When I was an MLB executive, I was involved in player relations. Of primary concern was player health and safety and the use of “recreational drugs,” alcohol, marijuana and cocaine was examined in detail. The effort became one of establishing a method for identifying and treating those with drug abuse problems.
Where the use of illegal drugs, marijuana, and cocaine involved potential law enforcement issues, the abuse of alcohol was paramount and the most common. MLB and the MLBPA established a player support program for alcoholic players and other drug abusers.
In the 1980’s, the use of performance enhancing drugs in the steroid class became very apparent by the changing physique of certain players and dramatic improvement in performance. Homerun production increased to levels never seen before.
MLB and the union instituted a drug testing program that has resulted in significant reduction is such drug use, but positive tests show that it is still a problem.
The problem of recreational drugs has also declined as players realize that there is no performance, hence, career-enhancing effect. The problem of alcohol continues, but the discovery of this problem is difficult and often goes undetected.
This article discussed these problems. They are real, threaten the long-term health of players and must be dealt with more thoroughly.
by 3 May 2016, 11:54AM
Just how much responsibility does the league have in treating substance abuse?
Right now, the baseball world is reeling from the recent suspensions of Toronto’s Chris Colabello and Florida’s Dee Gordon. There will no doubt be plenty of buzz around the validity of the current MLB drug policy, and for good reason. However, amidst the renewed interest in PED use, it may be a good time to remember that they’re not the only type of drugs that are being abused.
Bret Boone, former MLB second baseman, recently announced the release of his new book, which comes out May 10. In the book, he details his struggles with alcoholism and how his dependency derailed his career.
From the outside, Boone’s steep drop in performance could easily be attributed to aging, and most people did exactly that. After all, it isn’t uncommon for players to begin to decline as they get older. As it was, though, Boone reveals the fall-off in his level of play was due to his dependence on alcohol, which brings to light an issue that isn’t discussed nearly as often as PED’s — substance abuse that has absolutely nothing to do with steroids or similar drugs.
Boone’s struggle is reportedly well-documented in his upcoming book, but his case isn’t the only high-profile one in recent years. Just last season, C.C. Sabathia shocked the baseball world when he checked himself into rehab before the New York Yankees’ final game of the regular season.
In terms of baseball, the decision may have been a costly one: The Yankees went on to lose the wild card game to the Astros. Of course, even if Sabathia had been on the mound that evening, a game can’t be won without scoring runs — and the Yankees didn’t, getting shut out by Dallas Keuchel.
Wild card game loss or not, it’s difficult to blame Sabathia for taking care of himself. In his essay for The Players’ Tribune, Sabathia offered up a poignant quote. “So many of the major choices in my life, going back to when I was just a kid, have been baseball decisions. But this was a life decision.”
To the credit of the entire Yankees organization, everyone, from players to coaches to management, was supportive of Sabathia’s decision. However, Sabathia’s highly visible situation raised an interesting point: Is the league doing enough to help players who are struggling from substance abuse?
The Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, agreed upon by the MLBPA and the league, will end its term in December 2016 and presumably be renegotiated or revised for the next collective bargaining agreement (CBA). This current iteration covers protocol for evaluating and treating players who have a problem with drugs of abuse in addition to PED’s. Alcohol falls under the “drugs of abuse” category, as do other recreational drugs (including but not limited to cocaine, LSD, opiates, and marijuana).
It’s difficult to gauge the effectiveness of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program when it comes to drugs of abuse, in part because players who take part in a treatment program are entitled to confidentiality. The treatment programs vary by case and may include any combination of counseling, inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, and follow-up testing. In cases of drugs of abuse, unlike in cases of positivePED results, players’ names are not released to the public.
In addition, there is no routine testing for drugs of abuse. A player is tested for drugs of abuse only when there is reason to believe that such a test is necessary. Players are entitled to their privacy, and no doubt testing for drugs of abuse on top of PED’s would introduce a whole new set of problems (not least of which is the legality of some of drugs of abuse — alcohol is legal, and so is marijuana in certain regions).
Of course, some drugs of abuse are illegal. If a player tests positive for an illegal substance like cocaine, they may be suspended. The length of suspension depends on both the substance and whether the player has a history of drug abuse. Alcohol isn’t illegal, though, and suspensions for alcohol abuse would be based on a blatant refusal to adhere to a treatment plan.
In any case, the lack of regular testing for drugs of abuse means that players can potentially slide under the radar for as long as they can keep signs of drug or alcohol addiction to a minimum. Boone did, and everyone attributed his slide to other causes. Only now, well after the end of his career, are we hearing about his battle with alcoholism. Sabathia did, and only his own admission of his struggle alerted the public to his alcohol problem at all.