Nearly two years ago, Ken Moffett, former head of the baseball players union, said he believed 100 or more major league ballplayers used cocaine regularly and that some of them had developed serious drug problems.
Moffett felt he was fired by the players in November 1983 because he was too adamant in pursuing a drug agreement with owners to get heavy users to seek help.
What has happened this summer in a Pittsburgh courtroom is that we've gotten some of those 100 names.
Baseball isn't enduring a cocaine scandal this month. Rather, it's getting paid back not just for a decade, but for a century of negligence.
Ballplayers say, "Payback is hell." Well, baseball is in Hades these days.
The same sport that never cared about its alcoholics or its indigent oldtimers, the same grand old game that underpaid its umpires and let its minor leaguers toil for a pittance, the same game that never cared anything about its players except what they could produce between the white lines for a few years, is reaping a whirlwind.
As America became infatuated with drugs over the last 20 years, as the annual U.S. consumption of cocaine soared to 87 tons last year, baseball did what it usually does when a problem arises. It went on a PR campaign. Anti-drug commercials, that'd do the trick.
Both owners and the union should have spotted the danger. Combine youth and wealth, high energy and mediocre education, and you get a jock subculture that buys the myth that cocaine is the no-risk drug of their dreams.
Now, we hear the cry, "What should baseball do to fight drugs?"
This is bitterly ironic because, at the moment, everything that needs to be done probably is being done. The sport finally is on full alert. The average general manager probably now knows more about drugs than some doctors. How could he make a trade or know who to sign to a five-year contract otherwise?
After the jailing of four Kansas City Royals in 1983 on cocaine counts, plus Moffett's charges of widespread abuse, the sport no longer could deny the dimensions of its problem. If 100 or 150 out of 650 players thought cocaine was part of their high-life, fast-lane recreation, then any doctor could tell them that dozens would develop some degree of dependency.
Even slow-witted baseball could see the potential for disaster. Some little mishap like an indebted addict fixing a World Series game.
In June 1984, baseball reached a joint player-owner drug agreement that looked pretty decent.
There'd be discreet treatment for players who sought it. If a team suspected a drug problem and the player denied it, all the team had to do was ask a hearing before the Joint Review Council -- three doctors who were drug experts. The Council could recommend testing, treatment or nothing. If the player balked, he became subject to action by the commissioner. It seemed like a potentially good program.
Baseball hoped it might get away clean. Hide how bad the problem had been and try to do better in future.
Instead, it got The Curtis Strong Trial.
In the long run, perhaps all the revelations and embarrassments of the last three weeks, and for that matter the last three years, will do baseball some good.
Surely no player ever will be dumb enough to kid himself that cocaine is non-addictive. All he has to do is look at Steve Howe's career to see the risk.
No player can doubt any longer that he might be a target in a prosecution. The Kansas City case took care of that.
And no player can doubt that, even if he doesn't end up in jail, he can have his reputation badly damaged -- even if he has no drug problem, even if the amount of cocaine he's used in his life doesn't have as much punch as the Scotch his manager drinks in a week.
Most of the public doesn't understand all those exotic linear measurements of cocaine use that now fill court transcripts and sports pages. A line, a gram, an ounce, a habit? If a ballplayer gets tangled up in a drug case, even if the testimony is that he once split a small amount with some buddies at a card game, he's a junkie in many eyes.
In fact, the Pittsburgh trial has become something of a witch-hunt. The way names have been dragged into the trial is a scandal in itself. For Willie Mays, Pete Rose and Willie Stargell to find themselves in the same mud with drug dealers is ugly. To equate pep pills, which, right or wrong, have been common in baseball clubhouses for decades, with illegal hard drugs is merely an attempt by small men to drag big men into the same hole with them.
Ballplayers now know that cocaine can attack their health, their wealth and their reputation. They know they can end up in a rehabilitation center or a courtroom. They know that all their team has to do is suspect that they have a drug problem and it can call them before the Joint Review Council. And if that council doesn't like the answers it hears, it can recommend testing. And if the player doesn't like it, all he can do is wait for the commissioner to phone and say, "Get tested or get suspended."
Given all this, baseball's drug problem almost certainly will diminish, if it hasn't already. If not, more steps can be taken.
Of course, baseball's owners don't see it this way. According to Lee MacPhail, baseball officials would like mandatory testing to be made part of the joint drug agreement.
Sure they would. Take the easy way out, as usual. Don't go to the trouble to get to know the men in your organization as individuals. Don't put in the work to find out who's an addict or who might be heading toward a problem. Just let the old test tube do the work. And forget about invasion of privacy.
Random testing isn't a last resort. It's beyond a last resort. As a societal precedent, it's frightening. Baseball doesn't need it and shouldn't have it. At the least, let the joint drug agreement have a chance to work.
Players know you get paid this year for what you did last year.
Ironically, baseball is paying now for what it did, and didn't do, in the past. Baseball's drug problem already has been addressed seriously. But the price for all those years of averted eyes still has to be paid.
And it's being paid dearly, both by the game as a whole and by individuals, in that Pittsburgh courtroom.