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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Baseball's Attention-Deficit Disorder ...

I previously wrote a brief story concerning professional baseball's ban on amphetamines, or "greenies" as they are commonly called, and the resulting effects of their absence in todays' game ... as Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia has said, "There have always been things that players have used." ... along with the aforementioned use of energy drinks and stout coffees, which are among the less dangerous or creative alternatives presently available, albeit comparatively ineffective ... while doing a bit of research for "The Dirty Edge", I stumbled across yet another option that some players are now using to replace amphetamines ... "therapeutic use exemptions" ... which enables a player to skirt around MLB's ban on amphetamine use so as to obtain and use drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall under the guise of treatment for Attention-Deficit Disorder or ADD ... baseball has now been diagnosed with a new "epidemic" ... whether legitimate or not is the burning question ... By the time a baseball player reaches the big leagues, he would have been required to exhibit a higher than average level of concentration and alertness during that extremely competitive process ... however, last year (2007) 103 players -- nearly 4 times as many as in 2006 -- sought "therapeutic use exemptions" in order to licitly take controlled substances such as Ritalin and Adderall ... such an abrupt rise in those numbers could be legitimately described as "epidemic" ... taking into account the fact that ADD is not a contagious malady, a more credible explanation could be that many professional ball players are feigning a medical disorder which could subsequently allow them to legally take stimulants such as Ritalin or Adderall within the rules of MLB, thus getting around the ban on amphetamines ... At a congressional hearing centering on baseball's attempts to drudge it's way out of it's long-standing steroid scandal, Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass, submitted that the startling statistics related to professional baseball players who have recently been diagnosed with ADD suggest yet another drug problem has invaded America's pastime ... MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, along with players' union chief Don Fehr, on whose watch this fiasco occurred, insisted that they are taking full responsibility for the steroid problem and moving to implement recommendations outlined within former senator George Mitchell's stern report on the state of performance-enhancing substances in the game of baseball ... although neither Selig nor Fehr can hardly be taken seriously considering the fact that neither man seemed particularly shocked by the extremely high numbers ... however, if 103 players -- 7.6% of the league -- are suffering from Attention-Deficit Disorder, it's striking baseball at a rate nearly 75% higher than in the general population ... So far, no cases of abuse have been reported, but determining which cases might be bogus would require a thorough study of both the prescribing physicians and the thoroughness of their examination process ... Bud Selig says the league is investigating the ADD diagnoses to determine which ones are legitimate medical problems and which ones might be attempts to evade the amphetamine ban ... separating legitimate users from the abusers won't be an easy task ... estimates of ADD vary widely from a little as 4% among adults, to as much as 16% among adolescents and young adults ... a diagnostician must assess a variety of behaviors -- some of which might appear to be similar to ADD, but in reality are other conditions (the medical establishment often uses the term ADHD -- Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder -- interchangeably with ADD) ... a diagnosis of ADD requires not only the evaluation of an adult's behavior and mental state, but also a look into the individual's childhood and family background ... ADD is a genetic condition that makes it's appearance early in life ... the similarity of symptoms relating to other conditions such as bipolar disease, anxiety disorder, depression and developmental or learning differences can make ADD diagnoses very difficult and subjective ... Further complicating the issue is that playing sports can both strengthen and undermine a person's mental well-being ... intense physical activity fosters a level of focus and commitment that helps the athlete improve the functioning of the brain ... Dr. John J. Ratey, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of "Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain" says athletic competition can be the best cure for ADD ... Ratey has treated numerous athletes who suddenly displayed the symptoms of ADD after being sidelined by injuries ... he prescribed medications during the down time, then weaned the athlete once he got back into action ... on the other hand, lifestyles of professional athletes which might include -- constant travel, bad food, abuse of alcohol and drugs and irregular sleep patterns -- can scramble the brain thus undoing all the positive effects of strenuous physical activity ... improper drug use often serves to only mask the real problem ... I'm reminded of former Atlanta Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche ... who didn't seem to be trying hard ... who came across as inattentive, sluggish and a little too laid-back to be a professional athlete ... who's relaxed approach ... along with a disorder that made it hard for him to concentrate ... came under scrutiny after an intensely embarrassing moment on the field during a Sunday game against the Washington Nationals in 2006 ... after scooping up a routine grounder that should have been the final out of the inning, LaRoche took his time getting to first base and was stunningly beaten to the bag by Washington's Nick Johnson, who had been hustling all the way ... this error allowed the Nationals to score 4 unearned runs on their way to an 8-1 victory over the Braves, and resulted in LaRoche being benched for the following game against the Florida Marlins the next night ... LaRoche eventually entered that game in the sixth inning as a pinch hitter, remained in the game to play first base, then wound up scoring the winning run in an 11-8 victory after leading off the seventh inning with a double, hustling all the way to second base ... in fairness to LaRoche, he was diagnosed with ADD while in high school, had suffered with the condition throughout the minors, but had not been under any type of treatment (including medication) for the disorder since trying medication back in 2004 while playing winter ball in Puerto Rico ... LaRoche discontinued taking medication at that time because of the adverse effect that it had on how he felt ... LaRoche is now with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization ... More than two years after "greenies" were banned, professional baseball still can't seem to clean up it's act ... with the steroids scandal still rippling through baseball, MLB is under particular pressure not to allow a new drug controversy to develop ... management faces a dual challenge -- preventing the use of drugs that give an unfair advantage to some players by hopping up their bodies like race cars while not denying medication and other assistance to an athlete suffering from a legitimate medical disorder -- the experts say the best way to ultimately identify both legitimate medical conditions and illicit drug use is to devise top-to-bottom systems that track a player's progress on a number of dimensions ... to know a player is to know when he might be heading off course ... still, players and owners just don't get it ... fans want clean and fair competition untarnished by steroids, amphetamines, prescription-drug abuse and anything else that puts rule-abiding players at a disadvantage ... getting rid of amphetamines from the game of baseball might turn out to have been as easy as a leisurely stroll in the park compared to the difficult challenges currently facing MLB in making the distinction between legitimate versus illicit ADD diagnoses among players ... what about integrity and morality? ... obviously both are rare commodities in the grand old game ... --sja

