THERE is no reason to debate this, not now. Baseball doesn’t need more anecdotal evidence. And the Players Association should believe that one dead baseball player is precisely one too many. It needs to do right by its rank and file, and baseball needs to do right by its fans.
Together, they need to follow the NFL’s lead. They need to ban ephedrine, and all the attendant products; Stacker 2, Stacker 3, Ultimate Orange, Ripped Fuel, Xenadrine that contain ephedrine. They need to do that as soon as the law or their own collective bargaining allows.
Before another player like Steve Bechler whose weight problems aggravated his manager and frustrated his development decides that the most prudent path to a better body lies inside a bottle of brightly colored pills and powders.
Yesterday, Dr. Joshua Perper, the Broward County Medical Examiner, confirmed that Xenadrine had “probably” caused Bechler’s heatstroke Sunday, which is why Bechler was lying on Perper’s autopsy table instead of throwing fastballs for the Orioles at Fort Lauderdale Stadium.
We know the players’ reflex response undoubtedly will echo the words of Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn, who in November railed against the NFL’s decision to ban ephedra in the wake of Korey Stringer’s death in July 2001.
“You want to snort some cocaine they put you in a drug program to help you out you keep playing,” Sehorn said. “But you take some ephedra, that is sold over the counter, that they’re trying to say could kill you . . . because somebody died somewhere?”
Yes. That’s exactly what they should be saying. That alone should be plenty good enough to toss ephedra out of baseball. Forget the good of the game; how about the good of the players? Even if they refuse to see it, the same way they refuse to see the need for comprehensive, and punitive, steroid testing.
The truth is, ephedra, in its own way, is as frightening as steroids. It is legal, for one; you can walk into any 7-Eleven and find packets of Stacker 2 lined up right next to the Kit Kats and the stick-on tattoos.
It’s also eerily seductive. I know. I once popped a Stacker 2 before a morning round of golf and proceeded to play the front nine of my dreams. My focus was sharpened. My energy was off the charts. I felt like I could drive the ball six miles, and nearly did.
I also felt like my heart was itching to blow out of my chest. I skipped my back-nine pill, threw the bottle away, and returned to a life of healthy hacking. But you could surely understand the appeal.
“You have so much Adrenaline coursing through you, unchecked energy, and that can cause a big problem if you don’t have a doctor carefully monitoring you,” said Dr. Evelyn DeSantis, clinical associate professor at the Rutgers School of Pharmacy.
Counters Wes Siegner, general counsel of the Ephedra Education Council: “[Ephedra’s] benefits are clear. It raises the metabolic rate. It suppresses appetite. Taken as part of a healthy plan, ephedra should help someone lose about two pounds per month, but we have never claimed it a ‘miracle drug.’ ”
Still, to an athlete like Bechler, who at 6-2 and 239 pounds had battled with his weight throughout his five-year pro career, ephedra is the next best thing. Mike Hargrove, his manager, termed his conditioning “not good.” And anyone who’s ever tried losing weight knows that two pounds a month won’t satisfy anyone, let alone an athlete impatient for results.
For too long, baseball players have hidden behind the same cloudy wall Sehorn used last November: It’s legal, it’s over-the-counter, I’m smart enough to know what I’m doing. Plus, it was easier to think about football players falling victim to full pads and searing summertime sunshine.
One of their own lies on an autopsy table, an empty bottle of Xenadrine in his locker, a gaping hole left behind in the Orioles’ clubhouse and collective heart. And a coroner’s quote that ties them all together.
How much more compelling does the evidence need to be?