So, as I’ve probably made clear, I read a lot, and the last few days I’ve been reading a lot of baseball books — some I’ve read before, some I haven’t. One of the books I’ve read is The Pittsburgh Cocaine Seven by Aaron Skirboll. It was a worthwhile read, despite some PED moralizing that, frankly, I’m sick of in most contexts. Someone asked when I posted my Dave Parker comments a few years ago if there was a book on the Pirates cocaine scandal; there wasn’t then, but there is now. This isn’t a review, but some points of maybe interest.

  1. I really had to revise my opinion on Parker, whose involvement in the scandal went beyond simple cocaine use; he was not quite dealing drugs, but he was serving as a conduit from the (mostly small-time) drug dealers to his teammates. To me, that’s worse than just being a cocaine user, as I’d thought, and drastically adds to his guilt and the cost to his team. He still has Hall of Fame numbers, and he did turn his life around, but I have to dock him for that, and I think I’d move several players ahead of him.
  2. Skirboll interviewed two major league stars for the book, Parker and Lonnie Smith. Lonnie comes off a whole lot better; actually, he comes out of the book looking as good as anyone except maybe Whitey Herzog. Lonnie got off the drugs, didn’t pretend that he hadn’t been using or that it didn’t affect his play. For his efforts, baseball basically screwed him over, blackballing him for a couple of years until the Braves, desperate for anything resembling a major leaguer, gave him another chance.
  3. In that Parker post, I said that about ninety percent of major leaguers in the time period in question had probably tried cocaine. I’m still pretty comfortable with that estimate. Both Herzog and Keith Hernandez estimated that forty percent of major leaguers were users, which presumably doesn’t include those who sampled the drug once of twice; they also said that 11 members of their Cardinals team (including Hernandez himself) were users. Dock Ellis said that “the overwhelming majority of major league plaeyrs in both leagues were substance abusers,” though admittedly one of the substances he abused was a powerful hallucinogen. (Skirboll buys the LSD no-hitter story; I don’t.)
  4. The baseball lifestyle was made for a cocaine epidemic. Lots of travel, irregular hours with many “night shifts”, disposable income, right in the cocaine target demographic of 20-35. In addition to making you feel really good (let’s face it, it does) cocaine also provides an energy boost, often desirable to baseball players. The line between recreational and performance-enhancing drug is blurry.
  5. At one point, the judge in the most public cocaine trial, that of Curtis Strong (who is not a central character in the book, though his trial is basically its climax; Strong was, Skirboll says, basically a non-factor at his own trial) admonished Mets fans for giving Hernandez a standing ovation after returning to Shea Stadium following his testimony. Mets fans!
  6. Also, a female Tennessee student is quoted as saying that “Orgasms go better with Coke,” which could be a great slogan for the Coca-Cola company if they weren’t so staid. At any event, if I had to spend a bunch of time in Knoxville, I’m sure I’d do drugs too.