-- With the legal maneuvering underway in the aftermath of the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, the team today denied suggestions made by the manufacturer of Xenadrine RFA-1 -- the diet supplement Bechler was believed to be using -- that the Orioles were negligent in allowing him on the practice field.
"Any suggestion that the Orioles have any responsibility for Steve Bechler's tragic death," said Russell Smouse, the Orioles' general legal counsel, "is outrageous and absolutely without foundation."
Smouse's comments came in response to a statement issued to The Washington Post on Monday by Cytodyne Technologies, saying in part: "It's unfortunate that the [Orioles have] chosen to ignore the fact that Mr. Bechler had a history of hypertension, liver disease and heat illness episodes and that he was allowed to exercise without proper hydration and nutrition. . . .The media should be asking the Orioles organization why this was allowed to happen instead of blaming [Xenadrine]."
Bechler died Feb. 17 of heatstroke at age 23, one day after collapsing during running drills near the end of the Orioles' third workout of spring training. His temperature at one point was measured at 108 degrees. A preliminary report by Joshua Perper, the Broward County medical examiner, cited Bechler's use of Xenadrine -- which Perper said he learned of during the investigation -- as one of the contributing factors in the death. Perper also outlined several of Bechler's medical conditions that may have been factors.
Xenadrine RFA-1, which is sold over-the-counter, contains the controversial stimulant ephedra, which has been linked to several high-profile deaths involving athletes in recent years and which has been banned by the NFL, NCAA and International Olympic Committee, but not by Major League Baseball.
David Meiselman, the attorney for Kiley Bechler, the pitcher's pregnant widow, on Monday announced plans to bring litigation against Cytodyne, saying, "Our position is that Steve Bechler is dead, and that ephedra killed him." He did not implicate the Orioles and said he has not considered whether to take legal action against the team; he also praised the team's handling of the situation.
Cytodyne called Meiselman's assertions about its product "reckless and irresponsible," and placed blame for Bechler's death on the Orioles.
Smouse today called Cytodyne's assertions "a patent effort by those who may view themselves as having a problem to deal with the situation by deflecting attention elsewhere. We absolutely stand behind our training, our procedures and our standards in how we deal with our players. The Orioles simply did nothing wrong in this situation."
All sides are awaiting the results of the toxicology report and Perper's subsequent final autopsy report, which will provide more definitive evidence as to how much ephedra, if any, was in Bechler's system when he died. Perper said today he expects the final report to be issued in two weeks and that he will hold a news conference at that time.
Cytodyne issued another statement today pointing out the lack of toxicological data implicating ephedra in Perper's preliminary report. "Any statements made by Dr. Perper up to this point," the company said, "have been clearly speculative. Cytodyne is confident that when a final autopsy report is completed, the forensic evidence will support the fact that ephedra did not cause Mr. Bechler's death."
The Orioles have not publicly addressed Bechler's medical conditions, citing confidentiality concerns, but team doctor William Goldiner said today that, by themselves, none of the conditions cited by Perper in his preliminary report could kill a person.
"Absent the presence of this drug, I don't see how the kid would have developed heatstroke," he said. "There is no evidence that hypertension causes heatstroke, or that liver problems cause heatstroke, or that a prior history of heat-related illness causes heatstroke. But amphetamines can, and ephedrine, or ephedra, is an amphetamine."
The Orioles have defended their training regimen and did not make any changes to their workouts in the wake of Bechler's death. Team officials have pointed out that water is readily available for players during workouts.
"While athletes can get dehydrated doing what [the Orioles] were doing that day," Goldiner said, "you're not going to get a core body temperature of 108 on a day when you're doing a light workout for two hours in the morning. This is not a football player in pads in the middle of summer doing 100-yard dashes one right after another. Dehydration? Maybe. But heatstroke? Absolutely not."