O's confident in drug policy

In hindsight, they'd change nothing


One year after former Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro's failed drug test was announced, shaming the potential Hall of Famer and thrusting a national spotlight inside the Orioles' clubhouse, team officials said they would have done nothing differently in their handling of the club's drug-prevention policies.

"We have felt for a long time that our educational programs and the information we get out to the players was second to none," said Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan. "Going back a long time, even before I was around, the program we have in place at the major and minor league level is second to none."

The Palmeiro discovery, however, was the beginning of embarrassing reports that have painted the Orioles clubhouse as a haven for illegal performance-enhancing drug use.

Orioles officials say that picture can't be further from the truth.

"I get the feeling that there is a public perception out there that there are guys walking around the clubhouse and the training room with syringes and needles sticking out all over the place and it is a pill-popping place," said Orioles head athletic trainer Richie Bancells. "And that is not the case at all."

Whether fair, the Orioles' clubhouse has been at the forefront of nearly every baseball drug story east of San Francisco.

In his explanation of why the steroid stanozolol was discovered in his system, Palmeiro told a congressional panel last year that the only foreign substance he had put into his body was liquid vitamin B-12 given to him by Orioles All-Star shortstop Miguel Tejada.

The panel then interviewed Tejada and two unnamed Orioles, who said Tejada had supplied them with liquid B-12, which is available in injectable form in the United States only by prescription. One player told the panel he had injected Tejada about 75 times in the past two seasons.

Earlier this year, federal investigators traced a shipment of human growth hormone to the Arizona home of former Orioles reliever Jason Grimsley. As part of the investigation, officials found a check for hGH allegedly written by Grimsley while he was an Oriole.

In a federal affidavit, Grimsley allegedly accused other players of using performance-enhancing drugs. The names were redacted and have not been released. But based on the wording in the affidavit, Grimsley details a conversation about amphetamines that he allegedly had with three 2005 Orioles.

In addition, former Orioles designated hitter David Segui said that he was mentioned in the Grimsley affidavit, that he had been taking hGH for years with a prescription and that club officials knew about his use of hGH while playing with the Orioles - something the front office denies.

All of it comes within three years of the death of Orioles minor league pitcher Steve Bechler, who collapsed during 2003 spring training after taking ephedra-based diet pills.

Trainer's role

Individually, the incidents could have happened anywhere. Analyzed collectively, though, the assumption can be made the Orioles have fostered a drug culture - or at the least looked the other way.

"I wouldn't be human if I said it didn't anger me or disappoint me. I go through some emotions," Bancells said. "But after you go through those emotions, the reason I can sleep well at night is because I know the policies and procedures and education programs that we have had in place. I know we have done everything we can."

Bancells has been with the organization for 30 seasons, including 19 in his current position. He is the one ultimately responsible for overseeing the health concerns of the Orioles players. It's a responsibility he takes seriously.

"This organization has been very pro-active; if I look around baseball and other sports, it has been more pro-active in tackling these issues," Bancells said. "Part of that is the organization itself, but also I think it's the way I feel about getting information out to players during my whole career."

The process starts each spring with a team meeting that highlights club and Major League Baseball medical policies while stressing the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs. All year long, the Orioles' employee assistance program, which is run in conjunction with the University of Maryland Medical System, is available to help club employees with physical and emotional difficulties.

Bancells said the confidential program, required by MLB but designed by the Orioles to meet their employees' needs, offers services ranging from drug and alcohol abuse counseling to relocation assistance and marriage counseling.

Also, throughout the season, Bancells kills trees. At least one day a homestand, players will find pamphlets or information sheets on the stools by their lockers.

"Richie is constantly putting out little memos and things," said Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo. "Stuff about banned substances or things that haven't been approved or if you're not sure you should be cautious."

The key, Bancells said, is to keep the education process going as much as possible.

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