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Dirty Edge ...

Baseball's policy for testing positive: First violation: Mandatory random testing. Second violation: 25-game suspension. Third violation: 80-game suspension. Fourth violation: Commissioner's option, with lifetime ban subject to arbitral review. Steroids, right? ... No, we will save that subject for another day ... I am referring to "greenies" ... "beans" ... "speed" ... amphetamines ... synthesized drugs that stimulate the central nervous system and can create physical and psychological dependencies when overused or misused. Generally utilized to treat hyperactivity in children(and some big league ball players), narcolepsy and attention deficit disorder, and also used as an appetite suppressant. "Speed" is the common street name for amphetamines, which were eventually called "greenies" because of their green color ... already banned? ... old news? ... banned yes ... but not really old news ... I'll tell you why (in my opinion) I believe amphetamines (or rather the absence thereof) is possibly as efficacious in today's game as it was in the years before it's banishment by MLB in 2005 ... The law according to the federal Controlled Substance Act of 1970 included amphetamine as a Schedule III drug that has "a potential for abuse that may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence." Penalties for violation of the act can range from up to one year in prison, to terms of 20 years to life and fines of up to $2 million for continual criminal activity ... "Speed" was developed during World War II to assist defense workers and armed forces personnel in the prevention of fatigue. Subsequently, amphetamines found their way into the civilian population and became prevalent in baseball as expansion complicated team travel and schedules. Unless otherwise obtained by prescription, amphetamines had been made illegal by 1970, but it was too late for baseball, "greenies" were everywhere in the game. Many players relied on amphetamines to deal with the hardships associated with cross-country air travel, three-hour day games followed by three-hour night games, a 162-game regular season crammed into 182 days and lifestyles that often involved partying 'till sunup ...
According to former major-league left-hander Bill "Spaceman" Lee, he wrote in his book The Wrong Stuff, "Amphetamines were not being used for kicks, they were being used to sober up ... to get the pulse going on the morning after the night before." It was so rare for a player to go without help from chemistry by not using amphetamines, that he was said to be "naked". Every team had a full assortment of "beans" in the dugout, so it was to be expected that your team would also be made up of a number of "speed freaks". Former Boston Red Sox left-hander David Wells wrote in his book Perfect I'm not: Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches and Baseball, "Those little buggers will open your eyes, sharpen your focus and get your blood moving on demand over and over again. I won't ever object to a sleepy-eyed infielder beaning up to help me win." ... The greatest players in the game did "greenies". All-time hits leader Pete Rose said in a Playboy interview that he had used them . Even more surprising to me, was the fact that Hall of Famers Willie Stargell and Willie Mays were described as amphetamine providers during the Pittsburgh drug trials of the 1980's. Good teams did "greenies". It was said during sworn testimony that World Series winners such as the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates and 1980 Philadelphia Phillies were to have been loaded with amphetamine users. John Milner testified that the legend Willie Mays had allegedly gave him the "red juice" when they were with the NewYork Mets, "I don't know what kind of speed it was, but it kept your eyes open," said Milner ... According to Dr. Charles Yesalis, a professor of health and human development at Penn State University, amphetamines and steroids have had markedly differing impacts on the game of baseball. Steroids generally enhance players' overall performance, while "greenies" enable players to simply get on the field and play at their expected level game after game. "It's the whole 'Chicks dig the long ball' thing ... balls going over the fences and records being broken," Dr. Yesalis said. "From a business standpoint, you could argue that anabolic steroids have a far greater effect than amphetamines." ... he added that what makes amphetamines so damaging is their threat to players' mental and physical health. Amphetamine users often get into a dangerous cycle in which they must use barbiturates such as alcohol to come down from the high of "greenies". If given the choice between taking steroids or taking amphetamines, he would choose steroids because amphetamines "can stone-cold kill you." ... Rangers trainer Jamie Reed, who was also group president of the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Association, said his organization had agreed with medical experts such as Dr. Yesalis, and pushed for the ban. Reed acknowledged that athletic trainers have had to battle amphetamine use as being an accepted practice. His group has attempted to educate players on the dangers of amphetamines, but he is not so naive as to believe that there is now complete abstinence. The Rangers have made their employee-assistance program available to players who have difficulty dealing with the high psychological dependence that is associated with amphetamine use. Other baseball clubs have taken similar steps. