The Pittsburgh Drug Trials
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The Pittsburgh Drug Trials

A memory better left in the past.

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The Pittsburgh Drug Trials
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1985, the year the Kansas City Royals won the World Series in seven games against the St. Louis Cardinals. It was a team that was good on paper, but not the best team in baseball at the time. The team won its first championship in team history, led by all-time great, George Brett. Even after all this, the Kansas City Royals with their spectacular story, were not the most talked about team in baseball. That title belonged to the Pittsburgh Pirates, due to what was later called (and known as today) the Pittsburgh Drug Trials. Back in 1985, while the Royals were in the midst of their first World Series winning season, the Pirates of Pittsburgh were under the influence of cocaine and on trial for doing so. The team was known to be snorting the drug in massive amounts and were doing it while playing the sport.

Rod Scurry, a pitcher of the Pittsburgh Pirates, was one of the most addicted of the team, according to former dealers who knew him. One day, after a long day of binging in San Diego, Scurry was caught disassembling a television set in the hotel room they were staying in. When security came they saw the television set broken up into many pieces. Scurry apparently thought there was snakes living in the television. Manager Chuck Tanner had to come up and stop the nonsense. He told Scurry, "you either go to rehab or you go to prison." When news broke of this event, this is where the starting point of the Pittsburgh Drug Trials began for major league baseball. After this, Scurry revealed that cocaine addiction was in many baseball cities other than Pittsburgh.

The trials began when baseball players testified against seven indicted men who were the apparent dealers of the cocaine the players were using. Curtis Strong, a clubhouse food caterer, was the more popular due to his strong defense attorney Adam Renfroe. His goal was to take down Major League Baseball and their lack of ridding the game of the drug, as his client was on trial for possible conviction, he felt “the big man” here should be convicted just as much as the small time dealers, if not more. Renfroe said to the media and all those watching at home (live on the news) regarding his client’s case, “We all know you would not be here if baseball was not on trial."

The Pittsburgh Drug Trials, as earlier mentioned, was not only focused in Pittsburgh, but all around many baseball cities. Players such as former Pittsburgh player Dave Parker (was an outfielder for the Reds at the time) talked about how he used during his time on the team, when they needed to refer to the dealer they listed him as an “associate member” who would travel with him on the road at times. Other players such as Dale Berra (played for the Yankees at the time, was a former Pirate player), Tim Raines (played for the Montreal Expos at the time), Lonnie Smith (played for the Kansas City Royals at the time), and Keith Hernandez (played for the New York Mets at the time). Hernandez went on trial to say, “I think that was the love affair, the romance year of cocaine in baseball… It was a demon, and insatiable urge. In my opinion it (cocaine), is the demon of this Earth. It is hard to get away from it." All of this was in regards to his massive amount of cocaine intake throughout the 1980 year. The drug caused him to lose much recollection of the year, wake up with the shakes and bloody noses, and having sudden weight loss.

It did not stop there. The Pittsburgh Pirate mascot, The Pirate Parrot, was an essential dealer for the team. He was known to always bring a supply around for players during the years he was the mascot. Drug deals were going down in the clubhouse and locker rooms where the players would go before and after games.

Throughout the controversy following the case, many wondered why many of the baseball players got off when it came to the law, and why only these small time dealers got time. That can be answered by James Ross who is an attorney of the U.S Justice Department. Ross went on to say for ESPN’s 30 for 30: The Pittsburgh Drug Trails, that “In most United States attorney’s offices throughout the United States, you were not prosecuting people at that time for possession, rather the war on drugs was focused on suppliers. You usually granted immunity to the users to get to suppliers, and that’s what we did in this case."

In the end, Curtis Strong was sentenced to twelve years in prison for selling the cocaine to the players. Dale Shiffman pleaded guilty and received only two years in prison. Five lower scale cocaine dealers were also convicted, and would later be recognized as the “Cocaine Seven.” Now it was Major League Baseball’s time to shine, what would they do to handle this all? Because of the player’s union, random drug testing would not be approved. It was out of the Commissioners power to force the random drug testing; however, he left it open to individual players to choose if they would be a part of testing. The commissioner went on to talk about how the players wanted drugs out of baseball, and that’s why the sport would be clean.

Rod Scurry eventually passed away on November 5th 1992. Scurry passed away at the age of 36, due to a “scuffle” with sheriff’s deputies in Nevada. Some say Scurry never received the help that Major League Baseball could have given him, with a possible serious suspension enforcing tough love could have gotten his act together. The world may never know what was going on exactly. All we know is that The Pittsburgh Drug Trials were handled to a certain degree. If the system was able to end all the drug problems in Major League Baseball of the cocaine era, perhaps the steroid era of the 1990s would not have happened. However, the trials bringing up many popular ball players to the stand and forcing them too give up information on themselves and their previous drug dealers. After understanding what was going on in baseball, and the rest of the world, regarding cocaine, we can use these trails as an example of where things went wrong. If baseball was able to step in more, perhaps with a commissioner like Bud Selig or Rob Manfred (current commissioner), men who were more down to Earth and respected in the baseball community, something might have been done. The media coverage of the trials brought players forward, forcing them to admit to their wrong doings and perhaps that was one of the few consequences to truly stick to the players about using drugs in baseball.

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