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Cocaine Users and the Hall of Fame

A fascinating piece today by Newsday's Ken Davidoff raises an interesting -- and unique -- question: Should admitted cocaine users be admitted into the Hall of Fame?

Clearly, recreational drug use is viewed differently than performance enhancing drug use in professional sports, yet there are plenty of reasons to question whether players who used hard recreational drugs -- cocaine most significantly -- should receive legitimate consideration for a spot in the Hall of Fame. Because while Davidoff admits that he's always voted for admitted drug users of the non-performance enhancing type in the past, he brings up an anecdotal tale from college football that raises the possibility that cocaine could actually be a performance-enhancing drug itself.

Here's the gist of the anecdotal anti-cocaine evidence, which comes from Michael Rosenberg's "War as They Knew It" book about the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry during the years in which Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler coached the teams:

  • Ohio State quarterback Rod Gerald used cocaine for the fist time on Jan 1, 1977, and promptly went on to become the MVP of the Orange Bowl.
  • Gerald then used cocaine before every game of the 1977 regular season, leading OSU to the Sugar Bowl
  • At the Sugar Bowl, Gerald couldn't locate cocaine in New Orleans and blamed a significant part of his poor performance on his inability to take the drug.

Here's what Gerald told Davidoff about the drug:

"My primary usage for cocaine was to play and to perform at a high level of intensity, a high level of quality. It worked, it really did. It just got to be too much. ... Where it took one line, probably, for the first game of the season, it grew to probably half a gram before a game near the end." The cocaine, he said, made him feel more confident and nimble.

That's pretty a pretty compelling anecdotal case, even if it is isolated. Bur how does it connect with Hall of Fame contenders like Tim Raines and Dwight Gooden?

While Gooden probably won't ever get a serious look at the Hall, Raines has a legitimate candidacy (though one which this Insider feels will ultimately always fall short). The former slugger admitted an addiction to the drug in 1982 while he was with the Expos, and he claims that the team helped him defeat that addiction while still with the team.

However, Baines told Davidoff that he had played a handful of games in late 1982 while high, and his recollection of his performance was vastly different than Gerald's.

He said he couldn't remember the specific games, either the opponents or how he did. What he remembered, he said, was being up at bat, jumping back from a pitch right down the middle and the home-plate umpire asking him what in the world was wrong with him.

"I'm surprised how well I played that year," given his drug usage, Raines said. Yet if you look at Raines' career line, you'll see that, while he managed to play in 156 games, 1982 marked the worst season -- by far -- of his first 10 full years in the major leagues.

Gooden also claims that taking cocaine made him paranoid, to the point that he wouldn't have been able to pitch while on the drug.

So, what are we to make of cocaine's affect -- and that of other recreational drugs -- on a player's performance? And how does using something like cocaine compare with using greenies and other amphetamines, a practice which was many, if not most, players would partake in as recently as 2006?

They're tough questions to answer, and they present an interesting portfolio for a handful of players who, like Raines, could pop up on the MLB Veterans' committee ballots in the future.

By Cameron Smith  |  September 17, 2009; 3:16 PM ET
Categories:  Hall of Fame  | Tags: Dwight Gooden, Hall of Fame, Tim Raines, performance enhancing drugs  
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