Orioles infielder Chris Davis, Major League Baseball's most prodigious home run hitter last season and an outspoken opponent of performing-enhancing drugs, was suspended for 25 games Friday by the league for testing positive for the drug Adderall. It was his second failed test for an amphetamine in his career.
The suspension began Friday before the first-place Orioles' doubleheader against the New York Yankees at Camden Yards and will last beyond the first round of the playoffs, assuming the Orioles make the postseason.
Davis, whose offensive production has dropped dramatically in 2014, cannot be with the team while he is suspended and likely won't return to the field unless the Orioles reach the World Series.
The announcement disappointed his teammates and fans as the Orioles try to clinch their first AL East title since 1997. And it immediately raises concerns about the team's chances to build on its regular-season success even as team officials insisted they could weather the latest loss of another All-Star. Catcher Matt Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado are out for the season with injuries.
"I apologize to my teammates, coaches, the Orioles organization and especially the fans. I made a mistake by taking Adderall," Davis said in a statement released on his behalf by the players union Friday. "I had permission to use it in the past, but do not have a therapeutic use exemption this year. I accept my punishment and will begin serving my suspension immediately."
For the most part, the Orioles are categorizing Davis' mistake as "unfortunate" and "surprising," but say it's just another challenge in a season full of them. The Orioles' magic number, a combination of Orioles wins and the second-place teams losses, for clinching the AL East was seven heading into Friday's night game.
"Everybody makes mistakes and you've just got to be careful when you make your mistakes. Now is not a good time to make a mistake," said right fielder Nick Markakis, one of baseball's most vocal proponents for strict drug testing. "These are things we have to deal with and, hopefully, we can get far enough along for him to come back and help us out."
And while Davis' teammates were moving forward, some fans had faith that the Orioles could overcome another obstacle.
"I'm optimistic we're going to rally around our guys," said Eric Debelius, a 24-year-old fan from Jarrettsville who hung out at Sliders bar before the game.
According to sources familiar with the situation, Davis previously had been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and received therapeutic use exemptions to take Adderall while he was with the Texas Rangers. According to baseball's joint drug prevention agreement, players must apply annually for the exemption, and the applications are reviewed by independent program administrator Dr. Jeffrey Anderson.
Davis was traded to Baltimore in July 2011 and re-applied for an exemption to use Adderall while with the Orioles — believed to be in 2012 — and was turned down. After his request was rejected, Davis did not re-apply. Several sources said he did not have an exemption to use the drug in 2012 or in 2013, when he set an Orioles' franchise record for 53 home runs.
MLB does not address these cases specifically, and would not comment on why Davis was denied an exemption after previously receiving one.
"At this point, it's not up to me to gauge what's fair and not fair. You take what's coming your way and your deal with it," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "We all make mistakes and none of us would like to have our whole lives judged by our worst decision. I think everybody has a grasp of what the policies are and we'll deal with it."
Davis, whose salary is $10.35 million this year, will lose roughly $961,500 through the end of the season because of the suspension. He could lose more depending on when the rest of the suspension is served because postseason pay is not considered salary. The 28-year-old Davis is eligible for arbitration one final time this offseason before becoming eligible for free agency after the 2015 season.
He is the second Oriole to be suspended in the last year for using Adderall. Former Orioles reliever Troy Patton tested positive at the end of last season for the amphetamine and had to sit out the first 25 games this year. Patton, who said he attempted to get an exemption for ADHD but was denied, was traded to the San Diego Padres for catcher Nick Hundley in May.
High use of Adderall in baseball
The use of Adderall by professional athletes has been at the center of discussion for several years. According to a MLB report detailing exemptions from the end of the 2012 season until the end of the 2013 postseason, there were 122 awarded, and 119 were for ADHD. Given that there were roughly 1,200 players on 40-man rosters at the time, the percentage of ballplayers suffering from ADHD would be roughly 10 percent — about double the percentage of those having the condition in the general American population.
Mike Gimbel, a local substance abuse expert who conducts seminars for college athletes, said Adderall had the effect of speed when taken by a person who does not have ADHD.
"The drug gives you energy, the drug keeps you awake and alert, but the side effect of the drug is it also helps you focus," Gimbel said. "It is not a muscle builder, it is not a performance enhancing drug that helps you build muscle. … Chris Davis or any other baseball player, in a long season you get tired. They use the speed to give them energy and keep them going … especially ones that are having trouble concentrating."
Gimbel said the drug could increase its user's blood pressure and heart rate, potentially causing a stroke or heart attack.
"It's highly abused, highly addictive and extremely dangerous," he said. All major professional sports leagues and the NCAA ban the use of Adderall without exemptions, but not all classify it as performance-enhancing. The NFL, which announced changes to its drug policies Friday, has classified it as both a performance-enhancing drug and a drug of abuse.
Orioles' player representative Darren O'Day, one of Davis' closest friends on the team, said he's encouraged that MLB's drug policy is accomplishing what was intended.
"From my perspective I like that they are enforcing this policy. I wish this hadn't happened to Chris, but I like to know that it's happening, that these tests are working," O'Day said. "It should be a rigorous process to get these stimulants. It's a long season. You are going to suffer some attrition just from the length of the season and the games you have to play, so everybody should have to suffer through it the same way."
No penalty for first failed test
Showalter said Davis called him around 8 p.m. Thursday with the news and then Davis phoned several teammates. Showalter addressed his club before Friday's first game. The commissioner's office contacted the Orioles on Friday morning to inform them of the suspension before making an official announcement.
There is no indication that the club had prior knowledge of Davis' first failed positive test. As per the sport's collective bargaining agreement, there is no penalty for a first failed amphetamines test. The player is warned and will be subjected to six additional unannounced tests within the year following the first offense. It's unclear when that first failed test occurred, but one source said it wasn't in 2014.
Davis, hitting just .196 with 26 homers this season, far below last season's average of .286 with 53 homers, was outspoken in his disdain for performance-enhancing drug users as he thrived last year. Because of his size (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) and prodigious power, he was the target of performan-enhancing drug rumors and repeatedly shot them down, adding that he believed Barry Bonds' and Mark McGwire's record-breaking home run seasons were tainted. He said he considered New York Yankees' slugger Roger Maris as the true home run king with 61 in 1961.
Including Friday's doubleheader, Davis will miss the final 17 games of the season and the American League Division Series. He'll also miss, at the least, three games of the best-of-seven American League Championship Series, perhaps more depending on how many games are played in the the best-of-five ALDS. Teams must set their rosters before each series, but MLB ruled Friday that the Orioles could include Davis on the ALCS roster, but they would have to play one man short until his suspension ends.
"It's just another bump in the road that you've got to overcome," Markakis said. "It's a long season and to have every single player on the same page is a tough task. You're tested throughout the course of the season by doing that. There's some things that you can't do."
Sun writers Eduardo A. Encina. Peter Schmuck, Alexander Pyles and Pam Wood contributed to this report.