Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, near tears, called the death of pitcher Steve Bechler "a tragedy" tonight and challenged the leadership of the baseball players' union to agree to a ban of the stimulant ephedrine, which is believed to have contributed to the death of Bechler on Monday and several other athletes in recent years.
According to Angelos, who was in Fort Lauderdale tonight attending a memorial service for Bechler, the owners pushed during last summer's collective bargaining negotiations for ephedrine and similar over-the-counter drugs to be included on a list of banned substances. Though legal, ephedrine already is banned by the NFL, NCAA and the International Olympic Committee.
"But unfortunately," said Angelos, a member of the owners' labor negotiating team last summer, "the union rejected our position and would not agree to include those on the basis that if they are legal, there should be no prohibition imposed by the clubs. And as a consequence, without that being included in the agreement, we simply cannot prohibit them. . . .Hopefully with this terrible tragedy, a reassessment of the union position will come."
Union chief Donald Fehr had no comment last night and has said he would withhold comment until a later date.
However, Angelos said he believes the stance of union leadership does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the majority of its members.
"The problem has been that we have had difficulty in getting a consensus from the leadership of the union," Angelos said. "I don't believe the players themselves are opposed. I believe the majority of major league and minor league players are supportive of the position ownership has enunciated."
Baseball and the union agreed to a ban on steroids and other illegal drugs during last year's negotiations, which Angelos called a step in the right direction.
"But I don't believe what we accomplished at that collective bargaining session was adequate," Angelos said. "I don't believe we have done everything we can do. But do not let it be disputed: Ownership is moving to ban all of these drugs and to impose a system of sanctions."
According to Angelos, Commissioner Bud Selig has been "pushing very energetically and aggressively" for more than a year to get union leadership to agree to a ban on ephedra and related drugs. Selig did not return a telephone message left at his home tonight.
Bechler's death, Angelos said, "tells us all that we need to address this problem immediately and follow the leadership of Commissioner Selig, who has been advocating total control of these drugs as well as Schedule 3 drugs for a long period of time and has not gotten the cooperation he is entitled to from everyone in baseball. . . . There is more of this happening than any of us would obviously want to see, but we don't have the authority to punish the player in any way if we discover" he is using ephedra.
Angelos also revealed that baseball has been lobbying Congress to add ephedra and related drugs to the Schedule 3 list of drugs that are available only by prescription under the U.S. Code.
"I think what's happened here will move everyone in that direction with more haste and more recognition," Angelos said. "It is a situation that should not be allowed to continue. I think members of Congress are aware of what happened with Steve Bechler. And I think [it] will instigate all the members of Congress. Hopefully all of them are responsible to the point where they will take the necessary steps to get these drugs off an over-the-counter basis."
Angelos was in tears as he discussed Bechler, 23, who died Monday at North Ridge Medical Center of multi-organ failure as a result of heatstroke. He had collapsed the previous day during a workout, and a bottle of Xendarine -- which contains ephedra -- was recovered from his locker.
Angelos's immediate thoughts at hearing the news Monday were "that we are experiencing a terrible tragedy when a young, presumably very healthy young man becomes so ill that he ultimately dies."
Angelos spent about 35 minutes with Bechler's family yesterday. The family was to return to Oregon today, with no word yet on when a funeral will be held.
"It's a tragedy that really defies definition," Angelos said. "And if any of you could see the terrible impact it has had on his family, and his wife, who is really a stalwart, special young lady, words simply aren't adequate to describe the feeling."