Widow likely to get MLB insurance

Kiley Bechler to receive $450,000

`cracks' closed so late Oriole can qualify

March 08, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The widow of Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler will likely receive a $450,000 life insurance premium when Major League Baseball's pension committee finalizes her case Tuesday, sources close to the situation said yesterday.

Kiley Bechler, who is eight months' pregnant with the couple's child, was in jeopardy of not qualifying for a sizable premium. Two weeks ago, Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie said the situation could "fall through the cracks" between baseball's latest two collective bargaining agreements.

Bechler wouldn't have qualified under baseball's old agreement because players needed 60 days of major-league service time, and he had just 27. The new agreement covers every player on a major-league 40-man roster, but Bechler died on Feb. 17 and the new benefits don't take effect until April 1.

But the pension committee apparently has found a way to cover Kiley Bechler.

"I expect that to be worked out," union director Donald Fehr said yesterday after meeting with Orioles players for 90 minutes. "I don't want to say it more specifically, but my expectation is it will be resolved."

With Fehr at Orioles camp on his annual tour of each team's spring training site, the union took its strongest stance to date against ephedra, the herbal stimulant being linked to Bech- ler's death by Broward County's chief medical examiner.

So far, the union has not urged baseball to ban ephedra, but it sent a memo to all 30 major-league clubs yesterday reminding players of the risks associated with ephedra's use. The union had previously warned players about those risks by distributing pamphlets on steroids and nutritional supplements.

The new memo, citing last week's stance by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said: "As of now, the sale and use of supplements containing ephedra remain legal. In light of HHS's actions and statements, however, we strongly recommend ... players [to] be extremely reluctant to use any products containing ephedra."

Fehr said the union needs Bechler's toxicology results before going any further with its stance. Those results, which will confirm whether Bechler had ephedrine in his system, are expected sometime next week. The union also is monitoring the way Congress and the Federal Drug Administration address ephedra, in light of Bechler's death.

"If they decide ephedra is dangerous and should be banned," Fehr said, "that would eliminate any need to have discussions on the issue."

Today, the Orioles will send a private plane to Bechler's memorial service in Medford, Ore., with a seven-member group including vice president Mike Flanagan and pitchers Rick Bauer, Mike Paradis, Matt Riley and John Stephens.

Still, Fehr said the tenor of his meeting with the Orioles was no more serious than it's been with any of the other clubs on his tour. "Baseball's a pretty small family," he said, "and I think players everywhere pretty much reacted [to Bechler's death] the same way."

Coincidentally, the Orioles began undergoing random tests for steroid use yesterday with several pitchers called into the trainer's room for urine samples. Those tests were established under the new collective bargaining agreement.

Currently, Major League Baseball is not testing for ephedra.

Last week, commissioner Bud Selig banned ephedra at the minor-league level, but that does not cover players on major-league rosters. Eventually, Major League Baseball might adopt the same policy, but as a group, the Orioles are still not calling for the ban.

"It's hard to tell an adult man what he can and cannot do if it's legal," said Orioles pitcher Rick Helling, who serves as the union's American League player representative. "Don put that in front of anybody today. He said, `If you want us to act like your parents, and say here's the thing we won't allow you to do, then we'll do that.'

"But I think the majority of guys, probably to a man, would not want that to be the case. Nobody wants to be told what they can and cannot do, especially something that's legal. There comes a point when you have to accept responsibility for yourself, and be able to understand the benefits and the drawbacks of any action you take."

This week, the Milwaukee Brewers adopted their own policy banning supplements from their clubhouse. Thus far, Orioles players have not pushed for a similar team policy.

"I'd rather wait and see what happens with [the toxicology results] because I wouldn't want to go on the other side of the line from the union," said Orioles player representative Jason Johnson.

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