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Dope-Taking Ballplayers: Few Shock Waves Among Youth

October 09, 1985|GARY LIBMAN | Times Staff Writer

When outfielder Joe Jackson and seven other Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series, a youngster is said to have tearfully tugged at Jackson's sleeve, begging, "Say it ain't so, Joe."

The players were branded "The Black Sox" and banned from baseball in a scandal that shocked American children and grown-ups too, according to Eliot Asinof, author of a detailed study of the event called "Eight Men Out."

"To a kid--as to many adults--it seemed terribly indicative," Asinof wrote. "If baseball was corrupt, then anything might be--and probably was. If you could not trust the honesty of a big league world series, what could you trust?"

Few Shocked Today

As baseball heads into another World Series 66 years later, few young people seem shocked and fewer still appear to be shedding tears because some of the sport's best-known players used an illegal drug.

The players, including the Dodgers' Enos Cabell, the New York Mets' Keith Hernandez, the Cincinnati Reds' Dave Parker, the Kansas City Royals' Lonnie Smith and the New York Yankees' Dale Berra, admitted using cocaine during recent court testimony in Pittsburgh.

Forty young baseball fans interviewed at Dodger Stadium and at Normandie Recreation Center, a magnet for youngsters who play in one of the city's few youth winter baseball leagues, agreed that drug use was wrong, and many felt the players should be punished.

Yet only 10 said illegal drug use changed their opinion of the players. And interviews with respected major-league players, baseball officials, police anti-drug specialists and other experts on youth also tended to support the notion that the sort of news that created shock waves early in the century was not having a similar effect today.

As Dr. Benjamin Spock, the noted baby doctor, explained it, children are merely reflecting the attitudes of adult society.

Emulated Heroes

Some of those children were interviewed as they emulated their heroes on the playing field. The scene was the Normandie Recreation Center on the busy corner of Normandie Avenue and Venice Boulevard. Hits pinged sweetly off aluminum bats and dusty boys slid into bases behind him as Brian Bean, 12, said he didn't condemn the players.

Wearing his rainbow and white Houston Astros-style uniform, the small, dark-haired first baseman said: "It's their problem. It doesn't seem like the players are playing any worse, and most of them have stopped it (cocaine) for a long time."

At Dodger Stadium, Brent Bardwell, 13, of Fountain Valley sat with his parents and his brother behind the first-base dugout on a recent evening and said that the disclosures didn't change his opinion of the players either.

"It just surprised me that they would do that," he said. " . . . You'd think they'd know that if they did it, they'd get caught."

Those observations coincide with what players and major-league teams say they hear about the admissions of cocaine use.

Steve Sax, Mike Scioscia, Mike Marshall and Bill Russell of the Dodgers said in interviews that since players began testifying five weeks ago in Pittsburgh, young people seeking autographs before and after games have never mentioned the revelations.

Former Dodger Steve Garvey, who said he signs 50 to 100 autographs a day, also said he had heard little comment about the announcements.

"I know you have to sit down and talk with kids before you get their true feelings. . . , " said Garvey, now a San Diego Padre, "so I'll do that too."

Janet German, an administrative assistant for the California Angels who reads all fan mail, said she has not received one letter from a child about drugs.

Richard Levin, press secretary to Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, said children's letters to the commissioner express only disbelief that players could be involved with drugs.

Former Dodger Lou Johnson, a member of the team's community-relations department, said that during his recent talk at South High in Torrance, students asked about his past drug use but ignored the Pittsburgh trials.

Los Angeles police officer Don Lawrence, part of the department's Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, said that only a few of the 500 students he talks to each week in schools have mentioned the Pittsburgh trials, although more seem to be aware of them.

Officer Simon Garcia, who is part of the same program in East Los Angeles, said students have expressed disappointment in the players but have not disavowed them.

There are exceptions. Some young people feel more strongly about the situation.

Under a shady tree in the Normandie Recreation Center bleachers after a practice game, catcher Gustavo Noguera, 12, said he no longer admires New York Mets first baseman Hernandez.

"Using cocaine will hurt his team a lot," said Noguera, who wants to play professional baseball. ". . . and it's a bad example for all players, even in Little League."

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