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said he was stunned by what athletic trainers had told him about the use of amphetamines, subsequently, their input is what prompted him to push for the ban ... Dr. Yesalis believes that ultimately there will be more mental problems than physical problems. He also believes that some players are convinced that they cannot perform adequately without the help of amphetamines. "As with any drug, the physical addiction is never as bad as the mental addiction," Dr. Yesalis said. "If a guy is partying too much, and can't get his "beans", it is relatively safe to say his play will be diminished." ... San Diego closer Trevor Hoffman said, "Coffee sales will be up." ... Former manager of the San Francisco Giants Felipe Alou said, "It will be a lot more relaxed." ... "No more playing three weeks in a row," said New York Yankees right-hander Mike Mussina ... "Greenies" are gone ... or at least they are supposed to be gone as part of Major League Baseball's latest drug policy. Without those jars full of little green pick-me-ups readily available in dugouts and clubhouses, much of the steam appears to have escaped from many of baseball's previously high-energy and spirited players. Play on the field has become indolent and lackluster, more pop-ups are dropping in front of outfielders, more grounders are skipping past infielders and fewer batters are going all-out as they blatantly amble to first base ... starters seem to be unable to effectively pitch deep into games, and complete games are nearly unheard-of these days ... relievers are apparently becoming fatigued and grossly ineffective far too early in the season ... catchers can't seem to catch ... closers can't seem to close ... and many teams are having terrible outcomes when playing on the road ... it's not unusual for a player who took a red-eye charter the night before a game to nod off half way through the game the following day ... players have found it very difficult to adjust to performing at the big league level without their treasured "beans" ... The most anticipated effect of the amphetamine ban was expected to be a harder time for relievers, some of whom had relied on a little extra lift after sitting idle for several hours before entering a game ... and more use of bench players ... these expectations have evidently come to pass. Anyone who plays all 162 games without the aid of amphetamines would be considered as a true 'iron man'. Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "Obviously, some players have leaned on them. There has always been things that players have used." ... Trevor Hoffman, emphatic in his opposition to using any type of illegal, performance-enhancing substances to gain an edge, pointedly said, "it will be interesting to see" when considering how players will adjust to not having amphetamines. Hoffman's coffee comment was only half in jest, there are now always two pots in the clubhouse, one regular, the other high-test ... there is also the mysterious "Dominican coffee" ... a thick and sweet liquid that some players gulp down shortly before each game. Users have said the beverage heightens senses so much that they can see the inscription on the baseball from the dugout ... Thinking back on "Charlie Hustle" and his admitted revelation of amphetamine use in the Playboy interview ... Pete Rose was given the nickname "Charlie Hustle" because of his play "above and beyond the call of duty" while on the field ... even when being intentionally walked, Rose would run full speed, instead of the traditional 'walk' to first base, and was also known for his signature move, always sliding headfirst into a base ... at one time, I truly admired how hard the guy played the game ... until he was exposed for breaking the rules of baseball by betting on the game he supposedly loved ... was deemed permanently ineligible to play ... banished forever from professional baseball ... and destined to go down in history with the likes of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson ... in addition to betting on games, according to his own admission, "Charlie Hustle" apparently obtained much of that "hustle" from "greenies", as did many other great players ... I still admire Pete Rose's work ethic, but his character, to say the least, is questionable ... So here's a novel idea ... former Atlanta Braves third base coach, and current manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, Ned Yost made the following suggestion, "How about a little mental intensity? ... how about substituting some of that if you get tired? ... Let's develop it ... It's a habit of giving all that you have three hours a night." ... Players giving their all under the influence of nothing more than all-out determination ... strong will ... and total dedication to a sport they not only love, but depend on for their livelihood ... now that truly is a genuinely refreshing idea Mr. Yost ... I totally concur with your assertion ... but the search for a dirty edge continues ... and all those energy drinks and stout coffees just don't seem to be cutting it ... --sja

