice of what pretty much EVERYONE else had when these numbers were first published, namely that among adults, the rate of diagnosis is between 1 percent and 3.5 percent. But among pro baseball players, the disease seems epidemic. That means 8 percent of major-league players have ADHD—twice the rate among children and three to eight times the rate among adults.
But, of course, they didn’t.
They argue that once the number spiked up to 103 it “plateaued” and has remained at or about that same level since. This is true, the numbers show there were 105 therapeutic use exemptions in 2010, up from 106 TUEs in 2008/2009 and 103 in 2007, but it still doesn’t address why there was such a sharp rise in the first place.
But then again, do we really expect more from Bud the Dud?
The World Anti-Doping Agency sure as hell doesn’t:
“My reaction is the same as last year and the year before that,” said Dr. Gary Wadler, chairman of the committee that determines the banned substances list for the World Anti-Doping Agency. “It seems to me almost incomprehensible that ADHD is so pervasive in baseball to a degree that it requires medicine.”
A frequent critic of baseball’s drug-testing program, Wadler said “these numbers really cry out for transparency in the TUE process in baseball — a good look-see at the process, not just the numbers.”
This ostrich-like ability of Selig’s, where he is able to shove his head in the sand for unnaturally long periods of time has long infuriated me frankly.
I only wish I could have been a fly-on-the-wall in the offices of Major League Baseball when the recent divorce proceedings of Kansas City Royals catcher Jason Kendall and his estranged wife Chantel have remained frequent fodder for internet gossip sites like TMZ and RadarOnline and even recently made the jump to websites not concerned with the latest atrocious parenting of Jon and Kate Gosselin.
While professional athletes ditching gold digging trophy wives is no novel concept, this one had steamy particulars involving the love triangle of a pro athlete, a smokin’ hot babe and the son of a rock-n-roll legend (Chantel is currently dating Sean Stewart, son of Rod Stewart).
The focus of the tittle-tattle involved Chantel accusing her husband of abusing the drug Adderall, which subsequently led to him both physically and emotionally abusing her.
Aside from accusations that he urinated & defecated on a pile of Chantel’s clothes after finding out she had been cheating on him, she claimed that he received a spurious prescription to take what is now labeled a performance enhancing drug otherwise banned by Major League Baseball.
While Kendall refused to answer the judge’s question about his use of greenies under the argument that (I. shit. you. not) Mark McGwire didn’t have to answer the questions he was asked in court about PEDs, he was very forthcoming about his prescription drug habits and more than willing to toss former teammates Brian Giles and Bobby Crosby under the bus, implicating them as fellow Adderall appreciators in court depositions.
One has to think that Bud was running around Manhattan looking for a schoolyard sandbox the shove his head in the moment he caught wind of these proceedings.
I am sure Selig is a good man. It appears he has a passion for baseball, and genuinely wants to do the right thing to help the sport. But there is a problem—he is gutless.
For years he ignored steroids in baseball while the problem grew out of control. Despite many fans knowing certain players were on steroids, even going back to the 1980s (for an example, a 1988 Fenway Park crowd chanted “Ster-oids” at Jose Canseco), Selig in February of 2005 said, with a straight face:
“I never heard about it. I ran a team and nobody was closer to their players and I never heard any comment from them. It wasn’t until 1998 or ’99 that I heard the discussion…I don’t know if there were allegations in the early 90s. I never heard them.”
I remember reading those comments and thinking either this man is absolutely lying, or he is completely incompetent and oblivious. Maybe it is a little of both, but either way, this man should not be allowed to run major league baseball.
Further, even if taken at face value, if Selig knew about steroids in 1998 or ’99, why did it take him until 2005 to take any action, and only after Congress forced him into it.
Sadly, I fully expect this same sort of blissful ignorance to plague Selig’s handling of this next round of PEDs in baseball.
Just as stories about players juicing were swept under the rug because of increasing television ratings and attendance due to historical records falling every year, this dirty little secret will go on flying under the radar.
Instead of looking out for the interest and integrity of the game, Selig will gladly keep trading it away, piece by piece, for an increased revenue stream.