A weight-loss drug banned by many sports leagues but not major league baseball probably contributed to the heatstroke death of Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler, a medical examiner said today.
Bechler, 23, had been taking Xenadrine, an over-the-counter drug containing ephedra, which has been linked to heatstroke and heart trouble, Dr. Joshua Perper said.
Bechler died Monday, less than 24 hours after a spring training workout sent his temperature to 108.
Ephedra has been banned by the NCAA, the NFL and the International Olympic Committee. Perper urged baseball officials to ban the drug.
Preliminary autopsy findings indicated Bechler died from complications of heatstroke. Final results will not be available until toxicology tests are completed in two to three weeks, Perper said.
Among the other factors contributing to Bechler’s death, Perper said, were high blood pressure and liver abnormalities.
Bechler, who was 6-foot-2 and 239 pounds, had battled weight for much of his five-year professional career. Asked about the pitcher’s conditioning, manager Mike Hargrove was quoted as saying it was “not good.”
William Goldiner, the Orioles’ team physician, said he was not aware of any evidence that Bechler had been taking a dietary supplement such as ephedrine.
“Weight-loss drugs are never prescribed by us,” Goldiner said. “They’re never condoned by us.”
Orioles spokesman Bill Stetka said he could neither confirm nor deny a report by The Washington Times that a bottle of a supplement containing ephedrine was found in Bechler’s locker.
“We’ll cooperate in every way with the medical examiner’s office,” Stetka said. “Everything we find we’ll turn over and apprise them of.”
A workout Sunday left Bechler pale and dizzy. When his condition deteriorated, he was carried from the clubhouse to an ambulance on a stretcher. He spent the night in intensive care and died at the hospital.
“He would rebound at times,” Goldiner said. “They thought they were getting ahead of it, and then another organ system would fail.”
Bechler’s wife, Kiley, due to deliver their first child in April, was at his bedside. They married last year.
Bechler, a third-round draft pick in 1998, made his major league debut last September, going 0-0 with a 13.50 ERA in three relief appearances. He was expected to begin this season with the club’s new Triple-A affiliate in Ottawa, Canada.
He spent most of last season at Triple-A Rochester, N.Y., going 6-11 with a 4.09 ERA in 24 starts.
His death comes more than a year and a half after Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer died of heatstroke during the sweltering heat of NFL training camp.
Last year, baseball was stunned by the death of St. Louis pitcher Darryl Kile, 33. He died in June from blocked coronary arteries while in Chicago for a game.