Saturday, July 28, 2007

Hits and Errors: The Annals of Substance Abuse in Baseball, pt. 1


With Barry Bonds closing in on Hank Aaron's home run record, steroids are a hot topic once again, but there's very little new in these latest scandal stories, for baseball has a long and rich history of substance abuse, dating back to the earliest days of the game. Everyone knows that Babe Ruth chug-a-lugged his way through Prohibition, but here are some other, lesser-known mind- and body-altering episodes:

* Toad Ramsey was the ace pitcher for the Louisville Cyclones in 1886 and 1887, but drank himself out of baseball by the time he was 26. Part of this may have been the result of his habit of drinking three Ramsey's Cocktails every day: each Ramsey's Cocktail consisted of a shot of whiskey plunged into a pitcher of beer.

* Future Hall of Famer and noted tippler Mike "King" Kelly (above) was asked around that same time whether or not he ever drank during games. He responded, with admirable candor and good sense, "That depends on how long the games are."

* Another future Hall of Famer, pitcher Pud Galvin, admitted in 1889 to using a performance enhancer called the elixir of Brown-Sequard, which consisted of the testosterone drained from a monkey's testicles. Hey, don't knock it: Galvin would go on to be baseball's first 30o-game winner.

* Louis Sockalexis, the original Cleveland Indian, was a heavy drinker from his college days at Notre Dame, but that didn't stop him from becoming a big star in Cleveland, where he hit .338 as a rookie in 1897. No, what stopped him was when he drunkenly jumped out of a second-story brothel window, destroying his leg and all but ending his career.

* During the 1930 pennant race, Cardinals ace pitcher Flint Rhem disappeared for three days, missing a start; when he returned, he told of being kidnapped by gamblers and forced to drink Prohibition whiskey the entire time. Subsequent investigations showed that there was no kidnapping, and the whiskey was ingested voluntarily.

* In 1935, Dodgers outfielder Len Koenecke was kicked off the team for chronic drunkenness. He hired a private plane to take him back home to Buffalo, then made what have been described as "improper advances" to the pilot and copilot -- Koenecke was, of course, drunk at the time. The co-pilot bashed Koenecke's head in with a fire extinguisher, killing him.

{To be continued...}

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