Low priority of 'greenies' questioned

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When he joined the Orioles in 1961, Boog Powell would see the pills lying in bowls in the training room, as available as Tootsie Rolls.

They were stimulants, known as "greenies," and Powell said yesterday that players would use them sometimes if "you'd have a cold and you didn't feel good, or when you'd get into towns at 4 in the morning and you had a game the next day. It was legal."

The big first baseman said he sampled them perhaps a half-dozen times in his 17-year major league career. "I guess you're always looking for an advantage," he said. "They made me feel funny. I couldn't put the bat on the ball and I ended up saying, 'That's enough of this.' "

Twenty-seven years after Powell's retirement, some of the sport's watchdogs are wondering why baseball isn't saying the same thing. The sport's just-announced drug-testing program doesn't include screening for amphetamines, which, according to anecdotal evidence from Powell and others, have been a part of the sport longer than the designated hitter.

Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, said yesterday that baseball will deal with amphetamines in due course.

"While we discussed the current state of amphetamines, it was important to get the steroid agreement finalized," DuPuy said in an e-mailed response to The Sun.

"Amphetamines have been referred to the joint health committee, just as steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs were two years ago," DuPuy said. "We will await their review of the subject and then deal with it. Thus, from a process standpoint, it will be handled the same way steroids and performance-enhancing drugs were handled."

Part of the reason for the urgency on steroids, DuPuy said, was outside pressure. The executive cited "heightened public and political concern" created in part from disclosures involving BALCO, a California laboratory at the center of a far-reaching steroid investigation involving baseball and football players and track and field stars.

To address steroid concerns, baseball reached an agreement with its players' union to rewrite the collective-bargaining agreement not due to expire until the end of the 2006 season. Under the deal, announced this week, players will be subject to more tests and stricter penalties.

There is not as much pressure to test for amphetamines. One reason, according to a sports marketing expert, is that "greenies" don't threaten the sport's bottom line in the same way as the steroid problem, which raises issues of fairness and credibility that could ultimately reduce the sport's appeal.

"The question is - from a business standpoint - did they alter the agreement substantially enough to protect future cash flow to the sport from broadcast networks, the sponsors and everyday fans?" said David Carter, president of the Sports Business Group in Los Angeles.

Said current Orioles outfielder Larry Bigbie: "I think the biggest issue was the steroids bit. That was more their focus. I think they accomplished what they set out to do and what a lot of the players wanted them to accomplish. I don't think amphetamines will have the same effect that steroids will on the game."

Baseball seems unconvinced on whether amphetamines meaningfully elevate performance. Rob Manfred, vice president of labor relations and human resources, was quoted on baseball's Web site this week saying: "There's a question whether stimulants have the same effect on the body as performance-enhancing drugs. There's no reliable data on it, so we've left that up for further study."

But Charles Yesalis, a Penn State health policy professor and sports-drug expert, said yesterday that, "Amphetamines are one of the most long-studied performance-enhancing drugs. You mask fatigue, you increase your aggessiveness."

Yesalis acknowledged that the drugs' effects may be greater in football, which places a premium on the sort of "ferocity" that can be heightened by amphetamines. The NFL already tests for the drugs' use.

But Yesalis added: "I've been told by pro baseball players in recent years that it's still used in the game to get you through the monotony of a 162-game season and tons of road time - and just to keep you sharp."

He said baseball should screen for amphetamines "because they are so highly addictive and they can flat-out kill you. They can throw your heart into arrhythmia and cause strokes."

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, also said this week that amphetamines should have been included in the new testing regimen. He had been pressuring baseball to reform its drug-testing practices.

In 2003, Tony Gwynn, the former San Diego Padres star, estimated that 50 percent of position players routinely use amphetamines.

"People might think there is a steroid problem in baseball, but it's nowhere near the other problem; the other, it's a rampant problem," Gwynn told The New York Times. "Guys feel like steroids are cheating and greenies aren't."

Amphetamines in baseball first entered the public consciousness after pitcher Jim Bouton wrote Ball Four in 1970, chronicling his 1969 season in the major leagues.

"Are greenies fabulous? Probably," Bouton wrote. "Some of the guys have to take one just to get their hearts to start beating. I've taken greenies, but I think [Seattle Pilots pitcher] Darrell Brandon is right when he says that the trouble with them is that they make you feel so great that you think you're really smoking the ball even when you're not."

Thirty-five years after Ball Four was published, Powell still seemed angry over a comment by another Pilots player in the book that "just about the whole Baltimore team takes them [greenies]."

Powell said he couldn't say how many Orioles took them then, but that the player Bouton quoted didn't know, either.

"That's hearsay," Powell said. "I just don't know where he got that."

Sun staff writer Joe Christensen contributed to this article.

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