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Saying Goodbye to Greenies

April 02, 2006|From the Associated Press

On a sun-splashed day in Florida, John Gibbons thought ahead to those hot summer afternoons, the ones when players drag themselves into the clubhouse after a tough night game, or perhaps following a long flight and little sleep.

"There'll be a lot of coffee drinking going on," the Toronto Blue Jay manager said with a smile and a laugh.

Welcome to baseball without greenies.

All the stories have kicked around for years, of secret amphetamine pills passed around the clubhouse, of "special" pots of coffee for players only. It's hard to tell how much of it was true, how much apocryphal.

"I've heard guys talk about them, say it'll give you a pick-me-up, but I never experienced taking them," Washington's Matt LeCroy said. "I never had to, because I was never an everyday player. I'm not sure how widespread or not they were."

Baseball is testing for amphetamines for the first time this year, part of the fourth straight season of toughened drug rules. Players who test positive for the first time will be sent for counseling. A second positive test would result in a 25-game suspension.

"It's like a lot of things. I thought that most of what you read was probably significantly overblown," union head Don Fehr said.

Players used to talk about whether to "bean up" or "play naked" -- go without greenies. There were code names for pills, such as "black beauties."

"I haven't seen much," said Oakland shortstop Bobby Crosby, the 2004 American League rookie of the year. "If they want to rid the game and make it completely on an even playing field, that's fine."

Now players have to stick to over-the-counter supplements -- baseball and its union would prefer they take pills only that have been approved. Management and the players' association are having NSF International, a company in Ann Arbor, Mich., certify that products are clean.

One day during spring training, New York Met rookie reliever Royce Ring was in the clubhouse at Port St. Lucie, Fla., when a package arrived at his locker. Inside was a bottle with a product that provided an energy boost -- a gift sent by his mother.

"It's from my mom, it's got to be legal, right?" he said. Pausing, he added, "Better get it checked, just in case."

Last year, when first-time positives for steroids resulted in a 10-day suspensions, 12 players were nabbed. Rafael Palmeiro, the most prominent of the dirty dozen, was slapped with a big scarlet "S" for steroids -- Baltimore didn't want him back, and he couldn't find a job for this season.

Seattle's Matt Lawton must sit out the first 10 days this season after testing positive for boldenone while playing for the New York Yankees late in the season.

"I made a terrible and foolish mistake that I will regret for the rest of my life," said Lawton, who immediately fessed up.

Under pressure from Congress, the players' association agreed to increase the penalty for a first offense to a 50-game suspension starting this year. No players tested positive twice last year.

Following the publication of "Game of Shadows," a book detailing alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs by Barry Bonds and others, Commissioner Bud Selig appointed former Sen. George Mitchell on Thursday to head an investigation. The probe is to start with events after September 2002, when players and owners first agreed to drug testing -- but could expand.

"I hope that once the investigation is complete and we have all the facts that those players who are proven to be guilty of not only cheating, but also breaking federal law, should be dealt with in the appropriate fashion," said Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), a Hall of Fame pitcher. "Any records that may have been achieved while these players were on the juice should be stricken from the books forever."

But many in baseball thought amphetamines were the bigger problem.

"I'm sure there's been some guys who have been using it for a number of years. Like anything else, some do, some don't," Gibbons said. "I guess we have to see when there's day games after night games."

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