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Baseball adds some muscle

Amphetamine ban an attention-getter

A veteran major league player reached by phone yesterday, the day Major League Baseball and the players union announced a markedly more punitive drug-testing policy, said, ''Boy, are you going to see some statistical changes."

However, the player was speaking not to the harsher penalties for failed steroid tests, but to the inclusion of amphetamines in the revised testing policy. Amphetamines, stimulants of the central nervous system often referred to as ''greenies," have been illegal without a prescription for decades. But never has baseball tested for them.

''I'm excited about it," said the player, speaking on condition of anonymity. ''I'm excited. It's as important or more important [than strengthening the steroid penalties]."

Why? Because, the player said, amphetamine use is far more widespread.

''I'd say 75 percent of the league uses amphetamines in some way, shape, or form," he said. ''I'd say 40-45 percent use them regularly. Regularly means on a daily basis.

''There are guys who can't play without amphetamines. I can't wait to see what happens.

''If you have guys using amphetamines for their entire minor league career, major league career, and relied on this for 12 years, boy, are you going to see some statistical changes."

Beginning next season, a player who fails an amphetamine test will first be subject to additional testing. A second failed test will come with a 25-game suspension, and a third will trigger an 80-game suspension. A fourth failure will transfer the player's fate to the hands of the commissioner.

A March 2005 survey by USA Today and the Sports Xchange supports the claim that amphetamine use is extensive. Of 568 major league players polled in March, 87.2 percent, according to the survey, said amphetamine use exists in the league. And 35.3 percent of respondents said that at least half of the players in the league use amphetamines.

Red Sox pitcher David Wells addressed amphetamines in his 2003 book, writing, ''Cheap and easy to find, these little buggers will open your eyes, and sharpen your focus, and get your blood moving on demand, over and over again, right through a full 162-game season."

Wells claimed to use a six-pack of Diet Coke to open his eyes, but didn't condemn teammates using amphetamines.

''As a pitcher, I won't ever object to a sleepy-eyed middle infielder beaning up to help me win," Wells wrote.

Johnny Damon, the Red Sox' representative to the players union, warned in late September against assigning too much punitive weight to amphetamine use. Damon, at the time, compared steroids and amphetamines, saying, ''One is a performance-enhancing drug, the other is a . . . way guys get ready to play over 162 games.

''I think it would be real tough if they threw 25 games or 75 games or a commissioner's decision [at amphetamine users] . . . If amphetamines are banned, we're probably going to see a lot of lethargic guys out there."

Damon, reached last night by phone, said, ''I think we're going to find out a lot come next season. With this [past] year, you got to see some guys who used steroids. We will see guys who may have used amphetamines to get ready for a game. I know there's a lot of games.

''We're going to see what guys are made of. I'm pretty happy about it."

Amphetamines became popular in the 1950s, when some teams went so far as to distribute them. Jim Bouton's 1970 book, ''Ball Four," revealed widespread use of amphetamines, leading Congress to ban them without a prescription. Still, their use has gone unchecked in baseball, and, according to Damon, they probably should have disappeared 35 years ago.

''If stuff is illegal," he said, ''you should not be allowed to take it. It's going to make guys realize you can't do this."

Bronson Arroyo, in a Globe article published in April, put in perspective the effect amphetamines can have on a game. He offered the example of a relief pitcher entering a game.

''After you sit out there in the bullpen for two hours in the hot sun watching people eat peanuts and hot dogs, nobody wants to get up and face Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa with the bases loaded," said Arroyo, who made it clear that he was speaking in generalities, not about himself or any teammates. ''If you don't have something going for you, you're not going to make it in the game."

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