Television lights glared into the faces of the Pittsburgh Pirates as they got off the bus from the airport Tuesday night. Telephone calls flooded their hotel rooms and newspapers across the country mentioned their names.
It has been a while since the Pirates were national news, but with the worst record in the majors this year, the players knew it was not their hitting that had brought them this sudden fame. The lurid mix of drugs and sports had hit the headlines again, and this time it was Pittsburgh's turn to take the heat.
"I don't think any last-place team in history has ever had this much coverage," player representative Bill Madlock said with a sour look.
For several months, a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh has talked to players about cocaine sales. When baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth predicted this week the results were "going to be bad" and asked drug tests for everyone but the players, the Pirates found many fingers pointing in their direction.
Sources familiar with the investigation told The Washington Post today that two indictments for selling drugs most likely will be handed down Tuesday or Wednesday in Pittsburgh, including one expected to involve a Pirates player.
Manager Chuck Tanner, an endlessly patient and genial man struggling with an 8-18 record after today's 1-0 loss to the Padres, noted he began the day talking about drugs, not the fact that for the first time in two years, he was switching Madlock from third to first base.
"It has an unsettling effect," he said, adding that the problem "is not just the Pirates, it's all of baseball."
In the visiting locker room at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium before the game, the only addictive substances in evidence were seven different brands of chewing tobacco.
Most of the players appeared annoyed at questions about the drug investigation. "You get tired of it," said Jason Thompson. "From the stuff you read, you think everybody on the team is a drug addict."
In Pittsburgh, a reporter who broke many of the early stories on the drug investigation found his phone suddenly ringing with calls from around the nation. "It's pretty wild," said Carl Remensky of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He had been writing stories since January about what had become a "pretty dull" scene at the federal courthouse, but the Ueberroth statement and a few spectacular rumors pushed the whole thing back on the front page.
One talk show host breathlessly asked Remensky for the latest on a report that "the biggest name in Pittsburgh sports" was about to be indicted. Remensky explained that all the players called to testify have been granted immunity, and only those selling drugs are expected to be charged, but it did little good.
As for the suggestion that the Pirates' mediocre play and their league-worst home attendance might be caused by drugs, Remensky laughed. "It has nothing to do with cocaine," he said. "It has to do with not having a shortstop or a player who can get 100 RBI."
Only three of the 10 players known to have testified before the grand jury are currently on the Pirates roster -- Rod Scurry, Lee Mazzilli and Al Holland. Holland, traded to Pittsburgh from Philadelphia last month, testified one day after being dealt to the Pirates.
The early days of the investigation often had their comical moments, with one female reporter inadvertently locked in a ladies' room when federal marshals tried to close off access to the proceedings. Journalists who could not tell the difference between a slider and a slide rule were relieved by such reporters as Remensky, who had once covered sports.
Even then, Remensky found that he and his competitor from the Pittsburgh Press had to stand near the grand jury room door with baseball yearbooks in hand, frantically turning the pages when they saw a face they thought they recognized. Remensky said he thinks they may have missed some, but they were able to report that the three Pittsburgh players were joined by ex-Pirates Dale Berra (now with the New York Yankees) and Lee Lacy (Baltimore Orioles), as well as Keith Hernandez of the New York Mets, Jeff Leonard of the San Francisco Giants, Enos Cabell of the Houston Astros, Lonnie Smith of the St. Louis Cardinals and Tim Raines of the Montreal Expos.
Of that group, Scurry, Raines and Smith previously had undergone rehabilitation for drug abuse. During a divorce action, Lacy's wife had accused him of drug use. Some reports indicate the investigation is now expanding to St. Louis and Atlanta.
Team spokesman Greg Johnson noted that Pittsburgh is one of a handful of major league teams to require regular urine tests for drugs in their farm system. Such checks for major league players, as Ueberroth noted, require the approval of the Major League Players Association.
Mike Bielecki, a rookie Pirates pitcher who played last year with the Class AAA Hawaii Islanders, said they were checked "three or four times" during the year. "I don't care," he said. "If they want to check me every day, they can do it."
The minor league players, he added, are less apt to be using cocaine or other expensive drugs because their salaries are much lower than at the major league level.
"It's a three-ring circus," said Madlock, heading out for batting practice and a reunion with first base. He called the request for drug tests on everybody "ridiculous" but said he had resigned himself to hearing about it for some time.
"The only good thing is," he said, "at least we're playing out of town."