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Speed Still the Name of the Game for Some

May 22, 2005|Steve Wilstein | Associated Press

SEATTLE — The clandestine jars in baseball clubhouses filled with "greenies" -- the potentially deadly amphetamines, speed or pep pills that secretly fueled generations of players -- are nowhere to be seen.

Now, caffeine-spiked, vitamin-boosted Red Bull, Spark and other concoctions promising energy are all the rage, lining glass-doored fridges and locker shelves, most packing no more wallop and presenting no more danger than a cup of drip coffee.

Yet few among dozens of major league ballplayers interviewed by Associated Press say that greenies or their chemical cousins in other colors really have been relegated to the past. Discretion, in this age of congressional hearings and calls for cleaning up the game, demands less visibility and less discussion.

Amphetamines are not banned by the major leagues, though commissioner Bud Selig last month called for testing for the stimulants. The players' union has said it would discuss the issue.

Seattle's Bret Boone, the Dodgers' Jason Phillips, the Angels' Darin Erstad, Detroit's Ivan Rodriguez and San Francisco Giant Manager Felipe Alou were among many who wouldn't touch the subject of amphetamines. Said Alou: "We've been through a lot with this ballclub" -- true enough, with Barry Bonds' personal trainer still embroiled in the BALCO steroids investigation.

At the mention of greenies, Washington National Manager Frank Robinson, a Hall of Fame player who is among the most astute observers of the game, tightened his lips in a half-smile and drew his thumb and forefinger together across them as if to keep his lips zipped.

Among more than 50 players willing to speak on the record, guesses about how widely greenies are still used -- and guesses are all anyone could offer in the absence of tests -- ranged from less than 10 percent to more than 75 percent of all major leaguers.

"You hear stories about guys taking them as soon as they wake up in the morning and all through the day," said Seattle Mariners pitcher Jeff Nelson, among those who believe the higher figure is most accurate and that amphetamines should be banned. "It just gets to be a habit. They need to pop more of them to get them more awake."

Dallas McPherson, the Angels' rookie third baseman, estimated that half to 75 percent of players use energy pills of some sort, but he didn't favor banning any stimulants, prescribed or not.

"Most cases, they're out too late and taking something to stay awake, give them a little extra pep," he said. "If you take a pill to give you more energy, how does that help you hit a baseball? I don't take it. I don't need it. I'm 24 years old. Maybe when I'm 30 I'll have a different opinion."

Washington's Jeff Hammonds laughed when he said "zero percent" of the players use greenies.

"Can't go wrong with that," he said. "I've seen greenies around. But I've never been offered any. You don't know where they're made and you don't know what they are."

The consensus among players and trainers willing to speak out was that:

* Greenies are still used in baseball, the only question being how widely.

* Amphetamines are not considered performance enhancers that give players a competitive advantage, but rather performance enablers that get them through some games on little sleep.

* Baseball should add amphetamines to the banned list as much for health reasons as to get rid of another contentious issue.

"I am against amphetamines, absolutely, without reservation," San Francisco Giant trainer Stan Conte said. "Whether that drug has been part of the culture of the sport or not, it's still illegal. In addition, I'm very concerned about the message it sends to college, high school and Little League players that somehow they need something other than practice to move up the ladder."

The players were divided on whether baseball should continue its own drug-testing program with stronger penalties or turn it over to an independent agency, such as the World Anti-Doping Agency, which polices Olympic athletes.


Amphetamines and other stimulants glaringly were left out of Major League Baseball's most recent drug-testing agreement with the players' association. Baseball has no penalties for amphetamine use by players on 40-man major league rosters, although amphetamines are banned for players with minor league contracts.

Selig proposed stiffer penalties for steroid offenders last month and called for testing for amphetamines because "we need to put an end to all whispers."

"There's a lot of anecdotal stuff that's gone on," Selig said. "I was a young kid who walked into the Milwaukee Braves clubhouse and I heard about it. That was 1958, so that's 47 years ago. You can talk to people that go four, five and six decades back."

Union head Donald Fehr said in a letter to Selig that the players were willing to listen, but he gave no indication they would budge on amphetamine testing.

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