By Bryan Holcomb
The Orioles made news last week, but not for the reason fans hoped. Rather than clinching the division, the O’s lost one of their power bats in Chris Davis, who was suspended 25 games after testing positive for amphetamine use. Although he was having a sub-par season overall, posting only a .196/.300/.404 line, he managed to hit 26 home runs, and that power will be missed dearly come October.
The fact that he was suspended for amphetamines stirred up plenty of debate on the internet. Many point to the fact that “greenies” were once not only legal, but commonly used among baseball’s best. That may be true, but the reality is that these substances, whatever you want to call them, are illegal now, and a failed test creates consequences.
There are many who posit that amphetamines shouldn’t be illegal. Adderall, the argument goes, has no physical effects in the game. That Davis took Adderall should not have affected his power last year, nor his power this year. This is a shaky argument at best. While it is true that Adderall does not develop strength more quickly than HGH or other steroids, it does provide a boost of energy. According to a CBS Sports report, Adderall provides a controlled energy burst, and is strong enough to warrant the DEA classifying it in the same category as cocaine. The effects of an energy burst in a game where action takes place in short stints are pretty apparent: swinging faster and running harder.
More than any other sport, though, baseball requires mental focus. It’s the norm for players to spend hours studying the scouting report of pitchers, and it’s very easy to lose focus. Adderall has also been a recent problem in the NFL, where players are also required to watch substantial amounts of film. Within the game, the need to focus is much higher than any other sport. At-bats may seem short, but the time between every pitch is spent recalling the pitcher’s scouting report, attempting to guess what the next pitch will be, and accounting for the situation (runners on base, outs, defensive alignment, etc.) Having artificial help in preparing for each at-bat dramatically facilitates this mental task — and gives an advantage over those who have not.
That being said, Adderall is not completely illegal in baseball, like other performance-enhancing drugs. All it requires is a prescription — which is surprisingly easy to get. According to CBS, about 4.4 percent of the adult population requires Adderall, yet 9.9 percent of Major Leaguers carry a prescription. Davis even had one in 2013; he just forgot to renew it this year.
Chris Davis is not the only guilty party here. He is just the most recent, and the most prominent, in a list of players receiving suspensions for Adderall, even as the list of exemptions granted continues to grow longer each year. While Adderall might not be quite as potent as HGH, the performance-enhancing effects are there — both physically and mentally, and certainly affect how the game is played.