There was a time, not so long ago, when amphetamines were super common in Major League Baseball. They were passed around casually, mixed into coffee and water in the clubhouse, and eaten like skittles by ball players all over the country. When you think about baseball, you might think about all the recent issues with steroids, but this is really where it all started…
“Greenies” were a staple in Major League clubhouses for around 40 years. Rumor has it Ted Williams and other baseball players who had been drafted brought them from the military back to the field sometime after World War II. These little green pills – real medical name Dexedrine – often sat right next to the bubble gum and sunflower seeds during games for easy access. Some experts estimate that around 85% of MLB players were doin’ them. Hell, greenies (or “beans” as they were sometimes known) weren’t even banned until 2006. Up until then, they were pretty much the worst kept secret in baseball.
Greenies were no joke either. They sped up your heart rate and heightened your senses, alertness, aggression, and reaction time. So yeah, they were basically speed. Players referred to taking greenies as “beaning up.” Or if you didn’t take them, you were “playing naked.” They were (supposedly) great for the game, fighting hangovers, and staying awake. But it wasn’t just the increased alertness. Some guys even claimed they helped them see the ball better. There are doping experts that say these stimulants could increase hand-eye coordination. With side effects like these, it’s a wonder that 100% of players weren’t using them…
In an interview with Paul Lo Duca about his days with the Dodgers and other MLB teams, he said that most guys today would probably prefer greenies over steroids if given the choice. He reminisced on days when one pot of coffee in the clubhouse would be regular coffee and one would be loaded with greenies – all you needed was a shot of it to be good for the whole day. When one of the security guards at Dodger Stadium drank a cup of the wrong stuff, he turned red in the face and had to be taken to the hospital.
This isn’t a rare story though. Lots of clubhouses tell similar tales of two pots of coffee brewing in the clubhouse at all times. If you weren’t trying to bean up, you’d better to careful to choose the “unleaded.”
Some of these guys, however, needed greenies just to take the field. Major League Baseball has one of the toughest schedules in professional sports. With the grueling calendar of 162 games per season, cross-country flights, and back-to-back games night after night, it’s not really all that shocking that players popped greenies to fight fatigue and stay “up.” To counteract the stimulant effects, players would often use booze to be able to sleep and get through flights… but that’s another issue.
But still, they were everywhere. Barry Bonds, infamous for his steroid use, actually failed a drug test due to amphetamines too. Everybody was doing it. And the more you took, the more you needed to take. The problem was that dudes who left the big leagues still had the habit.
When greenies were banned in 2006, Oakland A’s third baseman Eric Chavez had this to say:
“Anybody who thinks you can go through the season normally and your body can just respond normally, after what we go through, is unreasonable. I’m not saying taking away greenies isn’t a good thing, but guys are definitely going to look for something as a replacement.”
And he was right. When these substances were outlawed, players started trying to get prescriptions for Adderall and other ADHD meds. Then they’d couple these with locker room pain relievers. Now many are looking to caffeine and energy drinks and whatever is (still) legal: king-sized cans of Monster, 5-Hour Energy shots, and tons of Red Bull. Some teams actually provide them to players, some don’t. But no MLB teams ban players from drinking them… yet.
According to Major League pitcher Jason Grilli in a 2011 interview with USA Today, “The reason guys take energy drinks is because there’s not anything else (legal) to take,” Grilli said. “Let’s face it, the competitive edge is why the whole steroid thing got rampant.”
What’ll be next? Who knows! We thought we’d just give you a little flashback into some colorful MLB history. Greenies. Loaded coffees. Never forget.