Kicking amphetamines

Here's one potentially positive byproduct of Major League Baseball's new amphetamine crackdown: Hitting the cutoff man actually might become fashionable again.

While purists attribute the current barrage of airmailed throws and baserunning gaffes to a lack of fundamentals, there's a different, more cynical read in some baseball clubhouses. When a player gets thrown out by 15 feet trying to stretch a single into a double, it's not uncommon for someone in the dugout to joke, "The greenies must have lied to him."

Thirty-six years before Jose Canseco introduced America to the goings-on in clubhouse bathroom stalls, Jim Bouton provided a more enlightened, well-written and entertaining look at baseball's frat-house culture in "Ball Four." Among other things, Bouton detailed the use of amphetamines -- or "greenies" -- as an antidote for everything from hangovers to garden-variety fatigue.

Bouton's revelations prompted former commissioner Bowie Kuhn to go ballistic, but for many ballplayers, he was simply stating the obvious.

During the Pittsburgh drug trials in the mid-1980s, outfielder John Milner testified that Willie Mays introduced him to a liquid amphetamine known as "red juice." More than a decade later, Tony Gwynn spoke of rampant amphetamine use in the game, and David Wells referred to greenies in his book, "Perfect I'm Not: Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches, and Baseball."

Amphetamines have become as much a part of the clubhouse scene as card games and hot feet. In a Kansas City Star story last year, former Royals outfielder Brian McRae recalled how there were always two pots of coffee brewing in the clubhouse -- one conventional and the other laced with stimulants. "I had to make sure I got the unleaded," McRae said.

While some medical professionals have observed that amphetamines might heighten an athlete's senses or quicken reaction time, the more commonly held view is that stimulants are performance "enablers" rather than performance

The baseball season is a marathon in every sense, with seven weeks of spring training followed by 162 games in six months, interspersed with rain delays, cross-country flights and constant scrutiny to perform. Sometimes players need a kick-start just to roll off the clubhouse sofa and up the dugout stairs.

While steroids might help a hitter add muscle or allow a relief pitcher to recover so he can take the mound for three or four straight days, ballplayers use stimulants for the same reason as college students cramming for exams or truckers on long-distance hauls. "It's a get-you-out-there issue more than anything else," said one management official.

Amid the furor over steroids, the combination of residual public pressure and well-documented health risks prompted Major League Baseball and the Players Association to address stimulants in the game's new drug agreement. The fallout from amphetamine use can range from nausea and headaches in the short-term to gastrointestinal problems, heart disease and liver or kidney damage over the long haul.

How prevalent are amphetamines in baseball? When the Associated Press surveyed 50 major leaguers last year, estimates of usage ranged from less than 10 percent to more than 75 percent. A player agent and a big-league coach, both speaking to ESPN Insider on the condition of anonymity, said stimulants are pervasive in the game.

"Typically, a veteran player finds a way to get them and he supplies them to the other guys," the coach said. "In the old days, a player might pop one to get up for a day game after a night game. Now guys use them more and more. They're passed out like candy in the clubhouse."

Yet for every player who comes to rely on stimulants and develop a dependence on them, there's a corresponding skeptic. Bouton once ingested a "little red heart" to get up for a game and found the experience so unpleasant that he never did it again.

"I was wired, jittery and jumpy," Bouton said. "I hated it. I don't think I pitched well at all. I was so up for the game already, I didn't need any stimulants. I was overstimulated."

Houston Astros manager Phil Garner, who played 16 seasons in the majors, briefly tried Dexedrine, a stimulant prescribed for narcolepsy and attention deficit disorder. He took one five milligram tablet before each game as a pick-me-up, but soon found that it disrupted his sleeping and eating patterns and was generally counterproductive.

"It becomes a psychological addiction and a crutch," Garner said. "Some guys get on amphetamines and think they can't play without them. But it's just a false sense of security. If you educate yourself and really see what's happening, you find it's a dead-end street."

So what will the stimulant ban mean for the product on the field? According to one popular theory, the "iron man" will become obsolete and bench players will assume a more important role. A total of 19 major-leaguers appeared in 160 or more games last season, and 45 players topped 155. Those who derived a lift from their neighborhood pharmacist will have to do it sans help in 2006.

Baseball Prospectus writer Will Carroll, an authority on injuries, also points out that fatigue is a contributing factor when players get hurt. So it might be worth checking the disabled lists this season to gauge if there's an impact.

The noncynical view is that professional pride should be enough of an incentive for players to take the field. And for the major-leaguer who lacks motivation, the lure of a $10 million-a-year free-agent deal should suffice.

Rockies outfielder Matt Holliday told the Denver Post that the amphetamine ban might prompt players to focus more on diet, rest and better conditioning. Bouton, for one, thinks it's a good thing if the new drug agreement makes players reconfigure their lifestyles.

"If you need a pep pill because you're living large, maybe you'll cut that back," Bouton said. "Maybe guys will drink less and go to bed earlier. Mix in a salad."

Garner is convinced that's already the case. He believes that reports of rampant amphetamine use are overblown and that modern-day players have already become more health-conscious and discerning about what they put in their bodies.

"One reason people think it's rampant is that guys who don't use amphetamines haven't stood up and said it," Garner said. "That's sort of been out of vogue. Now it's starting to come into vogue."

Under baseball's new drug policy, a positive test result for amphetamine use will result in mandatory additional testing. A second offense triggers a 25-game suspension, and the punishment increases to 80 games for a third failed test.

Since amphetamine users aren't likely to encounter the same negative stigma as steroid takers, some players might continue to push the envelope. And if the old high-test solutions are deemed too risky, they'll tinker with alternatives. Maybe there'll be a run on energy drinks such as "Red Bull" or over-the-counter stimulants or coffee. The new drug policy makes no mention of caffeine.

Regardless, it's hard to find someone who believes the game will be markedly different in 2006 because amphetamines are forbidden. Purists might actually revel in seeing fewer boneheaded baserunning mistakes or reckless throws from outfielders who are listening to their racing hearts rather than their baseball instincts.

"If amphetamines are widespread enough, this is going to affect everybody proportionately," Bouton said. "A fan in the stands isn't going to say, 'Wow, look at these guys without amphetamines -- it looks like a high school game.' That's not going to happen."

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN Insider. His book "License To Deal" has been published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.