Drug use continues in majors, players say

Increase noted in use of growth hormones

amphetamines popular

April 22, 2003|By THE NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK - The use of muscle-building drugs and amphetamines remains commonplace in major league baseball, current and former major leaguers say, even as players are being tested for steroids for the first time this season.

Far from abandoning performance-enhancing drugs, they say, some players have switched from steroids to drugs like human growth hormone.

Some players who say they do not use muscle-building drugs contend that this places them in a difficult position: either join in and use the banned substances or risk losing ground to players who use them in an effort to win the huge contracts that come with hitting the ball farther or throwing it harder.

These players also contend that their union, the Major League Baseball Players Association, is jeopardizing the health of its members by resisting mandatory testing for the use of potentially hazardous drugs. Union representatives say their policy represents the wishes of the majority of the membership.

That disagreement was at the heart of a widely publicized incident this spring, when more than a dozen Chicago White Sox players threatened to boycott the new steroid-testing procedure because they did not believe it was aggressive enough to weed out drug users.

A similar debate, which did not become public, took place among players on at least one National League team, according to a veteran player who was among 40 current or former players, baseball executives and medical officials who were interviewed by the Times.

Some players, team trainers and executives said they found it interesting that no such discussion was taking place about the lack of testing for amphetamines, which they said players routinely used to make themselves more alert.

"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," said Tony Gwynn, the former San Diego Padres outfielder who estimated that 50 percent of position players regularly use amphetamines, commonly called greenies.

Even so, players appear to be much more tolerant of the use of amphetamines than of steroids, recent interviews with players and executives indicate. Gwynn said, "Guys feel like steroids are cheating and greenies aren't."

Although baseball bans the use of steroids and amphetamines, it had not tested for any performance-enhancing drugs until the steroid testing began, largely because the players union opposes testing on the grounds that it infringed on players' privacy rights.

More than a dozen players interviewed over the past month questioned whether the union's resistance to broader drug testing really reflected the views of the majority of players.

Union officials disputed that. New York Mets pitcher Tom Glavine, the National League player representative to the union, said the union's position on testing was formulated only after players had the opportunity to voice their opinions.

More than 20 players, baseball officials and strength and conditioning coaches said in interviews that they knew some players looking for help in building muscle mass had turned to other performance-enhancing drugs, such as human growth hormone, which is also known as hGH.

Not long ago, human growth hormone was used by only a handful of players, players and baseball officials said, but its use is increasing. Several players and executives estimated that as many as 20 percent of major leaguers might be using the substance, but it is impossible to know with any certainty because there is no medical test to detect it.

EPO, which is generally associated with athletes in other sports, like cycling, also seems to be making its way into baseball clubhouses, according to players and baseball officials.

Kidneys naturally produce the hormone erythropoietin, which stimulates the growth of red blood cells that carry oxygen to the muscles and brain. When EPO is injected into the body, it helps to increase significantly the number of red blood cells, providing an athlete a lengthy and powerful energy boost, improving endurance and speed by as much as 10 percent to 20 percent, experts said.

A veteran major leaguer, who said he thinks the union's position on drug testing accurately reflects the views of most players, estimated that as many as 75 percent of baseball players are using amphetamines regularly.

A general manager in the National League said he assumed most of his players take amphetamines. "And it's not just the uppers that worry me," he said. "What I wonder about is, how are they coming down? If they take that stuff before a game, what are they doing so they can get some sleep? You worry about other pills, alcohol, pot."

Said Gwynn: "Sooner or later, it's going to get out that there's a greenie problem, and it's a huge one."

Glavine called Gwynn's comments "irresponsible."

"I have a problem with all these guys that aren't playing anymore now coming out and saying that all these problems exist," Glavine said. "If the problems were there and they were so prevalent, how come nobody said anything when they were playing? Is there stuff going on? Sure. Is it 50 percent? I don't think so."

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