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Barbershop: A Brief Memoir

In 1934, my father, fresh from the farm, having seen enough of the farm, sought refuge from the ravages of the Great Depression.

Mired in a small Ohio town, he and his beautiful red-haired beloved married, partly out of the pragmatic conviction that two could live cheaper than one. This principle, although wise on the face of it, lost its application upon the realization that they had no place in which to live cheaper. Mother had snaggled a stock clerk job at a grocery, while Father seemed resigned to selling shoe laces door to door.

Meanwhile, long hours and short pay at the grocery for Mother and decreasing expectations for Father resulted in their living in the basement of my grandfather's bungalow. Many years later, I visited that bungalow and was permitted a trip to the basement. It was a cell in which, today, no prisoner would be permitted to be kept.

One day, during a leisurely, head-hanging stroll along the poplar-lined main street of town, Father noticed an empty store front with a forlorn sign that hopelessly announced the store's availability for rent. The owner lived above the store. Father, leaving his bewildered bride on the curb, scampered up the stairs to meet a haggard, elderly man with a lazy eye.

He regaled the owner with his dream of always wanting to have a business in a space just like the one below. He spoke of his young bride, his determination, his pride, and his complete inability to pay any rent. But Father would clean the space and maintain the whole building and run errands and . . . We can only imagine the thoughts and images that must have passed through the old man's mind. Perhaps he saw in Father the faded aspirations of his own youth.

After the deal was struck and Father was about the leave, the old man, with one eye on Father and the other eye straying one knows not where, asked as an after thought what business Father was in. His reply was, "I'm . . . a . . . er. . . a barber!"

Father found the tools of his "trade," scissors and a straight razor, at a flea market and paid for them from the meager earnings of the red-haired bride who worked extra days stocking cereal and card He toted in a pallet that had been abandoned in an alley, placed a chair on it, and opened for business.

The ancient man upstairs, perhaps energized by all the activity, kept his one good eye on Father and made suggestions.

Perhaps his most useful idea was that Father stop giving free haircuts to his many friends.

Even Mother wondered whether this was the best business model, but Father was shrewd enough to know that a good first step to becoming a barber was to learn how to cut hair somehow. Robinson's Barbershop

And what are friends for? Word of mouth soon carried the day, and paying customers began to show up.

Meanwhile, Mother hung a large curtain across the back of the shop, and it was behind that curtain that they lived. It was the first home they could call their own and almost certainly the place of my conception.

Father was a barber for two years, and his angel, the old man who saw two things at once, passed away without ceremony. One romantic ending to this episode would be that the elderly gentleman's will left the building to my parents. It was not to be.

Far more romantic for me is the true ending that 40 years later, my father, a self-made man to the extreme, retired as the Chief Industrial Engineer of the largest company in the fastener industry. No college, no inheritance, no luck ... just imagination and hard work, the properties of the man seen long ago by the ancient with the lazy eye.

Here's to you, Father! And here's to your old barbershop!

Cato ...